MI5 Careers: What is it really like to work at MI5?
In today's 24/7 news culture, MI5's work is rarely far from the headlines. In fact, the agency's role and its work have a higher profile than ever. But there's still a sense of mystery surrounding MI5 and the job of an Intelligence Officer (IO) - particularly because films and TV paint an exaggerated and distorted picture of what it's really like.
So, with applications now open for MI5's Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP), we spoke to two MI5 IOs, Claire and Chris (not their real names) about the reality of their role. "I didn't really know what to expect when I joined, but I definitely didn't think I'd find such an exciting yet supportive atmosphere." said Chris.
Both Chris and Claire are keen to point out that the atmosphere is not what people might expect from how it is portrayed in the media. Although at critical moments the work can be fast-paced, it is balanced with a 'uniquely informal' and supportive culture. They both clearly enjoy what they're doing. So, what makes it so enjoyable?
"I think it's the people - they're brilliant," says Claire. "And it's a really supportive and friendly environment, with a good work-life balance. The evidence is that so many people enjoy long careers here."
"It doesn't feel like a stepping stone career, but somewhere yo can stay for a long time." said Claire.
The IODP rotations are designed to help you build the skills you need for a successful career in intelligence over the first two years. At the end of the programme, your training continues in a three-year intelligence posting, as you develop into a fully fledged Intelligence Officer.
Claire sees many of her friends moving organisations regularly to progress their careers. But the rotations on the IODP and the options available at the end of the scheme mean that she can build a varied career without leaving MI5. This flexibility to pursue different roles and specialisms in the future was a big attraction for her. "If I wanted to settle down in a few years' time," she says, "I can see that I could stay here and make it work."
"I often pinch myself when I think about the work I do each day. Three years in and I still feel a great sense of pride when I walk through the doors." said Chris.
A typical day for Chris consists of assessing intelligence, liaising with intelligence providers, such as agent runners, linguists and surveillance teams and keeping in touch with UK police forces. It's crucial and highly responsible work and he has access to the training and development he needs to develop his skills. MI5 needs to develop IOs who are both strong team players, but who can also act independently and make sound decisions. For Chris, it's this balance between team work and the autonomy he has to change the direction or strategy of investigations that he really enjoys.
Claire said "I'm always discussing things with my colleagues before taking action and I always feel supported in the decisions I take."
Claire previously worked in law and is just six months into the programme, in her first rotation as a digital intelligence analyst, working against terrorist targets. She says the support she gets from her team is invaluable and there's a great social side to the work: "When someone new joins the team we'll have a team breakfast or lunch. And we often go out together in the evenings, too."
Chris added "Flexible working makes it easy to pursue the things you enjoy, for example I can leave early for cricket practice on a weekly basis."
People often assume that work takes over your life in the intelligence world and that it is very stressful. But the reality is very different. And, because you can't take your work home, you can really enjoy your leisure time.
After working in the highly pressurised legal sector, Claire was pleasantly surprised that working out of hours was the exception rather than the rule. And she also appreciates the advantages of flexi-time. For example, she recently worked a few extra hours over the week so she that could take a day off to meet an old school friend.
Of course, the nature of the role means you may sometimes need to work after hours. However, as Chris explains: "Everyone pulls together during busy times because we all recognise the importance of what we're doing. These are the moments when everything we've been working towards comes together."
To find out more about what working at MI5 is really like and to apply, go to www.MI5.gov.uk