There aren’t many graduate programmes where you’ll help to protect 66 million people. But at MI5, that’s exactly what you’ll learn to do. As you’d expect, the Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP) is fairly challenging. But it’s just as accessible as any other graduate scheme, and a lot more rewarding than most.
There are a lot of misconceptions about working at MI5. When it comes to MI5 and the role of an Intelligence Officer (IO), it’s hard to tell fact from fiction. You’d be forgiven for thinking the only way of becoming an IO is by being tapped on the shoulder, but that’s simply not the case. So let us debunk some of those myths, and reveal some unexpected facts.
Myth 1: An IO spends their day hiding behind newspapers and ducking from danger.
Being an IO is not a dangerous job. And you certainly don’t have to be a master of disguise. IOs don’t actually carry out any surveillance (that’s a different role). In fact, you’ll mostly be based in an office environment, performing a number of roles that support the intelligence capability of MI5.
Myth 2: It’s international work, so you’ll need to be fluent in lots of languages.
Don’t dust off your passport just yet. Although the work can have an international angle, MI5 protects the UK at home, rather than overseas. While being an IO is one of the most interesting and stimulating roles you can come across, you probably won’t be jetting off round the world. MI5 employs world-class linguists and translators, so while speaking other languages is great, it’s not essential.
Myth 3: Being an IO is work, work, work. And then some more work.
There’s no doubt about it, your work will be incredibly important. But that doesn’t mean it will become your life. In fact, MI5 makes sure everyone has a great work-life balance and are huge advocates of flexible working. Plus, you can’t take your work home with you, so when you step out of the office, you really do leave it behind.
Myth 4: Only people with a degree from Oxbridge will be accepted for the IODP.
MI5 look for a number of skills and qualities in their IOs. It’s got nothing to do with where you graduated from, or who you know. In fact, it’s incredibly valuable to have unique perspectives and fresh takes on situations – especially as the UK faces ever-evolving threats. MI5 recognise that they represent the country they seek to protect, so diversity is crucial to their operational success. No matter your background, you’ll spend two years gaining an insight into what it takes to keep the country safe, developing transferable skills and building your confidence. All of that comes down to your ability, and determination. Not where your degree came from or what you studied.
Myth 5: The money isn’t great and you can’t tell anyone you work for MI5.
As far as graduate salaries go, this is up there. You’ll earn £30,817 in your first year, rising to £33,316 after another year. Pretty impressive. But it’s true, you can’t update your social media with ‘Working as an Intelligence Officer at MI5’. You can only discuss your application with your partner or a close family member. You’re fully supported in developing your cover when you join, and if you have any questions or concerns, there’s a team always on hand to help. It’s just about being discrete.
Myth 6: It takes over a year to apply, and there are lots of unnecessary stages.
Every part of the application process is necessary and useful – both to MI5 and you. It gives you a chance to check you like the work, and it lets MI5 decide if you have the right skills. This way, you’ll start the scheme feeling confident. It does take around 9 months to complete the application process, so if you’re in your final year of studying it’s worth applying now. There’s typically around 8 stages (including vetting), but the recruitment team will update you regularly and will answer any questions you might have. When you consider the job you’ll be doing, the training you’ll get and the impact you’ll have, it’s worth it.