Careers in Public Service: An Interview with Special Agent Danielle Messineo from the FBI

FBI

By Diana Mendez, Assistant Director at the Wasserman Center

Danielle Messineo is a Special Agent at the FBI and also works in recruitment for the agency. Danielle holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Hofstra University and an MBA in Business Management from Dowling College. Before working for the FBI, Danielle worked as a Product Manager for for a fitness manufacturing company. Working in the Fitness industry was her “back-up plan” if she couldn’t be involved in government work. Although she loves the important work that she does with the FBI, Danielle suggests that students also have a realistic view of their careers and always have a backup plan when it comes to looking for jobs in order to have more options and career prospects.

Danielle was generous enough to talk to one of our Wasserman staff members to provide insight into her career at the FBI and within the federal government at large. Below are the answers to our questions.

Wasserman Center (Wass): How did you get started in this field and how long have you been with the FBI?
Danielle Messineo (DM): “I have been an agent for 22 years. My interest in law enforcement began as a child watching TV shows, such as as Starsky & Hutch, the Mod Squad, and SWAT (some students may be too young to know those!!!) After graduating college, I thought about going to law school and/or applying to different law enforcement agencies. During this time, I met someone who was married to an FBI Agent and educated me about the process. I then applied to numerous agencies, including the FBI.”

Wass: What skills and/or advanced degrees does a candidate need for this field?
DM: “You do not need an advanced degree. However, obtaining one will make you highly competitive for the position. We are currently looking for Special Agent applicants with the following skills in the following areas: Science, Technology, Math, Engineering, Cyber, Foreign Language, Law, Accounting, prior law enforcement/military, and pilots. Students apply for these special agent positions through the fbijobs.gov website.”

Danielle suggested that students apply for the Honors Internship Program (10-week, paid internship for college undergraduate and graduate students) or the Collegiate Hiring Initiative (for graduating seniors or individuals who have graduated with an undergraduate, graduate, or PhD degree). Applications for these summer internships start in August of each year. For more information about the qualifications and skills necessary for these positions, you can visit the FBI website for student jobs here. The FBI website also contains a wide array of information about the FBI; it is meant to educate students about the culture, procedures, and expectations of working at the FBI.

Wass: What characteristics/personality traits do employers value in the federal government?
DM: “We look for people who demonstrate leadership, are team players and who are highly motivated. We want people who have strong character and integrity and are committed to protecting this country.”

Danielle also added that students can demonstrate these skills through the interview process. Specifically, candidates should include concrete examples of their relevant past experience. There will be many behavioral questions during the interview process where they will be asked to describe examples of how they have used their analytical, interpersonal and personal solving skills, as well as their reasoning and flexibility.

Wass: What is an average day or week on the job like?
DM: “There is no average day or week on the job. It depends on the violation that you are working on and what type of investigations you are conducting. You might be conducting an arrest on Monday, out on a surveillance on Tuesday, in the office on Wednesday preparing reports, testifying in front of a Grand Jury on Thursday, and interviewing witnesses on Friday.”

Danielle’s work at the FBI is that of an investigator and has revolved around violent crimes including: organized crime, drug trafficking/money laundering, gangs, and violent crimes against children. She was a Federal Law Enforcement Foundation Award Recipient in 2009 for her tireless efforts in a child pornography investigation. She is getting ready to go to an elective training in Quantico, which will enhance her presentations, recruitment and overall work in internet safety and cyberbullying.

Wass: What is your favorite thing about your work?
DM: “The feeling of purpose and making a difference. There is no better feeling than knowing you have made this world a safer place.”

Wass: What is the work culture like at the FBI?
DM: “The work culture embodies hard work, integrity, and dedication to protecting the US no matter what challenges we face.”

Danielle also expanded upon the internal office culture at the FBI. She mentioned that in general, there is not a lot of turnover within the agency, which allows for a family feeling, as special agents usually start very young and grow up on the job with each other. Danielle enjoys the social component and special bond that she’s able experience within her squad mates.

In terms of the treatment of female Special Agents in a male-dominated field, Danielle actually feels that being a woman represents an advantage in her line of work. For instance, women deal with investigations that men can’t cover (battered women, abused children). There are many opportunities for female special agents depending on the type of investigation being conducted at a given time. Danielle has not personally ever experienced discrimination. According to her, everybody is treated as equals and everybody has to earn the respect of their colleagues through their work ethic.

Wass: What are the advancement opportunities at the FBI?
DM: “Special Agents enter as GS-10 employees on the law enforcement government pay scale and can advance to the GS-13 grade level in a field, non-supervisory role. Special Agents can thereafter qualify for a promotion to supervisory, management and executive positions to grades GS-14 and GS-15, as well as to the FBI Senior Executive Service.”

Danielle is currently a GS-13, step 10 employee (right below management level), and it took her about 10 years to get to that level.

Wass: How long was the process for you to get hired at the FBI?
DM: “The process for me was very long because I originally applied in 1993 and then there was a hiring freeze. I re-applied in the summer of 1994 when the freeze was lifted and entered the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA in January of 1995. The current selection process can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year.”

Danielle expanded upon the hiring process at the FBI. Phase 1 entails applying online and taking a 3 hour test at a local testing facility. The test includes cognitive and behavioral questions. Candidates are informed on the spot if they passed or failed the test. Then, a meet-and-greet at a local facility is required. Candidates sit down with an agent and go over their resume in greater detail (special agents need 3 years of professional work experience, which does not include internships or volunteer work). Phase 2 consists of a 90 minute written exam, and a 1-hour oral panel interview with 3 agents (assessors). In this interview, assessors will discuss candidates’ core competencies. If the candidate passes phase 2, they will get contacted a week later to take a physical fitness test. If the test is passed, a background check is next (polygraph, drug test, medical check-up, and references). If the candidate is successful in all of these phases, a conditional job offer is extended. If accepted, new hires will be placed in a class for a basic field training course. The 21 week academy consists of 12 weeks of academic work and and then a law enforcement phase.

Wass: What are some challenges in this field?
DM: “An FBI Agent’s job is a very demanding job both mentally and physically. There are many challenges, however, that the training and support that is provided to every employee in the bureau, prepares you for. As a Crimes Against Children investigator for 13 years, the subject matter and evidence review was the most challenging for me in my career. However, due to my mental toughness and excellent support system, I was able to handle the violation successfully.”

Wass: What advice do you have for potential applicants?
DM: “Because the FBI sets such high standards, applicants should review employment disqualifiers so they know that certain choices they make now can potentially prevent them from becoming an agent or with a law enforcement career in general. Maintain your physical fitness and establish a regular fitness routine, make it a lifestyle. Scrub your social media and make sure that anything you have on the Internet portrays you in only a positive way.”

Wass: What changes in the hiring practices, if any, do you expect at the FBI with the Trump administration?
DM: “I do not expect any changes in the hiring practices. I expect more support for our organization.”

Danielle then specified that she hopes that more budget support would be provided.

We thank Special Agent Danielle Messineo for her insight and advice regarding her work at the FBI and within the federal Government! If you wish to contact Danielle with additional questions about working for the FBI, her recruiter e-mail address is nyrecruiting@ic.fbi.gov.

Interested in government and not-for-profit work? Attend the “Making It in: Non-Profit & Government” Career Panel at the Kimmel Center (Room 806) on February 23rd, from 12:00-2:00 p.m. This interactive session featuring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Peace Corps, and Teach for America, among others, will allow you to learn about various professionals’ experiences and how identity can impact career paths. Underrepresented students are strongly encouraged to attend! Lunch is provided! To RSVP, click here.

If you would like more information about how the recent hiring freeze will affect students looking for positions within the federal government, please click here.

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