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Career ProfileHomeland Security Agent

What They Do

The primary role of a homeland security agent is to work for the Department of Homeland Security and ensure the safety of all U.S. borders, airports, seaports and other waterways. Outside the U.S., agents may be responsible for handling international affairs and national security initiatives from locations overseas. An agent employed at an airport, seaport or U.S. border will patrol his or her assigned area on the lookout for suspicious items and individuals; it is their job to asses possible terror threats presented by people or the items they carry with them; this includes preventing the smuggling of illegal substances into the country.

Another part of a homeland security agent’s job may include exploring and creating new security technology to aid in natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Some are trained to read and evaluate intelligence reports in order to prevent threats to the U.S.

Who is Best Suited for This Career?

Current police officers, corrections officers or others in law enforcement professionals might to do well to pursue careers as homeland security agents. Studies have indicated that those with certain personalities are better suited for this role than others; a reliable, tech-savvy, physically fit person with strong communication skills, sound judgment and a level head would make an ideal homeland security agent. Problem solving, critical-thinking, the ability to use a firearm and successfully be part of a team are also attractive traits. Because agents constantly investigate crime to gain a better understanding of terroristic activity, strong research, report-writing and data-collection skills are appealing to employers.

Expectations: Salary and Career Advancement

Depending upon experience, location and the specifics of their assignment, homeland security agents can earn between $33,979 and $93,175 annually, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Like most government jobs, benefits include paid sick and vacation time, insurance and retirement options. Many agents are also attracted to the added benefit of the option to work overseas.

Work Environment

Because homeland security officers work at multiple agencies around the world, their work environments will vary greatly. Some agencies where homeland security agents are employed include:

  • The U.S. Capitol Police
  • The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • The U.S. Secret Service
  • The Federal Protective Service
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • The Transportation Security Administration and Park Services

A homeland security agent might work in an office setting where they’ll track, assess and follow terrorist risks, or they could work in the ‘field,’ watching out for illegal immigrant activity at U.S. borders. Patrolling the perimeter of major international airports, shipping terminals and seaports is another option for homeland security agents.

Education and Other Qualifications

A bachelor’s degree is typically required to become a homeland security agent. A Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice or a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Leadership will take a candidate far in the hiring process for this occupation. Successful new-hires will have had course work in communications, research, criminal justice and problem solving; experience in criminal investigation is also a plus in the eyes of an employer. 

The more specialized experience an applicant can acquire before applying for a position as a homeland security agent, the better. Many times, taking advantage of internship opportunities within a law enforcement agency during college will provide such experience. Students should endeavor to learn how to handle evidence, conduct investigations and analyze data. Finally, before being hired, applicants are required to undergo extensive interviews and background checks.