On this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, Special Agent Cerena Coughlin, an FBI Applicant Coordinator and recruiter for the Philadelphia Division and first office agent Special Agent Cassandra Winkel, provide answers to more than forty questions about the FBI and FBI Academy training sent in by FBI Retired Case File Review listeners interested in applying to become specials agents and intelligence analysts with the FBI.
This is part 2 of this recruitment episode. Also check out Part 1 – 257: FBI Special Agent Hiring and Training Update, where SAs Coughlin and Winkel take us through all phases of the FBI special agent hiring process and the FBI Academy training program.
At the end of these show notes, I’ve listed the audio timestamps for the questions answered during the episode.
March 2001 – Present
“You need to have life experience before we put you into this process. From the very first day, you represent the FBI as an agent. This is something we can’t give you at Quantico. This is something you have to enter on duty with.”—Special Agent Cerena Coughlin
Special Agent Cerena Coughlin has been with the FBI for 21 years. Currently, she is the Applicant Coordinator and Employment Recruiter for the Philadelphia Field Office. She was a member of the Los Angeles Innocent Images SAFE Team where she investigated cases involving the sexual exploitation of children and was assigned to Counterterrorism squads in the Los Angeles and Baltimore Divisions. In the Philadelphia Division, before being assigned as the FBI recruiter, she was on a Cybercrime squad.
April 2021 – Present
Special Agent Cassandra Winkel began her career with the FBI in September 2017 as a Staff Operations Specialist (SOS) working counterterrorism matters at FBI Headquarters. During her time in this assignment, SOS Winkel worked in the Counterterrorism Division’s Assistant Director’s Office, Foreign Threat Tracking Task Force, and Domestic Terrorism Operations Section. In April 2021, upon receiving an appointment to the FBI Academy, she was promoted to special agent. She is currently working on a counterterrorism squad in the Philadelphia Division.
To view comprehensive special agent hiring and FBI Academy training information, as well as applications for all FBI positions, visit:
Episode 258: Audio Timestamps
00:02:56 – Would a kindergarten teacher be considered a serious candidate?
00:04:13 – How does the FBI treat misuse of prescription medication (i.e. taking a prescription that you are not personally prescribed to)? I read on a public forum thread that a candidate heard from his applicant coordinator that it would require no use within one year (similar to the new marijuana policy). Is this correct?
00:06:00 – Is it still the policy of the FBI that a new agent will not return to their applicant field office as their first assignment? For example, if you apply through the Tampa office, is there any chance you could be assigned Tampa (or a resident agency) as your first location?
00:07:11 – Is anyone permitted to be in your government issued vehicle (i.e. spouse or children)?
00:08:00 – Is it still true that the application process takes about one year, or has that increased or decreased?
00:08:27 – How do we find out who the applicant coordinator is for our local office? And what types of questions are appropriate for the AC prior to an application even being submitted?
00:11:13 – Does the FBI still, on occasion, assign new Special Agents to work applicant matters? Or has this function been turned over to the FBI’s Background Investigations Contract Services (BICS) Unit?
00:12:58 – Which FBI Division and/or Office at headquarters is responsible for the tracking and analysis of women and minority Special Agent diversity statistics? And how have these numbers changed over the past 3-5 years?
00:17:02 – Are Special Agent job applications now all handled electronically on-line? Or are some still accepted by snail mail and/or hard copy drop-offs at the 56 field offices throughout the United States?
00:18:24 – What changes have been made to the FBI’s formal recruitment process over the years in order to attract more women and minorities into the Special Agent ranks? Are there still more hurdles or are you encountering roadblocks?
00:23:13 – What kind of continuing training exists for agents, for tactical-related things learned at the academy? Not just firearms shooting at a static range, but also tactics/shoothouse, car stops, etc.
00:24:19 – What is the process for changing what squad and violations you’re working on after entering?
00:27:53 – What is the work/life balance like these days? I’ve listened to quite a few episodes where the different agents worked 80-100 ish hours a week for months over the course of their careers, which often negatively impacted their family relationships, with some ending in divorces, etc.
00:31:00 – I am 27 years old; I work as the Director of Assessment at a psychiatric hospital. My master’s degree is in Psychology. I have been with the hospital for almost 6 years, working in progressively higher positions until obtaining a director-level job. My goal has been to join the FBI at 30. Given the brief overview of my background, is there any general advice you all can give me as I look to apply within the next 2-3 years? Anything that would make me stand out even more as an applicant?
00:32:57 – My grand daughter is 28 and has BA and MA degree in Accounting and four years with a major accounting firm. She has researched FBIJOBS.gov and realizes she meets the basic educational and experience for the SA position but is more interested in the Accounting /Financial Analyst position. Are professional Accounting/Financial Analysts able to choose their office assignments? Are they subject to transfers as are the SA’s? Do they receive location pay for high-cost areas? Do they receive overtime (AUO) as do the SA’s?
00:37:00 – I am a licensed attorney and I own and run my own law firm. My husband is a Navy JAG officer and so I take my firm with me when we move from state to state. I am a solo practitioner, so I do not have a supervising attorney. Is this still considered “professional” job experience for purposes of the Special Agent position?
00:37:50 – In moving from field office to office, is there any consideration given to being able to live close to my husband who is in the Navy, if possible? Of course, I understand the needs of the Bureau come first.
00:38:47 – I got arrested for driving under the influence. Besides this, I have a clean spotless record. Would this prevent me from getting accepted? Would that one mistake in my past be enough to prevent me from my dream job?
00:39:56 – What fields of study and experience is the Bureau most looking for and what will give future applicants that edge?
00:42:14 – Is the Intelligence Analyst recruitment process on hold or does it only happen one time per year?
00:44:00 – Do you have to have 20/20 vision to be an agent? Is there a height restriction?
00:45:00 – How long does the hiring process typically take?
00:45:10 – During Quantico, are you able to communicate with/see loved ones?
00:49:37 – How does the FBI determine what your specialization (or unit) will be as an agent?
00:53:00 – I haven’t been able to get in touch with my local FBI recruiter or Applicant Coordinator. What should I do?
00:55:02 – In your experience observing and training candidates, what do the most resilient New Agent Trainees do regularly while at Quantico to help them face unknown challenges and experiences while training?
00:57:20 – I’ve been told or even warned that this job can change you; being exposed to a world of crime and prosecution might do that. What strategies have you used, or seen used, whether mental attitudes or practices, to maintain a healthy optimism when facing even the toughest situations consistently as a special agent? And to follow that question, what practices do you suggest to check-in with yourself throughout one’s time serving in the FBI to make sure you haven’t lost true north, in a sense?
01:05:44 – I am a military officer considering transitioning in the next 3-5 years and I’m interested in applying to the FBI. Can you speak at all on family life in the FBI? My dream is to coach my kids’ little league teams. Is that possible as a special agent? Also, does the FBI respect Sundays for church?
01:10:41 – Are Tattoos allowed?
01:12:05 – What is the graduation rate over the past 5 years? How many people flunk out?
01:14:03 – How do new agent graduates from the Academy handle first assignment living arrangements, especially given when that first assignment location is confirmed while in training and the 2 year probationary period? Are there any services provided at the academy to help locate housing/apartments for new agents or at the field offices themselves? Do most agents look to rent an apartment or do they purchase a house that they have a family?
01:19:44 – When given a new assignment (new city) later in an agent’s career, do the individuals have to handle breaking a lease/selling a house or does the government help alleviate some of that stress?
01:22:14 – How does that first week/month look for new agents when they arrive at their first field office?