Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mark Scott '74 on a life inside intelligence


Yesterday PG 250 (our required course in research and writing in the major) was fortunate to host Mark Scott '74, who after graduation spent 28 years working in cryptologic service at the National Security Agency. His comments on work in intelligence and security, on life in DC, and how to be flexible in approach one's future were invaluable. Mr. Scott was kind enough to write up his main points, and I copy them below. Many thanks! If you'd like to contact Mr. Scott, send me (Professor O'Neil) a note.

The following is based on my experiences and represent my opinion.


1. Be flexible on the types of careers you pursue. Have a backup plan if your primary doesn’t work out.

2. Make sure there is some sort of relationship between your interests, education and skills and the career field you are interested in. If you have no interest in the job then why apply?

3. What is the trade-off? What are you willing to sacrifice to work in that field (slow advancement, background checks, benefit packages, travel, and work location)?

4. Research the career field and the organization you are thinking of applying to- Who are they? What do they do? What are their benefit packages? What sort of advancement can you expect? Big one: Do you want to invest 10, 20 or 30 years in that field?

5. Always look for opportunities to enhance your education and skills. This will give you better career mobility within and external to your career field. If will be easier to switch careers if you have a broad package of education, skills and experience.

6. Know your limitations.

7. Having a foreign language BEFORE you apply for a job potentially saves that agency/company/organization money and may make you a more attractive hire. If you can’t, be alert for opportunities for company/agency/organizationally sponsored programs. If this isn’t possible, explore other options (company/agency sponsored training, self-financed course(s)).

8. Be prepared to take jobs you find less attractive and less satisfying in order to gain entry to the positions you do want.

Your first task after graduation is to get established in the field, even at entry-level. Once you have this stability, you can move on to address other issues.

As with any decision in your life, consider it carefully, weighing the pros and cons. Do not let yourself get rushed into decisions that will impact your life without careful deliberation.

Where you end up depends on choices you make.

Programs which build on your Government and Politics Undergraduate Degree include (these subjects were taken from actual programs offered in the U.S.):

Topical Programs
Conflict Resolution
Foreign Service
Intelligence Studies
Strategic Intelligence
International Business
International Development Policy
International Policy Studies
International Politics
International Relations
International Studies
International Trade Management
National Security Studies
Public Administration
Public Affairs
Public Policy
Policy Management
Security Policy
Security Studies
Statecraft and National Security Affairs

This short list of topical areas covers those interested in international careers, Non-governmental organization careers, U.S. National Security,
Government (Federal, State, Local), Business and industry and so on.

A less expensive option is to look for post-graduate “Certificate” programs in the above. You can use these to build on if you choose to pursue a Masters Degree later.

Area Studies programs are broken down into two types- Country and Regional. An example of the former would be a program in China Studies. With this, naturally, you should consider including a Chinese language course. Regional Studies would include East European Studies or Southeast Asian Studies for example. There are many of these programs available, look for ones that provide solid background in a country’s or region’s culture, history, politics etc. Avoid those which are nothing more than a pulpit for current
political issues.

Other Skill Enhancements
• Certificate programs in information science, information technology, computer science, gaining certification in one of these areas (example NOVELL certification in computer systems administration).
• Practical experience in a skill area of use in your career field of interest through volunteerism, internships and

• Avoid coursework in narrow niche subjects of no practical use in the real world. They may be interesting to you but will have no value in applying for a job unless that job has a direct link to that niche course. 18th Century French Literature will not be of much use to someone
pursuing a business or humanitarian career in Asia for Africa.
• Do not pad your resume. It can be rejected if detected.
• Don’t make unreasonable demands or expectations during the hiring process. That is a turn-off to interviewers.
• Avoid inappropriate dress. Some agencies/companies have cultures which unofficially dictate a certain dress code. Its not a requirement but it is expected. It could damage advancement potential. Understanding the corporate culture is key identifying the work norm in an office in terms of dress and language. Some companies/agencies are fairly laid back; others may be rather stiff and formal.
• In an interview, do not appear hesitant, display lack of confidence in yourself or apologetic or show disinterest in the work as a career. Answer questions clearly and accurately.


If you are interested in a career in Intelligence, craft your educational goals accordingly and ask yourself some important questions:

• Are you willing to undergo an extensive background check?
• Are you willing to subject yourself to periodic re-investigations and polygraph examinations?

If not, consider another career field. These are the price for a clearance, for access, for the job.

• Can I be impartial?

If not, do consider another field. Intelligence must be based on facts, not colored by political naiveté, ideology or personal feelings.


Consider an Area Studies minor and learn a foreign language (preferably one in which linguists are in short supply). Apply for an internship at a Government agency or with a non-profit think tank that examines intelligence issues. The latter will provide some practical experience for your resume.


If you are planning to join the military (Active, Reserve, National Guard), consider the Intelligence field. When your enlistment is up, you will have added specialized training and practical experience to your resume, not to mention a security clearance. All of this is marketable when seeking employment across most elements of the Government as well as private industry. And the education benefits can help you pursue graduate studies.


Any company which has a need for personnel having a security clearance will view you more favorably if you have one and it is still active. Such a candidate would save that company thousands of dollars in clearance costs. These companies range from manufacturers (Boeing, Rockwell etc) to “think tanks” producing studies and assessments, training and contract staffing.