How Do I Become a Cryptologic Linguist?

L.K. Blackburn

You can become a cryptologic linguist by enlisting in military service and qualifying for the job within a specific branch. If you live in the United States and seek employment as a cryptologic linguist in the military, you must first take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and score a specific way to qualify for training. The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines all offer training for this job.

Aspiring cryptologic linguists must join the military and take the ASVAB test.
Aspiring cryptologic linguists must join the military and take the ASVAB test.

For United States citizens, the first step in becoming a cryptologic linguist involves joining the military and taking the ASVAB test. Military standards for recruitment include meeting certain height and weight requirements, medical standards of fitness, and background check qualifications. The last requirement is important for anyone who wants to become a cryptologic linguist because the job usually requires top secret security clearance. This is an extensive process that looks into an applicant's criminal, financial, and character background. A personal history form is filled out fully and honestly, and references are also requested.

Becoming a cryptologic linguist may involve many years of foreign language training.
Becoming a cryptologic linguist may involve many years of foreign language training.

Background checks and security clearances are necessary because a cryptologic linguist interprets and reports intercepted information. They may be privy to details that are critical to national security. The information they translate and analyze is spoken or written in a language other than English, so the process to become a cryptologic linguist may involve many years of foreign language training. If a recruit is already fluent in another language, foreign language training may not be necessary.

Foreign language training for a cryptologic linguist takes place after boot camp is completed. It is a condensed training course conducted at a military facility. The language learned is determined by the score received on a test administered that specifically determines an individual's language learning aptitude. This test is distinct from the ASVAB, and high scores on both tests must be earned before an individual can get a job as a cryptologic linguist.

Not everyone who reaches a certain score threshold on the ASVAB and language test will be able to become a cryptologic linguist. The needs of the military for this particular occupation determine the number of people it can accept for the job within a particular branch at a certain time. In some cases, you may be asked to pick a range of jobs you would be willing to accept. When this happens, you would list cryptologic linguist as your first choice, but should be prepared to accept any job assigned. Some branches may allow you to know your specific assigned job before signing a contract.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - Not necessarily. You might become fluent in French in France and then work to interpret information from Franco-Africa. And some people are just naturally gifted in languages and can pick them up with ease.

Although most people I know like that wouldn't be comfortable with careers in the army.


@croydon - I think it depends on what kind of security level you're going for. I doubt they'd reject people like that on a technicality if they were going for something that didn't require a very strict level of clearance. It seems like they are always trying to get people joining the military and it would be silly to reject handfuls of them for no reason.

I do think it would be difficult for them to get someone who was truly fluent in another language but didn't have substantial ties to the country of that language though. I mean, you would only learn the language if you loved the country, or you had relatives there or something.


If you are hoping for this kind of job and wondering about the background check, I've got a few tips. Several of my friends decided to go for jobs that involved this kind of security clearance and they had a get together one night to discuss their strategies. They weren't all going for jobs in the military but I think the clearance procedure is roughly the same.

First thing is, they all agreed that it's really important not to lie about anything. You might think it's a good idea to pretend you never smoked pot once in college, but if they find out about it (and there's a possibility that they will... apparently they will ask your friends and friends of friends for information) you will immediately be seen as untrustworthy. Not because of the drug, but because of the lie.

Secondly, make sure your friends all know what you're doing. You never know who they are going to ask about you. Tell them to be cool about it. Don't try to make anything up even if they think they are helping.

Finally, be prepared to be rejected. You might never know why. It's a difficult thing for anyone to pass because they have to be so careful. If you went to the wrong protest once in high school you might not manage to get the job.

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