Laura Thomas is a former CIA operations officer. Studying how she moved in 2021 from CIA ops to a quantum know-how firm supplied insightful profession transition recommendation for these leaving her company. Most of her classes had been relevant to any authorities worker venturing out to the personal sector.

Under is the second of her three-part sequence. Learn half one right here.

Earlier than leaving authorities service one among my greatest challenges was to know how my ability as a Case Officer would translate right into a job within the business world. I had to spend so much of time studying a brand new language and new job descriptions. Right here’s what I realized.

What would you love to do/can do? Some business firm roles:

Enterprise Growth or “BD” roles: Case Officers are properly suited to enterprise improvement (BD) roles as its akin to first half of the CIA recruitment cycle. In a enterprise improvement function you’re out shaping the notion of your organization out there (networking), figuring out leads, and contacting leads. The bigger the corporate, the extra they’ll separate out enterprise improvement and gross sales, with enterprise improvement centered totally on lead era and gross sales centered on sealing the precise sale of the services or products.

Gross sales roles: The gross sales cycle is much like the recruitment cycle of a supply. At a small firm, you will have the flexibility to do the entire gross sales cycle, which integrates technique, enterprise improvement, gross sales, and buyer success: determine what you need to promote, who you need to promote it to, tips on how to get in contact with them, really get in contact with them, promote it, hold promoting to them and ensure they’re completely satisfied (buyer success), and sooner or later, resolve whether or not to maneuver on to raised gross sales targets, or persuade your organization they should be promoting one thing totally different. At a big firm, gross sales often means another person has accomplished the broad shaping for a possible buyer. You simply should go in and work by means of the mechanics of promoting them in your services or products.

Buyer Success roles: That is akin to dealing with a supply. You ensure the shopper is completely satisfied and retains shopping for, ideally extra.

Safety roles: Some ex-Company folks gravitate to roles in safety. I found that whereas I do know lots about tradecraft-related safety and tips on how to keep alive for the primary minutes of an ambush, I do know little about constructing safety and laptop techniques safety. Some firms will see your CIA background and confuse it with roles which are extra akin to FBI or legislation enforcement. For those who labored in an precise cybersecurity or safety function, you’ll be able to study it and combine properly into these groups.

Belief and Security roles, Menace and Enterprise Intelligence roles: For those who’ve been a targeter and/or an analyst these could be good suits. The function broadly is to guard an organization and its folks/customers (or a number of firms) by monitoring dangerous actors and threats. In giant firms these roles report back to a safety division (nonetheless there are total firms  simply offering Menace and Enterprise Intelligence).

Authorities Affairs/Legislative Affairs roles: Massive firms pay to have folks characterize them on Capitol Hill and advocate for his or her pursuits. In case you have vital expertise partaking with and briefing the Hill, it is a risk, nonetheless you’ll be competing towards staffers rotating off committees who’re really significantly better outfitted than you so far as networking and know-how. You might be able to be a part of a bigger firm’s authorities affairs group at a extra junior to mid-level, and also you’ll most likely discover your abilities most related to an organization that works on nationwide security-related points.

At first many start-ups rent a lobbying agency. You might be able to step in as soon as they need to transition into an in-house function for this, however needless to say they’re in search of the Capitol Hill contacts you already have, in addition to your capability to work the legislative course of, not simply your briefing or networking abilities.

Technique and Operations roles: These roles assist ensure imaginative and prescient, assets (budgets and other people), and the market alternative are aligned. Working intently with the CEO or CFO, they assist determine what to do to make issues go proper, and what to do when issues go improper. The smaller the corporate, the larger your probability at a job like this.

Chief of Workers function, for instance, is essentially a method function, however is closely depending on the wants of the CEO/firm. In my case, at Infleqtion I’m the one who tells our CEO what he wants to listen to, not essentially what he needs to listen to. I additionally function an govt advisor – from product technique to setting enterprise milestones to working with traders. I additionally work intently with all members of the manager group, the Board of Administrators, and Advisory Board. I believe this function is good for a former Case Officer, however I’m clearly biased.

Bigger firms hiring a Chief of Workers typically search for somebody who has an MBA, expertise with one of many massive consulting companies, or expertise doing the job already.

Entrepreneur: A profitable CIA case officer should have the ability to function amid ambiguity and make judgment calls that require sturdy second- and third-order considering. Achievement-focused and good storytellers, they know tips on how to determine issues out, “learn the room,” and assess and mitigate threat. Most individuals imagine case officers and entrepreneurs are massive threat takers, when, in actual fact, they’re threat mitigators.

For those who discover an A-player CIA officer leaping right into a founder function mid-way of their profession (or resolve to begin one thing your self,) they’ll most likely go on to do nice issues. They’ve sufficient confidence in themselves to depart with out the security internet of a future pension in addition to the power, ambition, and know-how to navigate uncertainty. The identical Emotional Quotient and method that draws traders will even entice glorious workers.

Enterprise Capitalist: An early-stage VC requires a few of the similar abilities as a Case Officer – recognizing, assessing, growing, recruiting, and dealing with founders constructing an organization amid an unsure working surroundings that may convey a heavy return on funding. (Nevertheless, many VCs have additionally accrued years/many years as area specialists within the applied sciences/and or industries they spend money on.) Being a profitable VC and profitable case officer each contain some ranges of luck and timing misattributed to ability. The most important distinction is within the VC world, no one goes to die.

For those who’re a Retiree leaving with a full pension – you will have totally different decisions than a “job.” You may:

  • seek the advice of
  • sit on an organization Advisory Board or Board of Administrators
  • function a senior govt at a small firm (you’ll be anticipated to truly work, not hold forth and delegate) or mid- to senior degree at a bigger firm (you may simply be a face)
  • get employed by Wall Road/Non-public Fairness/VC companies assuming you’re senior sufficient and have sufficient New York or Silicon Valley connections

For two-4, you’re typically being employed to your title and the introductions you may make assuming you’re throughout the high 15 of management.

Boards: The time period “board” can imply two very various things within the business world – an Advisory Board versus a Board of Administrators. An Advisory Board supplies recommendation. It has no authorized function within the firm. Typically firms will put you on their advisory board simply to make use of your title and picture (and probably not need your recommendation). Each firm can set up and compensate its advisory board any means it likes. Some Advisory Boards meet as soon as 1 / 4, others every year. Advisory Board members could discipline weekly to month-to-month emails and calls from the corporate govt group to supply suggestions on technique and positioning and make introductions. Advisory Board members are sometimes paid in a steadiness of fairness (inventory choices) and money (“money” is the business time period for cash wired to your checking account).

A Board of Administrators has a proper and authorized function. It supplies governance and monetary oversight to the corporate. They’ll vote to rent and fireplace the CEO. CEOs search their recommendation (and sometimes should search their formal approval) for main strategic selections akin to acquisitions, main price range adjustments, hiring of C-level executives, and so forth.) Formal Board positions are more durable to come back by. For those who’re an A-player from the senior-most ranks, think about becoming a member of a personal firm board when you’re aligned with their mission and group. They want you.

For me, personally: Individuals within the senior ranks at startups often name themselves operators. Clearly, that’s a unique definition of the time period. I knew I wished to remain/go into an operator function as a result of that’s the place the enterprise studying I sought would occur. I didn’t need to should promote again into the intelligence neighborhood, as a result of I didn’t need to leverage my contacts so tactically, however loads of folks do it (and we’d like good folks to do it. Everyone knows how badly the federal government wants business know-how options). From the beginning, my job was closest to a enterprise improvement function. As a result of it was a small firm and I used to be going from top-down with the CEO reasonably than responding to a job commercial, I used to be capable of craft my operate and preliminary title as, “Senior Director of Nationwide Safety Options.” I started writing unsolicited technique docs for the CEO. This finally led me into a method function, which led me into a method and fundraising function. I additionally took an advisory function with one other startup engaged on nationwide safety know-how, QuSecure.

The place do you have to go? Huge firm or small?  Select massive for stability and better salaries. Select small for studying, development, and affect. In giant firms, they often need you in a slim and particular function. Nevertheless, you should have extra roles you could possibly transfer into if the primary one isn’t an amazing match. For those who be a part of a giant firm, assuming it’s public, you’ll get inventory which instantly can translate into monetary positive aspects assuming the corporate performs properly. The salaries are virtually all the time greater. You will get wealthy in a giant firm (at the least by our humble authorities requirements), however hardly ever rich primarily based on returns from that firm alone.

At small firms, you put on many hats directly. I wished to know the each day challenges an organization confronted on the senior ranges in making an attempt to push a brand new know-how in authorities markets and business markets, and the way capital flows impacted all of this. Nevertheless, an even bigger firm is extra outlined when it comes to a 9-to-5. I work simply as a lot now as I did within the discipline. And although I work from an workplace most days, I additionally do business from home, which affords loads of flexibility as a result of I’m not chained to a SCIF.

You will get rich with the best startup, however many startups fail, so it’s a protracted shot. In fact, “wealth” is subjective. Greater than cash, most of us crave affect. Each are potential on the skin.

How ought to you consider and mitigate threat if becoming a member of a startup? Know your urge for food for threat. For those who’re actually daring, be a part of an early-stage firm (seed stage, Sequence A), however have conviction in regards to the group. Chances are you’ll must cowl some portion of your personal wage for a yr. If you must make a wage equal to what you make in authorities, goal startups which have closed a Sequence B spherical inside the previous few months. For those who’ve acquired a proper supply from a startup, ask how a lot runway (months of money left) they’ve. In the event that they gained’t focus on any features of runway or worth of the fairness bundle they’re providing, look elsewhere.

Look earlier than you leap. Discuss with a number of workers on the firm. Attempt to speak with an investor within the firm. Analysis their Board of Administrators and Advisory Board members and make contact with a few of them. Search for folks on LinkedIn who used to work on the firm, attain out to them and ask why they left.

Being a part of a “failed” startup shouldn’t be a badge of dishonor. Most startups fail, particularly these within the early phases. As long as you and the corporate weren’t working unethically and illegally, it’s not a purple flag in your resume. In truth, this form of expertise issues way more to the following potential tech startup employer than the last decade+ that you simply put in on the Company.


A) For those who’re an A-player, keep in authorities.
B) For those who’re an A-player and depart, do nice issues on the skin and return to authorities service sooner or later.

Developing subsequent:

  • Half III – title, compensation (wage + fairness + bonuses) and assets you should utilize.

Learn the remainder of Laura’s blogs at

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