My name is Andrew Parker and I am the Director General of MI5. I have been here for 30 years and I joined at the time when recruitment was done in secret and in private. Life has moved on very substantially now and we, of course, advertise openly and here I am talking on our website about working at MI5.
The threats that MI5 are dealing with these days are across a broad span, from international counter-terrorism, Northern Ireland terrorism, counter-proliferation – which is about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction – and about threats of espionage and cyber-attack by foreign states. These are all threats that are changing as we look forward.
I have been very fortunate through my career with MI5. Over the past 30 years, I have done a whole range of very, very interesting jobs starting with Intelligence Officer roles in counter-terrorism and then in counter-espionage. I've worked in policy and strategy planning. I've worked in a posting overseas. I've been seconded out of MI5 into another organisation. I've come back in then as a senior manager and I have been privileged to work in some leadership roles across the range of the Service's work.
MI5 is a place where people can work with real opportunity for development in their careers and moving around in different areas of work. We recruit Intelligence Officers through a graduate entry scheme, which offers in the first two years many different opportunities to learn about different areas of our work. The same is true in some of our other specialist areas. Throughout anyone's career in MI5, we offer training opportunities. We have an academy where we develop people's skills. We also have external training and specialist lectures and learning development opportunities for people.
MI5 is here to protect the country and the public and I'd like to lead an organisation that represents the public. We need every sort of skill we can get to deal with the difficult work that we have to do and we have an ethnically diverse workforce. Of course, we have a good mix of men and women, but I'd like that mix to be as wide as it can be, to make sure that we're getting all of the skills that we need to do the difficult work that we have to do.
The sort of people that work at MI5 are in many ways representative of the public. We have all sorts of people working here from different walks of life, different trades and professions. We need people who can do the intelligence work for us who are flexible, able to move between different areas of threat, understand and analyse, help us to decide what to do about threats. We also need lots of specialists in different areas. We need people who can understand the internet. We need people who can understand rare languages. I am here in the audio languages centre, in our headquarters in London, and in this room we have people who are experts in a whole range of foreign languages.
The work that our linguists and audio analysts here do is all about finding the intelligence we need from what they are hearing. When you ask people who work here, what it is that drives them, I think for most of us it is two things. It is the sort of organisation we are and the way that we work together which makes the sort of environment that this is as a workplace. And of course, it's the purpose. It's the reason that MI5 exists, which brings together everything that we do, which is about protecting the country.
Have you thought about working for MI5?
Do you know what kind of people we employ?
What kind of jobs do we offer?
We're always looking to recruit people with a diverse range of skills and backgrounds.
We have nearly 4,000 staff based around the UK.
The people who work for us reflect the society we serve.
We offer a wide range of jobs - a lot more diverse than people might imagine. From core
investigative and operational roles, including:
To the jobs that keep the organisation on the road:
We need that breadth of skills.
MI5 is responsible for countering covertly organised threats to Britain's security and economic well-being.
Threats that come from terrorism, espionage and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
By far the greatest threat comes from terrorism.
Even though the Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland led to a more peaceful phase in its history there is still an active terrorist threat which MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland work against.
There's an even greater threat from Al Qaida and all those who support its violent ideology:
"There will be daily torment in this world and a greater torment awaits you in the hereafter".
Many of our investigations focus on working to counter those threats.
Take this case from 2006.
Al Qaida was plotting to blow up airliners flying from the UK across the Atlantic.
An individual under surveillance in the UK went to visit an influential member of Al Qaida in Pakistan.
On his return, he led our investigative team to a group in London that was planning an attack in the UK.
MI5's team, which included a number of recent intelligence officer recruits, quickly identified the alleged terrorists. They set about providing covert intelligence coverage of them.
"This was the first big operation I worked on, so it was a bit daunting at first. But I had lots of training to prepare me for it, and my mentor made sure I was OK. Looking back I can’t believe I only left university last year".
A team of intelligence analysts and computer network forensic specialists worked to analyse communications between members of the group, providing a unique insight into the progress of the plot.
"It was a major challenge to keep up with what intelligence officers needed from us in terms of data analysis. We used state-of-the-art IT to help build a clear picture of what the guys were up to. There was a great camaraderie between all of the team that worked on the case".
In July 2006, it became clear the plot was reaching its final stage.
A flat in Forest Road, Walthamstow, became central to their activities. It became a bomb factory.
It was time to get approval to gain access to the property.
The Home Secretary gave the legal go-ahead.
A technical team, supported by surveillance teams and the police entered the property to install hidden listening devices and CCTV.
John, 53, Surveillance Team Leader
"Following the group was really tricky as they were paranoid about people watching them. We had to use lots of different surveillance officers to make sure we weren’t recognised. It was hard work, but this was the type of stuff I joined MI5 for."
The surveillance had revealed the plotters preparing video testaments. So-called "martyrdom videos" - justification for the acts they were plotting to commit.
"Allah loves us to die and kill in his path."
"Listening to other Muslims planning to kill innocent people in the name of my religion was difficult to hear. My team was able to provide our intelligence officers with a cultural perspective to the group’s behaviour. The operation involved people of all ages and backgrounds working to protect the country. It was MI5 at its best."
All the principal plotters were arrested.
In all, eleven were convicted of either terrorist or other serious offences.
Work on the case continued investigating extremist associates preparing evidence for court, advising the airline industry on how to better protect aircraft.
This is just one case, one example of our teamwork.
For more information about careers at MI5, go to www.mi5.gov.uk/careers
Ever since secondary school, I've enjoyed tackling new technology projects in my spare time. So studying computer science at university was a no-brainer for me.
And my passion for digging deeper into technology and exploring the edge of what's possible were two of the reasons I wanted to join MI5.
I haven't been disappointed. Life as a Covert Technical Operations Specialist is fast-moving and exciting; the technology in incredibly advanced.
And it has to be. Historically, the agency intercepted physical documents. Now we're conducting operations to access the computers and devices used by terrorists planning attacks, and always within our legal remit.
I have to explore and explain the risks. The technology terrorists are using is constantly changing. From SMS just five years ago they are now using a range of platforms to communicate and share information. Some use sophisticated encryption, so we have to think differently.
It means there's a lot of variety - you genuinely don't know what you're going to be working on each day.
It can get quite intense and sometimes I need to work odd hours, but I love my job and I get great training, as well as a good work/life balance.
And I know that what I'm doing has a real impact on keeping the country safe from terrorists, spies and other groups who want to harm the nation.
I joined MI5 as an intelligence analyst about 6 years ago. Before that, I worked in academia and briefly in market research in the private sector.
The role is all about problem solving and quantitative analysis – it's not just about number crunching or reporting data. I know that my conclusions can have an impact on the safety and security of our country.
Being an intelligence analyst means thinking creatively, identifying ways my analysis can add value to an investigation, and using my judgment to determine the best way forward.
When one of our intelligence officers comes to me with a problem, I sit down with them to help get to the bottom of what they want to know in the context of the investigation. Once i’ve established this, I can then analyse the data and make an assessment.
I’ve worked on a diverse range of investigations and operations since i’ve been here, all with their own challenges. Sometimes we work to tight deadlines and under pressure, so I might have to turn around an assessment in a matter of minutes. Other work might be more strategic and I might have a few weeks to work on a project or develop a new analysis tool. The variety is a genuine plus.
It can be a fast pace environment, so it helps that everyone is very supportive – from my managers to my fellow analysts. We all have our own areas of expertise – but we’ll happily put what we’re doing to one side to help eachother out on higher priority investigations or operations. It's not really something i’ve experienced in other jobs, but it's one of the things I most like about working here.
I also like the satisfaction you get when you reach a turning point in an investigation and you know it's because of assessments and connections your team has made.
Recently I saw on tv that the police had made some arrests on a long running counter-terrorism investigation. It was great knowing i was involved, even though I couldn't share it with anyone outside the office.
I'm an intelligence officer in the protective security advice team. Im currently working in the centre for the protection of national infrastructure. I joined the security service because I wanted a job that would really challenge me and make the most of my skills.
I’d studied criminology at university, so I was good at quickly analysing large amounts of data, producing reports and presenting my findings. Joining MI5 seemed like the perfect move.
A typical day for me might involve collecting, assimilating and then analysing intelligence from a variety of sources. I might need to write a report for an external partner or produce minutes for meetings that i've recently attended.
I have regular contact with a number of other government departments. I really enjoy the working environment, its friendly and professional. The standard of the work people here produce is extremely high and my colleagues are all really supportive. My working hours are surprisingly good too. Generally I start at 7.30 and finish at 4.30: which helps with life outside work.
The other thing that really appeals to me is the range of career options available here. The postings are challenging but the training is very comprehensive, and the trainers work hard with you to ensure you get on your feet in the new section as soon as possible. All in all this a unique and very satisfying place to work – I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
My career with the security service has been absolutely fascinating. I joined in the mid 80’s and started as an investigator in the counter espionage team. After four years or so, I moved onto counter terrorism, that post was really challenging and I worked on some major international investigations.
Soon afterwards, I got what I have to say was an unexpected promotion to middle management, and I started to deal with policy issues. I ran a training team and managed various project – one where I created a new training facility and another where I mapped it requirements for the services investigation work.
In 2004 I was promoted to the senior management group and became programme director for a major IT change programme. I was in charge of teams containing anything from ten to a hundred people: these included technical specialists, contractors and other members of staff. I learned an awful lot about getting the best out of others and meeting tough goals.
I was appointed to the services management board in 2008 as director of HR and security. This was a really exciting time for me, because the service’s priorities included managing rapid growth and developing a new people strategy to ensure the organisation’s long term effectiveness.
I spent 2010 delivering a joint cost saving agenda for all three security and intelligence agencies: that's MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. And after that I took on my current role as the director of the centre for the protection of national infrastructure. Here i've been involved in a wide variety of work including countering cyber security threats, and preparations for the olympics.
I joined the security service seven years ago after a stint in the city as a business advisor. I started as an add nurse assistant and now i’m an intelligence officer in the digital intelligence team. We call it “digant” for short.
I applied for a job at MI5 because I think that working in the public sector; you can really make a difference. Protecting the UK makes me feel like i'm really doing something worth while. And the point of contact for all digital intelligence matters, for the counter espionage section.
I analyse digant data and produce reports on activity for other intelligence officers. Its also my job to identify opportunities where my team can help progress investigations.
The people we investigate are using IT and the internet in more and more sophisticated ways – communicating with each other and sharing information. To be part of the section that disrupts the activities can be very exciting.
You won't be surprised to hear that the training we receive is pretty in depth. On top of the service wide induction I received, my personal development programme for the digant team lasted several months. Since then i've been on loads more courses and workshops. I've developed a real depth of knowledge, the world of IT is ever changing.
I work alongside diverse and interesting people who all have one important goal in mind – protecting our country and way of life. That's why it feels so much like a family.
I'm the assistant head of international counter terrorism and the head of MI5’s network of regional officers. I’ve worked for the security service now for over 20 years and the one thing you can say is that I haven't been held back.
I've enjoyed a wide variety of experiences and had a lot of trust placed in me. This is an organisation that really supports its people, and I must say I value that.
When I joined the security service as a young graduate in the late 80s, my first posting was as an intelligence officer in the international counter-terrorism section. Ive also carried out operational work and agent handling – and i've managed investigations into Northern Ireland related terrorism. I've been involved in protective security and i've worked for the services management board.
“Work-life balance” is one of those overused phrases these days, but it really means something here at MI5. For 15 years I worked 3 days a week as I looked after my two children. There’s been no resistance at all to my working patterns and it certainly hasn't blocked my path in terms of promotion. At one point in the mid 90s I was promoted by long maternity leave – in this respect, the service was well ahead of its time.
Im very proud of this organisation and what it does and i'm very proud to work alongside some exceptional people. There really is a great team ethos here and a unique sense of togetherness. It comes from everyone sharing the same goal – protecting the UK.
Female Voiceover: My friends know I have a job with a lot of responsibility.
Intelligence Officer: It feels like we're making progress here but we're not there yet. We won't get any further until we have formal ID on the main subject. And we have good intelligence on his plan.
Female Voiceover: A job where I am respected for what I do and how I do it.
Digital Intelligence Officer: We now have access to a series of emails and we're increasingly convinced they're coming from this man. His contacts tell us he's really well connected."
Female Voiceover: One where my leadership skills aren't just recognised, they're relied upon.
Intelligence Officer: The one consistent thing about the whole case has been the connection between the subject and this vehicle. Have we established a definitive link?
Female Voiceover: My friends know that being part of a team working on important projects really matters to me.
Intelligence Analyst: That's where the data is leading us at the moment, but there's still more for us to do before we can confirm our assessment. There's one thing in our way. The voicemails you flagged to us – we need to know the dialect. Anything from the linguists?
Female Voiceover: They know that the two things that really make me tick are problem-solving and decision-making.
Linguist: It's a rare dialect. One we don't come across that often. But we've managed to get it translated. Here, take a look at this... there's quite a lot on the subject's wider group.
Intelligence Officer: Thanks, this looks like what I need to convince management. Good work.
Female Voiceover: My friends know that I'm at my best when I'm taking responsibility.
Intelligence Officer: "I've got confirmation on what we discussed this morning and I'm convinced we've got enough to get the go-ahead on surveillance."
Manager: Great, make the request. This looks very compelling.
Intelligence Officer: We can't really go any further tonight but I'll get straight onto it in the morning.
Female Voiceover: But they also know I enjoy a job that lets me have a life outside work.
Female Voiceover: My friends know me very well... They just don't know that I work for MI5.
Administrative Assistants are at the very heart of MI5. You’ll support vital projects, and work across a range of exciting departments.
Day-to-day, you’ll demonstrate and develop a range of administrative skills.
With excellent organisational skills, you’ll be responsible for booking travel, ordering office essentials and managing information.
You could be organising critical meetings, so you'll become an essential point of contact. And as a great communicator, you'll answer phone calls and respond to queries.
You could also be greeting both internal and external visitors, so it’s really important you’re discrete.
You’ll need to be motivated, proactive and have an eye for detail.
It’s an important job but you can’t take your work home with you, and because we work flexibly you’ll have a good work life balance.
You’ll quickly settle into our supportive environment and feel valued by everyone. After all, you’ll be at the heart of MI5.
Behind everything we do there’s you.
Jayden - School leaver
I’ve met some of my best friends here. Teamwork is so important for what we do that you quickly make really close friendships. And it’s not all about work, we spend time socialising together outside of the office. So even though I didn’t go to uni, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on the social side of things.
Uni isn’t the only option
I thought uni was my only option once I left school. But when I heard that MI5 recruited school leavers I decided to apply. While my friends are studying for a degree, I’m getting a head start on my career, and I’m still learning. There are so many brilliant training courses and lots of chances to develop. I’m just doing everything a bit earlier – and earning money along the way.
Leaving school and starting work is a really big step. To be honest, I was really nervous that I might need more qualifications before joining a place like MI5. But as soon as I joined I was assigned a mentor, and I’ve been able to do some really interesting courses. Everyone in my team made me feel really welcome and was so supportive.
When I joined, I thought, like everyone does, that I would be going into a stereotypical sort of environment. Dark offices, very corporate and not much talking going on. But it’s the complete opposite. And there’s no hierarchy at all. Everyone is called by their first name, which makes it really friendly.
You can’t tell your friends what you do which is a shame, as some of the stuff is pretty cool. I often can’t believe I’m working for MI5, I get to know what’s happening behind the headlines and what’s really going on. I feel lucky to have a job that really matters.
Linda - Vetting Officer
Taking the leap
Changing jobs is always a risk. One of my concerns was that I had a senior position where I was, and going from that to not knowing what I was doing was a bit daunting. But, sometimes you just have to take that leap. It helped that I’d developed relevant transferable skills as a teacher. I made people feel comfortable, encouraged them to trust me and could read their emotions - which are all qualities you need as a vetting officer.
Talk and travel
One of the best parts of my job is meeting lots of different people and getting to travel around the UK. It’s really rewarding to talk to lots of individuals about their lives. Not to mention incredibly interesting! Everyone’s story is different, so it’s never boring.
You have to be thorough with each and every case. It can be challenging, but the good thing is that you never take your work home with you. Even if you want to, you can’t. It takes a bit of getting used to, but not working at the weekends is great.
I always thought it would be a bit elite here – like an exclusive club. But it’s not. It’s very inclusive and there’s so much support. Everyone’s so friendly and down to earth. I had a mentor from the minute I started, and lots of training. And the chance to develop professionally never stops.
This role is so rewarding. I know I’m doing something really worthwhile. It’s only my second career, but I really can’t see myself leaving. It’s no surprise that people stay for life.
Daliah - Investigative Manager
When I first heard about the Westminster Bridge attack, my first thought was what’s going on and whether I needed to make myself available. My team were among those sent to work on the investigation. We put the wheels in motion very quickly, pulling in the people needed, organising rotas and sorting out our personal lives so we could run the investigation 24/7. For me, I went home, fed the dogs, packed an overnight bag and came back to the office.
In those first few days following the attack, our main priority was determining whether there was a chance of another attack happening quickly. So we had to gather intelligence and information as quickly as possible. You’re running on pure adrenaline, everyone is. A particularly critical time was the shift hand-over, combing over things in minute detail so nothing’s missed. The threat that something like this could happen is always there, and we’re always working against it, but the public don’t get to see what we do.
It’s in times like these that you realise how much we rally around as an organisation. People are brought in from other areas to help. Even the little things like getting takeaways for those working through the night, or people making huge rounds of tea, you feel really well looked after.
When facing these kinds of situations, you’ve got to keep a cool head under pressure. It’s about being methodical, pragmatic and rational. Just getting on with the job at hand. While it does sound like a lot of pressure, the people around you get you through it. At the end of the day, this is your job – you know what you’re doing.
Switching off is important and it’s the people around you that help with this. I’ve actually got my team down to the gym here before, doing a few circuits together to relieve stress and temporarily remove ourselves from the work. You also genuinely can’t take work home with you. Not even your notes. It means when you leave the office, your work stops too.
Whatever your role across MI5, it’s never about personal recognition. It’s about feeling that sense of achievement when your team has helped to keep the country safe. Because you can’t shout about what you do, you find yourself turning to those around you. That’s why the people here really do become your support network. It’s this feeling of being in it together that’s so rewarding.
I used to work in logistics where - if you wanted any training - you had to pay for it yourself. But at MI5, you are given the chance to develop your skills in anything from IT and leadership, to technical training and investigative techniques. There’s also the opportunity to be sponsored for formal qualifications. You just can’t beat that.
Before I joined, I was really worried about the interview process. I honestly expected everyone to be really intimidating. But they quickly put me at ease, and I realised I didn’t need to be nervous. The people interviewing me were completely normal – just like everyone here.
You might earn more in the commercial world, but I found it unrewarding. You were seen as a support function. But IT is at the heart of MI5, and there is an understanding of how crucial our work is. There’s definitely a feeling of mutual respect.
Our mission - keeping the country safe - gives you a purpose, a drive. It’s incredibly important. So everyone is very motivated - and they really care. Everything’s done to a really high standard because we’re all focused on the same goal.
The Best Secret
Apart from my partner and parents, no one knows what I do. When I go to a party and everyone’s talking about their work, I can’t say a word. At first, it took a bit of getting used to, but it’s surprising how quickly it becomes normal. I just remember it’s a vital part of the job. And inside, I’m incredibly proud to be keeping the country safe.
Hours V Pay
I took quite a large pay cut to leave the commercial world, but it was definitely worth it. In my old job, I worked weekends, on my days off… but that doesn’t happen at MI5 because you can’t take your work home. Your free time belongs to you.
With so many opportunities at MI5, I always encourage my team to think about their future. After all, variety is one of the main reasons people stay here. You can do so many things – anything from counter-terrorism and agent running, to recruitment or strategy. There are so many amazing opportunities.
My partner and I made a really conscious decision about me joining MI5. Even though I was taking a pay cut, I had a burning desire to do something worthwhile. And coming here has allowed me to make some great changes to my family life. Recently, I took a day off to help at my daughter’s guide group. All the other parents were on their phones, texting or making calls to the office, but as I’m not able to, 100% of my attention was on my daughter.
Work-life balance is very important at MI5. It’s actually more flexible than other places I’ve worked. If it’s my daughter’s sports day, I can finish a bit earlier and make the time up another day. Ultimately, the organisation knows that good staff morale makes teams more effective.
I expected the office to be really dark and quiet, and I thought everything would be a bit ‘hush hush’. But it’s not like that – there’s lots of natural light and open spaces. And the approachability of people is really refreshing.
MI5 offers life-changing careers. And the work we do is fascinating. My role does exist in the outside world but what I do here is completely different. Here, I’m actually helping to prevent terrorism. I’m keeping the country safe in an unpredictable world.
Before I joined, I thought that the technology here would be the best. And I wasn’t wrong. Once you start, you really see how important it is to the organisation’s success. I can’t go into too much detail but my role’s very technical and helps drive MI5’s investigations forward.
We protect the UK 24 hours a day, so our working hours reflect this. But it’s actually really rewarding. Last weekend, my friends were out socialising, but I was in the office working on a live investigation that quickly resulted in an arrest. Here, you directly impact on real events, so the adrenaline is like nothing else.
In this role, you have to approach things differently. We challenge assumptions, and delve into the unknown. Even when you think you’ve found what you need, you have to keep digging. It can also be challenging – as you never know what’s next. When things happen, you have to be ready to respond.
The technology world seems to be quite male-dominated, so I was sure it would be the same here. But, that’s not the case. I’m one of the many women that love working here.
I actually applied to MI5 because of the Paris attacks. What was going on around the world really upset me. But rather than get angry, I wanted to do something to help. Which is exactly what I can do here.
I love that you can’t take your work home with you. You have to leave it in the office. So there’s hardly ever a need to check your phone in the evening or at weekends. There are many great things about working at MI5, the work life balance is fantastic. For me, the extra pay you might get from a commercial company just isn’t worth the time you spend away from your family.
If technology’s your thing – this is the place. It’s at the very heart of what we do, and we’re the ones who get to shape it, which is pretty cool. To keep us ahead of our adversaries my department explores and experiments with technology, so we get to play with the latest innovations. It’s not like other places I’ve worked. You’re listened to and, if you have a good idea, it happens. At MI5, it’s about technology with a purpose.
When I joined, I thought it would be really formal, so I was surprised how friendly and informal it actually is. It’s not hierarchical here either – the working culture is very supportive, and so are my colleagues. I’d definitely call it a unique and dynamic public sector employer. Even though we can’t talk about what we do outside of work, we still often socialise together. In fact, our experiences make us closer.
I didn’t want to work for a company that’s all about profits and shareholders. There’s a real sense of purpose here. And - even if it’s just in some small way - we all leave feeling like we’ve contributed to keeping the country safe.