The real thing may not be as glamorous as the James Bond films suggest, but working as a spy is still a rewarding career choice. "As interesting as the work is, the work of an IO [intelligence officer] is not blockbuster material,'' says the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's Marc Martin (not his real name). "If you want a job that involves glamorous locations, jet-skis, cocktails and the rest, you'd be better off working as an actor on the next Bond film.''
Martin has worked as an IO for five years and his duties as a collection officer include "talking to members of the public who volunteer information, identifying and managing human sources who are in positions to provide information ... and working with the corresponding analytical team in Canberra to progress investigations''.
He applied for the position because he was searching for a job that would provide a combination of written work, creative thinking and social interaction. Martin wasn't really clear on what the job involved, so saw the application process as a way of finding out more. "I didn't have any firm expectations about what the position would involve and I'm not sure many people do before they start,'' he says.
"It is difficult to imagine what the work will be like until you begin at ASIO and get a thorough understanding of the day-to-day operations of the organisation. "I wasn't certain when I put in my application whether I would be suited to the job. If you're interested but uncertain as to whether you would be right for the position, I'd encourage you to apply.''
Martin is one of about 1150 ASIO staff, a figure which has doubled since 2001. ASIO is a counter-terrorism agency and its primary objective is preventing terrorism in Australia. Since the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11, 2001, the Australian Government has increased funding to ASIO and has set the agency a target of employing a total of 1860 staff by 2011.
"As the Prime Minister said recently, the only effective antidote against terrorism is to prevent it occurring in the first place, which is why so much emphasis has been placed on strengthening intelligence services,'' an ASIO spokeswoman says.
She says ASIO recruits people from varied backgrounds in order to have a workforce which reflects Australian society. "Recent applicants have ranged from those in their final year at university through to those with significant work experience including teachers, managers, marine biologists, lawyers, psychologists, engineers, scientists and social workers,'' she says.
According to ASIO's annual report to Federal Parliament, which was released in September, women now make up 44 per cent of their total workforce and 33 per cent of senior staff.
"ASIO strongly believes in, and supports, workplace diversity,'' the spokeswoman says. While a career as an IO offers workplace benefits such as flextime and on-call allowances to compensate for working irregular hours and undertaking work-related travel, Martin says managing this can be difficult.
"Maintaining flexibility in all areas of your work life is probably the greatest challenge,'' he says. "You may be moved from project to project at short notice or have to change your approach to an interview when you discover new information at the last moment. Because of the dynamic nature of the work, this capacity to deal with change and remain calm is essential.'' Martin says the secrecy that shrouds his work is also a challenge that all IOs must manage. "It can be difficult not being able to tell people where you work, but you get used to it and the security procedures become second nature,'' he says.
"I find it reasonably easy not to talk about what I do with family and friends. I talk about my work all day with colleagues, so when I go home, it's nice to think about something else. My close friends and family know where I work, but they understand that I can't talk about it and they don't ask.''
You don't need specific qualifications to become an intelligence officer with ASIO, but there are some prerequisites: first, you need to have a university degree (in any discipline), be an Australian citizen, have a current driver's licence and be prepared to move to Canberra for training.
You must also be prepared to undergo background checks and psychological and security assessments.
Second, you need to be a people-person. A large part of your duties involves information gathering through talking and listening to people from a range of different cultures
and backgrounds. Interpreting this information within the context of a broader picture goes hand in hand with information gathering, so strong conceptual and critical thinking skills are a must.
What does it take to work as a spy?
The first hurdle to overcome is the recruitment process. Understandably, this is quite intensive. The selection process involves aptitude testing, interviews, psychological assessment and extensive background checking.
You're in -- what next? Successful applicants start a year-long training program that covers class-based and on-the-job training. You will spend most of this time in Canberra. For this year you will receive a salary between $54,026 and $58,974, according to your level of education and work experience.
So now you're an intelligence officer -- be prepared to keep secrets. You won't be able to talk about your job to anyone other than the people you work with. Most of your duties will relate to information gathering through speaking with members of the public or people who offer information. You will also be required to use covert means of obtaining information, including recruiting and managing human sources. Once you're a qualified IO, your salary ranges from $65,505 to $74,717.
Applications for ASIO's July 2007 IO traineeship intake close on Monday November 6.
For more information, go to http://www.asio.gov.au/ and follow the links to Intelligence Officer.
By Aimee Brown, The Daily Telegraph, October 28, 2006.