Cathy - Roadmap to the FBI
What do you do for a living?
FBI Special Agent, Chicago Division. Right now I'm assigned to White Collar Health Care Fraud crimes. In the past I have been on an evidence response team collecting evidence and a hazardous materials response team. I also interview and mentor people who apply to the FBI, and support them during their onboarding process (Collateral Duty).
What does a day at your job look like?
Our day is dictated by where we are assigned geographically and depends on the phases of the cases we're assigned to. A day in the middle of an investigation is going to look different than a day in the middle of a trial or a day doing collateral duty. That's actually one of the things I love most - there's no one typical day. I have lots of independence to run investigations and determine how my days are spent.
Tasks during an investigation vary on whether it's in it's covert or overt stage; there are interviews to do, arrest warrants and search warrants to enforce, depositions at the US Attorney's office, going to court for long days, preparing witnesses, getting exhibits ready, ferrying witnesses back and forth, testifying. There is also paperwork, mostly writing interview reports, documenting the investigation properly or requesting approval for something I need during the investigation. All of the work I do is with the end goal of being prepared to make a case in a court of law.
Ongoing training is another part of my job - we have continuing education mandates that come down from Congress to make sure we learn about any changes in policy that may impact our jobs. I get legal training to be updated on current court cases, trainings on health care violations, and updated training on defensive tactics and use of firearms.
What path did you take to get here?
In 7th grade I decided I wanted to be a lawyer
I graduated from high school and went to University of Maryland to major in government and politics with the plan to go into law. Since we were just outside of DC, I had adjunct professors who were in the Bureau
I went to law school in Delaware and also got a Master's in Health Administration because I was interested in Health Law. I thought I'd be health counsel in a hospital, but then hospitals started outsourcing their legal providers
I got a job at a non-profit doing work consulting to Medicaid programs on the East Coast - a few months in I learned that the parent company was embezzling money from our non-profit, so financing our work became an issue
I decided to look into a government job for something with more stability
I contacted the FBI thinking I'd get a job there doing something in law, but was asked to consider becoming an agent
The more I learned about being an agent the more interested I became and followed through with applying
I was accepted, trained and assigned to Chicago. I've been in Chicago for my entire career. This job is an unconventional way to use my law degree, but I love it
What are the Challenges of your job?
Public perception of the agency as a whole. When I'm in public I represent a giant institution in this country. I may be the only agent a person ever meets in their lifetime so I want to represent the Bureau well. Portrayals of female agents in public and in the media (movies, tv shows) don't provide a well represented image of how you can do this job and be a successful wife/mother. Girls need to see that. When I present in high schools, students think they can’t be an agent and have a family. I make sure they understand you can do both, and there are even more benefits as a federal employee now in terms of maternity leave than there have been in the past.
What are the blessings of your job?
The opportunities I get to meet people. I grew up in a small town on the East Coast, I was exposed to little diversity until college. This job brought me 800 miles away to the Midwest and here I am knocking on doors of homes to interview people of all backgrounds and walks of life. I love talking to people and hearing their stories. It's fascinating to get this exposure to people I may have never met.
My collateral duty has provided me the chance to be part of big events like responding to one of the crash sites after 9/11 and working an Anthrax scare site in NYC. I felt blessed to be able to be a part of what was going on and not feel helpless on the sidelines. I’ve been able to help. I have been an agent 22 years and I still learn something new every day.
What 3 characteristics do you have to possess or develop to do your job well?
Empathy is my most important thing you can possess as an agent. The number one tool in an agent's toolkit is a voluntary interview, which you'll rarely get if you can't be empathetic to the people you're talking to. You have to be able to relate to each other.
Tenacity is next. Not everybody wants to talk to you. Pursuing your cases and not giving up when you come across a roadblock or when things don’t work out.
Diplomacy helps to negotiate cases with the US Attorney's office and with the public.
What are 3 concrete things you’d tell someone on their journey to doing your job?
Major in something you love in college. There's no specific major that leads to the FBI. No matter what you do you have to love it to stay self-motivated.
Reach out to the FBI, research our website and reach out with questions. We have people who take those calls and will point you in the right directions. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you have.
There’s a lot of information online, but if you can get access to an agent, take advantage of the opportunity to ask all the questions. Maybe that person will become a mentor for you. I mentor people who are interested in becoming an agent and I've met with people to sit and talk with them about this job.