One of the perks of studying at an elite U.S. university is that top companies, organisations, and agencies congregate in search of talent. What follows is my experience attending a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruiting brief and simulation session at Johns Hopkins University. Names have been altered to preserve personal security.

It all began with an email. Johns Hopkins’ career centre sends regular notifications when prominent employers are coming on campus. And so, an email arrived in my inbox indicating that the “Government and Public Service Week” would begin the following week. The email described in detail which organisations or NGOs would be coming on what day and hour. Usually, I briefly skim through such newsletters before I delete them. This particular one, however, had something more about it.  In a corner, it advertised the time and place where the CIA would be holding a recruiting brief followed by a simulation event. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find any more information about the event. I truly believe that this was the Agency’s intention — only those observant or interested enough would be present at the briefing.

Short, stocky, and with a congenial smile, the CIA recruiter welcomed the hesitant group of students into the briefing room. Illuminated by fluorescent lights, the small room was a paragon of neatness and organisation. At the centre, a table draped in a CIA flag was the only clue indicating what the meeting was about.

After an exchange of resumes for a plethora of recruiting paraphernalia, the group of students dispersed in equal numbers around the room and anxiously awaited what the next two-and-a-half hours would bring.

The man everyone was there to hear from, introduced himself as Michael. No surname, of course, was given — and the business cards he handed out at the end were also devoid of any personal information. Michael then proceeded to give a well-structured and informative overview of the Agency, its tasks, and departments. He delineated that the CIA’s role is to inform not suggest policy to the executive brand and some legislators — the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), or ‘sissy’ and ‘hipsi,’ as he jokingly called them.

“The Agency is comprised of five Directorates: the Directorate of Digital Innovation (DI), the Directorate of Science & Technology (DST), the Directorate of Support (DS), the Directorate of Analysis (DA)—where I’m coming from—and finally the Directorate of Operations (DO). The DO is what you think about when you watch all the secret spook movies. The reality, however, is quite different,” he said.

Coming from the DA, Michael was slightly biased toward his home team. He briefly touched on his career, which began with weapons analysis and continued with colourful and diverse assignments to include preparing for the 2003 Iraq invasion. He described the months before D-day as quite hectic. There was so much to be done that his team was punching 90-hour weeks for three months.  Michael’s focus on the DA was intended. Johns Hopkins is famous for its science, engineering, and biomedical departments. Most of the students present, thus, were coming from an analytic background. Not all, however, were enraptured with the DA. John, a friend of mine, asked about the DO and its application and selection processes.

“All of the application processes are somewhat similar. You go online on and begin your application. A resume is required, as well as a cover letter. This is, perhaps, the most important part of a DO application—the cover letter. In quite a short space an applicant must display extraordinary self-knowledge and a thorough understanding of what the job entails.”