As the UK’s domestic security and counter-intelligence agency, Military Intelligence Section 5 (also known as MI5) is a great place to work.
Operating alongside MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service), GCHQ (Government Communication Headquarters), and DI (Defence Intelligence), MI5 employees have to sign the Official Secrets Act to occupy any position, and if you want to work here you’ll need to pass advanced vetting and get through a long and in-depth application process.
MI5 makes no secret about wanting to employ the very best, with opportunities that range from corporate and business support to intelligence operations. Mi5 offers a great range of benefits including a market leading salary, onsite facilities including a coffee bar and a subsidized restaurant, and special measures taken to ensure a good work/life balance at every level of the organization.
Opportunities for early careers include:
- Software engineer apprenticeships
- Infrastructure engineering apprenticeships
- IT Service entry scheme
- Technical internships
- Covert technical operations
- Procurement internships
- Intelligence Officer Development Programme
- Intelligence and Data Analyst Development Programme
- Technology Graduate Development Programme
Experienced professionals are also welcomed, with roles ranging from Agent Handlers through to Vetting Officers and encompassing administrative and business support roles too.
The application process to join MI5 is long and quite complicated as you would expect, with multiple stages that you need to get through to get started in this unique and rewarding career.
The basic application process is as follows:
- Pre-Screening Questionnaire (check eligibility)
- Initial application form (basic contact details)
- Online Tests (Competency Questionnaire and Verbal Reasoning Test)
- Written Exercise
- Telephone Interview (Competency-based questions)
- Assessment Centre
Why does Mi5 use assessment centers?
MI5 uses the assessment center as a way to evaluate candidates on the soft skills that are not easy to assess without being face-to-face with a candidate. The recruiters want to see that each applicant has the ability to work well as part of a team, can lead and negotiate when necessary, and that they can communicate in an effective and professional manner.
The exercises that are undertaken at the assessment center allow each candidate to demonstrate their interpersonal skills in the same way, with the same challenges to overcome which makes it fairer.
The assessment center is also a great way for candidates to get a feel for what working for the organization will be like and what they can expect from their day-to-day working life.
What skills is Mi5 looking for?
Each role at MI5 will have specific qualifications, skills, and aptitudes that are needed for success, and these will clearly be listed in the job description before you apply.
Above all else, as a government service all about security and the safety of the nation, MI5 wants to ensure that every candidate can demonstrate the highest levels of honesty, integrity, and teamwork.
Another important aptitude is discretion. You will not be allowed to discuss your application with anyone (other than your partner or a single close family member), and throughout the recruitment process you will be given bespoke advice on a cover to use before you get the role.
The emphasis on discretion is very important; and this is why you will need to sign the Official Secrets Act before you start. The protection of the nation’s security is paramount, and that is why your application will undergo several different stages of vetting to allow you the top level of security clearance in the country.
Mi5 assessment center format
The assessment center structure and content might vary depending on the role that you have applied for, and in some cases you might have half a day of assessment, or even more than one day. However, some of the exercises that you can expect to take part in are below:
Mi5 group exercise
In the group exercise, you might be given a case study that you have to discuss and debate in a small group.
You will need to be able to collaborate as a team to discuss the brief you are given, and you might be asked to come up with a plan of action to deal with a problem that has been presented.
Throughout the group exercise you will be assessed on your ability to communicate appropriately, to negotiate with your team members, and to actively listen to different points of view. You will also be assessed on your ability to get other team members involved in the conversation.
Mi5 role play exercise
The role play exercise is something that many candidates find difficult, but this is just an assessment of your judgment and behavior when under pressure.
In the role play, you will usually be working with a member of the recruitment team, and you will need to react to a situation that is unfolding. You might be dealing with something sensitive like trying to get information, or you might be role playing in another situation.
In this part of the assessment center, you need to be able to communicate, listen, and act professionally.
Mi5 written exercise
The written exercise is an individual test, and you will usually be given a brief or a case study containing written information that you will need to read and understand. You will need to use this information to write a report or a brief to a superior, or you might need to recommend a strategy to solve a problem.
This part is usually timed, and you will be marked on your content and structure as well as your spelling and grammar, so you need to have a good eye for detail.
Tips for passing the Mi5 assessment center
1. Be discreet
Remember that you are not allowed to discuss your application to MI5 with anyone except a partner or a close family member, so you need to be discreet about the whole process. This means that you cannot discuss it with other people or post about it on social media.
You will need to know exactly what the recruitment team are looking for, and that means being prepared. You will have to read the job description thoroughly. This is where all the details about the person that they are looking for will be, and you will need to know the skills, competencies, and aptitudes that they need so that you can demonstrate how well you match through the application process.
You are likely to be asked some motivational questions during the interviews at MI5, and you will be expected to show that you know the history of the service and some more details about the intelligence industry as a whole. There is a lot of information available on the MI5 website, and this should be the basis of your research.
4. Make a good impression
In many cases, the assessment center might be the first time that you are face to face with the hiring team, and you want to make a good first impression. This means you should aim to dress smartly - perhaps a suit or at least a well made shirt and tie or blouse, with comfortable shoes - and present yourself as clean and tidy, too.
5. Arrive early
Whether your assessment center is at MI5 headquarters at Thames House in London, or in one of the satellite offices, you need to be sure that you arrive early. This means planning your route at least the day before and leaving in plenty of time to avoid traffic and the possibility of a tailback making you late.