MI6 takes to silver screen to recruit unlikely spies

By Paul Adams
BBC News

Media caption,
The cinema advert is the first in the service's history

Cinemagoers may think they already know what it takes to be a spy.

Generations of James Bond fans have cheered 007 as he shoots and sleeps his way through a world of sinister villains and exotic women.

The image is hi-tech, violent, romantic and more than a little cynical.

It's a world-beating brand, but one today's spymasters are doing their best to keep at arm's length.

And so, for the first time, MI6, officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service, is taking on the Bond image on 007's home turf - the silver screen.

'This woman could'

On Monday, MI6 launches its first ever cinema advert, aimed at attracting different types of candidate.

A young woman of ethnically indeterminate background is shown demonstrating people skills and emotional intelligence in a range of everyday situations. This woman, we're told, does not work for MI6.

"But she could," the advert concludes.

Steely-eyed, white male killers, it seems, need not apply.

"There is a perception out there that we want [Bond actor] Daniel Craig, or Daniel Craig on steroids," the SIS' current head of recruitment told the Guardian.

"He would not get into MI6," says the recruitment chief, identified only as Sarah.

Image source, SIS

Recruiters have long worried about the pervasiveness of the image first portrayed in the pages of Ian Fleming's novels and then seared into public consciousness via the biggest movie franchise of all time.

The aim of the advert is to wean the public off this grotesquely misleading stereotype.

According to the accompanying press release, the advert aims "to attract people who rule themselves out of a career in MI6 based on their misconceptions about the agency."

It sounds like a long shot, but those behind it seem optimistic.

"The whole point," Sarah says, "is about getting people who would never, ever think of joining."

Tap on the shoulder

"People tend to deselect themselves," adds Mark, head of HR. "We want to prevent that. We want the service to be representative, but also to draw in the capabilities of the workforce at large."

It's part of a continuing drive to recruit from the widest, most diverse cross-section of society, with a particular focus on women and ethnic minorities, both still under represented in the service.

Another aspect of new effort sees a return of the old "tap on the shoulder" method employed for decades, mostly in the cloisters of Oxford and Cambridge universities.

But if the method will be the same, the locations will be different.

Image source, Getty Images

"Diverse organisations," is how Mark puts it, without elaborating.

Some say that the agency's elite image may be punctured by the revelation that a 2:2 degree will make you eligible. Mark says work experience in other sectors is sometimes just as important as a good degree.

Other recruiting tactics display a little playfully appropriate subterfuge to seek out those with interpersonal skills and the ability to influence people.

Test yourself

Unbranded fliers invite you to click on goodwithpeople.uk and take a series of tests. Only those who succeed in the online games find out that they have what it takes for a life in the intelligence services.

This correspondent scored well on the "emotion detector", but not so well on the "human polygraph". And when it came to the "mind changer," I failed a text message exercise designed to persuade a friend to attend a surprise party.

I have not been invited to join MI6.

Image source, goodwithpeople.uk

The advert will run for a month, in cinemas in London, the West Midlands and north west England, partly reflecting the sort of urban areas recruiters look to but also the fact that MI6 can't afford a nationwide release.

And will it be shown in cinemas where Bond or similar spy capers are showing?

Emphatically not.

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