Monday, October 4, 2010

My CIA Application Essay (imperfect; comments please)

Okay, this is not the kind of writing I usually do.  I have readers more politically-minded and trained than me.  Help!

The prompt: write a 500-word essay regarding a current, international issue

My attempt:

The national uproar over the new Arizona immigration legislation is no surprise.  It is human nature, after all, to latch onto a polarizing issue if for no other reason than to be polarized.  People love a good fight, and there is no greater potential source for fight in this, the holy Land of the Free, than the decision of a legal body over who is free and who is not.  While for some this is the worst of it, for the rest of us (those of us, at least, with our rose-colored glasses firmly in place) it is best that the vulgar mob does not cast the final vote.  Thank Heaven they do not, because the most vocal of the mob is generally the least educated, or more optimistically, the most inflammatory and persuasive.  This is not to say, however, that the legislative and judicial corps will get it right.  What it does mean is this, bi-products one and two:
One.  The United States of America too often sticks its nose into others’ business.  What does this have to do with Arizona?  Shift the angle of perspective: perhaps the country should remain more insular—less extroverted.  Fewer problems come to those who eschew the fight.  This amounts to one of two things in the AZ-Immigration debacle: either we let everyone in, or we don’t; either we extend the same benefits of all US citizenry to anyone who crosses the borders, or we get enough troops to stop everyone who tries.  As long as we tread the gray area and delineate exceptions with thousand-page laws, we will gain no traction, and the mobs—educated and non, political and wall-flower—will remain fed for polarization.  It’s like disciplining a three-year-old.  Keep it simple.  Keep it black and white.  Otherwise, confusion; otherwise, polarization.  And polarization, as any politician knows, is utter disaster (unless you’re the challenger).
Two.  If the author, me, represents the average citizen, Joe, then I need to be more involved.  There is perhaps no greater sin of omission than inactivity in the elective and political processes, especially after griping about the incumbent and its decisions.  The very fact that such an outrage as AZ-Immigration exists (outrage that “they would do such a thing!” and outrage that “those people are outraged!”), and that I am among the outraged and dissatisfied, should indicate that I need to be more involved.  In fact, more than that, I, Average Joe, should incite greater involvement among those around me.  I should write letters.  I should sign petitions.  I should do (intransitive of “do” used intentionally).
The country gets excited about such opportunities as Arizona’s border difficulties, because then they have something to complain about.  Complaints are inevitable.  There is no right answer to the problem—certainly, at least, no answer that will sate all the slavering masses along the political spectrum.  The issue is simply symptom of bigger problems: wishy-washy solutions, and political passivity.  It is time for me, average Joe, not to take my stand, but do something about it.


  1. Not sure this is exactly what the CIA is looking for, since you didn't clearly state a position for or against the policy. It's an interesting perspective to take on an issue, but I feel like the CIA is interested in something either opinion based or argumentative in some other way. It reads well, but I just worry they may find it evasive, rather than a worthwhile commentary. On the other hand, what do I know? I'm reading this with some annoying musical soundtrack playing through my roommate's speakers, and it could be affecting my faculties.

    Sure you want to work for the CIA? Great benefits and facilities, but 70 hours a week...for most jobs. Guess that's not a huge change of pace for your workload. Definitely a change in the type of work! And more bureaucracy. Maybe your Italian will be helpful on the application. They love languages. But I don't see your creative side getting much action in Langley. Unless you are designing "Q Branch"-esque spy tools. If so, send me a jet pack or a trick watch. Just my redundant words of caution. But none of it matters until you hear back anyway, right? Might as well go for it and see. It would be pretty sweet to have your name on a CIA ID card.

  2. The comments of "i really liked reading this," and "it flows smoothly," are ones that can go without saying. I imagine that in their reading and judging of the essays, the CIA wants somebody who can analyze an issue without overt and/or subtle bias; this is a perfect example. You took an issue that is in the forefront of many minds and were able to put it into a perspective that may not have been considered.

    On a side note, my uncle has worked for the US State Department for several years. I asked him about his job and he said that even as an accountant, he does an enormous amount of writing. I imagine that the same thing would apply to the CIA.

    Good luck with the application. If it's anything like the State Department I've heard that you'll have to fill out a litany of forms, go through many different stages, and most of all- wait.

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  4. I guess I disagree with my golf partner Mr. Langham. I think that the position is stated pretty clearly, even though the point of the essay is more about how the nation deals with complex political problems than about your views on immigration.

    I guess my only question is whether it will hurt you that you admit that you are not politically involved. It is the CIA, so clearly it is a fairly political organization, but what is the exact nature of the work? Is an understanding of the news important or not as relevant? If it's important, you might want to be a little more ambiguous about your own culpability in political inactivity in the last paragraph.

    I find it an interesting perspective, though. And I agree with you so much about anger and mob mentality....

  5. Devin, I am certainly not sure I want to work for the CIA, but when you've got nothing else... well, I'm applying for EVERYTHING. As far as the essay is concerned, you guys are hitting on all my insecurities as a writer. It's funny, the only stuff anyone's ever read of mine since I was in college is stuff I was actually interested in writing. This isn't.

    Sam, thanks for the comments. You build me.

    James, you're probably right about the self-incrimination. I'll post a revision tomorrow.

    All: THANK YOU. It means a lot.

  6. You know, I said it before. The biggest problem is the word-count restriction.

  7. Ok, good luck! You know we're all pulling for you.

  8. I wrote something long on my phone, pressed the wrong button and now it's gone. Attempt 2:

    Remember Mr. Gunther. "Concise is nice. Specific is terrific." This essay falls more under a professional context, so while your style is writing is great, it might turn someone off who is looking for someone who can summarize a point quickly. Think Agent K: "We at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we're aware of." (Wrong agency, I know, but the ideas the same).

    Although it isn't the case with this essay, if you were doing a lot of writing for a government agency, you might want to be aware of the F-Pattern.

    Also, your essay is supposed to be international, but you have focused primary on one small region. Consider other similar cases. See Geert Wilders for a start.

  9. Yeah, I was wondering about the international issue part at first, too, but I actually think this counts because what we do with our side of the border is definitely of interest to Mexico, not to mention many other Latin American countries. We tend to be very focused on the domestic side of the border, but there are plenty of international implications.

  10. Stephen: I'm actually okay with the topic--or as okay as I can be talking about anything political, but, and you're sort of echoing Devin here, I am still a little uncomfortable with the overall form of it. I have a hard time shaking the MLA/artsy-fartsy approach, at least when I'm not comfortable with the subject.

    I'm too tired tonight, and I've got a crap-load of other stuff to do, but I'll get a redo up in the next day or so.

    Thanks again.

  11. I don't know when I'm going to get back to this....

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