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CIA uses new online personality test as recruitment tool

Sunday, November 26, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The CIA has scrapped its ho-hum test that steered job applicants toward mysterious careers and devised one that's cloaked in jest.

Invisibility or ESP? Jet pack or amphibious sports car? Walk the Great Wall of China or sip champagne at a New York gala?

The results from the CIA's personality quiz are just a few clicks away, diagnosing test takers as daring thrill-seekers, thoughtful observers, curious adventurers, innovative pioneers or impressive masterminds.

The CIA wants to hire them all.

The agency's online personality test is the equivalent of a help-wanted sign, posted on the closest thing the agency has to a front door -- its Web site. The frivolous quiz is designed to encourage job applications while dispelling myths about the agency, some of them born of the James Bond stereotype.

For instance, the CIA wants you to know that everyone who works there does not drive a sports car with machine guns in the tailpipes. Successful applicants will, in fact, see their family and friends again. Also, "you don't have to know karate or look good in a tuxedo to work at the CIA," the personality quiz says.

All fun aside, the hiring push began almost immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and picked up steam in November 2004 when President Bush called for a 50 percent increase in the agency's ranks of operatives and analysts.

The president wanted twice as many scientists whose research combats terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The agency hopes to meet those goals by 2011.

One in seven of CIA's current employees joined the agency in the past year, and nearly 40 percent of its employees began working at the agency after the Sept. 11 attacks -- statistics at once helpful and troubling.

"This is the youngest analytic work force in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency," director Michael Hayden said at his confirmation hearings this year. "In more disappointing language, this is the least experienced analytic work force in the history of CIA."

The CIA had some stumbles as it stepped out of the shadows to recruit.

The agency started in 2002 with black-and-white ads. Last year, the agency's television ads during Washington Nationals baseball games were so quiet and unnoticeable that fans might have thought their cable went out for 30 seconds if they headed to the kitchen for a snack.

Officials in charge of hiring realized they needed a new plan. They hired an ad agency, TMP Worldwide, to help.

The "Bug Spot" was born. A snooping dragonfly zooms through the ad, showing how scientists at the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology develop their James Bondesque devices -- "technology so advanced, it's classified," the ad boasts.

The ad debuted on the Discovery Channel. The agency got 3,500 resumes shortly afterward from people who said they were applying after seeing the spot.

An ad for the National Clandestine Service, the agency's secret operatives, followed soon after.

Now, the CIA is redoing its Web site. It is buying space on airport billboards and in movie trailers. It is taking out ads in publications from The Locksmith Ledger to Women's Wear Daily to Arab Times, seeking people who can crack locks, create disguises and speak polished Arabic. It is reaching out to soon-to-be retired military officers.

The CIA also created its updated personality quiz, with a special disclaimer straight from the legal department: "The Myths Quiz is for educational entertainment purposes only. ... This quiz will not affect your ability to get a job with the CIA."

The lawyers are not the only ones who don't take the quiz lightly.

Some of the CIA's traditionalists fear the agency is tarnishing its proud, exclusive roots to meet the presidential directive. They worry that the CIA quiz and its advertisements during "MythBusters" and other cable shows with cult followings are too gimmicky.

In short, they worry that the agency is sacrificing quality to get quantity. Last year alone, the agency received 135,000 applications -- a number that has more than doubled since Sept. 11, 2001.

Tom McCluskey, the CIA's chief of hiring and employee development, heard the concerns firsthand at a recent gathering of the Florida chapter of the agency's retirees association.

"Some of the old-timers grumbled, 'Where's the mystique? Where is the aura of mystery around what we do?'" McCluskey said in an interview. "The good news is that we are not seeking to hire those people."

Instead, he said, the CIA is after the generation that has grown up on the Web. "They were born with ear buds in their ears. They are ADD and it is contagious," he said, referring to attention deficit disorder. "We need that kind of talent here."

The CIA once did have a test that steered applicants to one of the agency's three main divisions: the National Clandestine Service, the Directorate of Science and Technology or the Directorate of Intelligence. But officials scrapped it after figuring out that it was often wrong.

A new test that could steer applicants to one of more than 200 jobs is now being devised for use during the screening process. But developing it is taking time.

Meanwhile, Congress is watching the agency's recruitment efforts. The incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has said one of his priorities is investigating whether the CIA has the right people in the right jobs and ensuring the CIA has enough people who are fluent in crucial foreign languages.

Even if Congress starts grilling the agency in public, odds are it could help. Generally speaking, said Betsy Davis, deputy chief of the CIA's recruitment and advertising, "We see spikes in applicants after bad stories. We see spikes in applicants after good stories."


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