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
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
"It doesn't feel like a stepping stone career, but somewhere
you 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
"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
Claire said "I'm always discussing things with my colleagues
before taking action and I always feel supported in the decisions I
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
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