The Intelligence Officer Development Programme: What’s It Really Like

The Intelligence Officer Development Programme: What’s It Really Like

Being an Intelligence Officer at MI5 might sound like a daunting prospect, but the truth is, you’ve already got a lot of what it takes. Being a good Intelligence Officer is all about using your instincts and judgement to spot patterns and make links. It’s about collaboration and teamwork. And about using your way of seeing the world to bring a fresh perspective to our mission.

But don’t just take it from us. In this blog, hear from Natalie all about her experiences as a woman of colour at MI5 and how becoming an Intelligence Officer wasn’t anything like she expected (in a good way).

“I’ve always been really driven, so I started thinking about my career when I was still at school. By the time I got to university, I’d worked out that I wanted to do something in the public sector – something that would be worthwhile and help people. I knew about the Intelligence Officer Development Programme, but I really didn’t think MI5 would employ someone like me.

I thought to work here you’d need to come from a certain type of background, have gone to one of the top universities and be very academic. I grew up in a relatively deprived area and, if I’m being honest, I thought MI5 was a place only for ‘posh people’. But the thought of doing something so worthwhile kept me interested in the programme. And the more I read about the organisation, the role, and what it involved, the more it made me realise it was something I could do. 

“You’re never made to feel your opinion doesn’t matter. You get stuck in from day one.”

Starting was a bit daunting at first, but it’s so hands on that you learn a lot really quickly. It’s also a lot more welcoming than you might think. I expected that it would feel serious and quite hierarchical, that I might not be able to put my thoughts forward at first, but it’s the complete opposite. You’re made to feel very welcome and never made to feel your opinion doesn’t matter. You get stuck in from day one.

The development programme starts with a placement in another part of the organisation, so you can learn more about how MI5 works as a whole. It’s a complex machine and there are so many teams involved in creating the overall Intelligence picture. I started in the Compliance team, which is responsible for making sure everything MI5 does operationally is within the law. It involved a lot of meetings, managing case work and keeping up to date on all the different jobs the organisation is working on. You can be placed almost anywhere across MI5 at the beginning of the development programme while you find your feet and learn more about the organisation.

“You have to be curious and ask questions. It’s how we drive our investigations forward.”

Then, when you move onto working in Intelligence, your focus changes to managing risks, creating strategies and running investigations. It’s a steep learning curve, but you’re doing it all with your programme cohort. You’re all going through the same thing at the same time, so there’s lots of support. More senior members of the team are really keen to help you learn and grow your skills too. It’s what the programme’s all about.

And, as for the work, you’re dealing with unique information, but the skills you use as an Intelligence Officer are similar to being a Project Manager. Communication skills and being able to multitask and stay organised are key. But also having an interest in building a picture, spotting patterns in things and looking beneath the surface. You have to be curious and ask questions. It’s how we drive our investigations forward. 

“I can’t think of anything else that would be as fulfilling for me as this role.”

My worry about not fitting in here ended up being unfounded. There are many different types of people and my differences are part of what I bring to the team. Being from a working-class background means I’ve got an insight into how many people talk, and the slang some people use that some of my colleagues don’t know. It’s valuable for our work to have people from all types of backgrounds and MI5’s doing a lot of work to increase diversity across its different teams.

Now, when I’m thinking about my career, I just think… imagine if I didn’t apply. Imagine if I hadn’t taken that leap. I can’t think of anything that would be as fulfilling for me as this role. Because I know every day, even the small things I’m doing at work, all help to make the country safer.”

If you’re curious about joining our Intelligence Officer Development Programme, you can sign up now for our online insight events here.





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