Myths vs reality

A spy’s job is often depicted as being full of action and adventure. However, not many people know what being an Intelligence Officer really entails, and the true impact it has on keeping the country safe. So, let us smash the five top myths about the role of an IO at MI5.

Whether it’s an international blockbuster, a gripping novel or the latest computer game, the life and work of spies has been capturing our imaginations since we were young. The mystery and intrigue has led to stories of last minute code cracking and gadgets that would make your head spin. But these tales aren’t always very accurate. Here, we bust some of the top myths about being an Intelligence Officer (IO) at MI5.

Myth 1) Flash suits and fast cars - Lifestyle of an IO

The life of an Intelligence Officer at MI5 is cemented into popular culture. However, the reality is often very different. Of course, we can’t go into detail about what the real lifestyle of an IO is at MI5, but it’s probably not that dissimilar to yours. They’re ordinary people, with ordinary lives. They just so happen to have one of the most interesting jobs in the world.

Myth 2) Blank business cards - Recruitment

Probably the biggest myth on the list is recruitment. Of course, the movies show a highly intelligent individual being given a blank card by a mysterious, well-dressed man, with nothing but an address or number. But it’s a lot more open than that. In fact, graduates with a 2:2 in any discipline (or equivalent, permanent work experience) can apply to the Intelligence Officer Development Programme on our website.

Myth 3) A job for an English gentleman - Diversity

Another image of an international spy is that of a tall, white, well-educated male – with a perfect English accent. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, diversity is imperative to the success of investigations. For this reason, our Intelligence Officers come from all different walks of life and bring different knowledge and experience. More important than your background, is the fact you’re intelligent, collaborative, have good judgement and strong communication skills.

Myth 4) No time for a normal life

Yes, it’s true that IOs occasionally work long hours. But this all depends on operational requirements. MI5 believe in making sure their people don’t burn out. Which is why we operate flexible working – meaning you decide what time you start and finish work, depending on your diary, and working extra hours is compensated with overtime or time off in lieu. Not only that, an IO doesn’t have to be an IO for life. If, after a period of pressure, they want to take some time out, there are opportunities to move into other roles in the business. In fact, they will move roles every three years, gaining a range of experience. And when the day is done, the work is left at the door. Because, due to the nature of the work, you simply can’t take your work home. So while it’s a job with lots of responsibility, your home time is just for that: home. 

Myth 5) It’s a lonely job, but someone’s got to do it

You’ve seen it. Spy goes into the office, gets some gadgets and is sent on their way to save the world. And it’s all very serious (save the occasional witty quip for a bit of comic relief for the audience). However, the environment at MI5 is probably a lot more similar to other offices across the capital. Yes, the work is serious, exciting and rewarding – after all, it saves lives and keeps the country safe. But all IOs are supported by line managers, with a big emphasis on personal and professional development. And our people still enjoy quite a relaxed, informal atmosphere - while also maintaining a very professional and driven approach to work.

If you’re interested in joining our Intelligence Officer Development Programme, click here.

To apply to MI5 you must be a born or naturalised British citizen, over 18 years of age and normally have lived in the UK for nine of the last ten years. You should not discuss your application, other than with your partner or a close family member, providing that they are British. They should also be made aware of the importance of discretion.

Image Credit: Andrew Neel