Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries



I was wondering if anyone has any specific advice on the very first steps one should take to get into CI. I'm talking from the point of view of someone who's just finishing their undergraduate studies.


As CI is pretty much an unconventional and specialized field, there don't seem to be clear career paths for it. I mean in management consulting for example there's the corporate ladder and it's all (pretty) clear, although there's of course room for "accidents".


But in CI, it seems that most CI professionals come to it only after going through other roles and even fields. From former government intelligence officers to marketing people etc.


So I guess my question is: if you had to start off clean NOW, with just your first degree behind you, how would you go about a CI career? Specifics appreciated!!


Thank you very much for your guidance!

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Considering some points you will have to know:



KM - Knowledge Management

BI – Business Intelligence



Market Research

Learning organizations


Strategy, Strategic Planning, Strategic Management and BSC

Knowledge about the company flows

Organizational Culture

Good comunication skills, in order to report intelligence to other areas of the company


Besides, you will have to master the Excel, Acess, and be very good in searching at the web!


Best regards.




Thank you for that, it's very very true and the list can go on I think.


But obviously these things you learn as you progress in your career; my question was more about where/how do you start at the very beginning.


The implied answer in your reply is that CI is not a career in itself but rather a specialization which you get on only later, in time. And to be honest, that's my opinion at this point too.


I was just hoping someone would show that to be wrong and give us young aspiring CI-ers some hope :)


Thank you!

From a number of recent unsuccessful job interviews I get the impression that what employers really want is industry knowledge/experience.   They could care less that you know intelligence, or about anything that is bigger than their industry.  

CI for the most part seems to be a novelty for businesses.   The business world seems very literal-minded.  

Things may be different in Europe.   The French seem to get CI, I think because as a country they take economic intelligence and national competitive strategy seriously.



As someone with 13 plus years of experience moving up the CI chain from analyst to manager to Director, first let me address Sandro's response. 

No,  CI is not about statistics, it isnt knowledge management or MR either. (See the discussion on this board about the differences between CI and MR) BI is a different discipline that pertains to looking mostly at internal data in relational databases, and CRM as well has little to do with CI being after the fact, customer focused.


CI, and maybe I'm old school, is about anticipating competitors likely moves to enable proactive planning, its about HUMINT, its about SEWS. Its about being able to clearly articulate competitors strategies/tactics and devising strategies to outmaneuver, its about how competitors influence customers/suppliers, its about how competitors derive and maintain competitive advantage, its about how their management makes decisions and what they believe and how likely they are to succeed or fail, its about whats really happening inside competitors walls outside of public view that might open up opportunities, its about new entrants, technology or business models that might make yours obsolete, etc.


Trip- yes there is a lot of that and I think its a mistake.

Folks can learn an industry quickly, but in my experience, solid CI skills are much harder to come by.

When I was a CI manager, I'd rather hire someone with demonstrated CI acumen that someone with existing industry knowledge any day.





I guess I am dealing too much with people at work who are keen on using CRM, BI and MR alone. And many times I still feel I have not recieved a complete picture of who our competitors are.

It is always a pleasure to read your views on CI.


Thanks Jafni! Nice of you to say.

Thank you all for your contributions!


Needless to say, more specific and practical suggestions relating to the thread's subject would be much appreciated!


Thank you again!



Where are you/did you pursue your undergrad, and what exactly did you pursue? Did you intern anywhere? And what geographic region are you/will you be looking for work?


You mention that you would like some practical first-step type advice. I don't have much CI experience just yet, but I did land a CI position pretty much right out of college (after extensive interviewing all over the place) and might have some worthwhile insight.


Feel free to reach out to me directly.






Yes, I think we all moved off topic as to your request; so allow me to swing things back around.

Most of the folks I know who have succeeded in a corporate CI role were first in other roles that required some degree of market/competitive analysis. The ones that really stood out from their peers head and shoulders above, often ended up on the CI team. This was my personal experience.

With this in mind, my suggestion would be for you to shoot for perhaps a product management role or a general market analyst role and prove that you have the ability to extract critical and keen insights. If you do I believe it will be noticed, and that you could then shoot on over to the CI function quite easily.

I think it will be hard to go onto an established corporate CI team without proven ability.

Now, I suppose some people might tell you to go get an MBA and go to work for one of the Big consulting firms in a consulting/ analytical role. All I can say in that regard is OK if you want to go that route but in my opinion, its not a pure CI role if that's what you really want and further, that most of those folks that later try to cross to corporate level, strategic CI fail. Seen it far too many times...I guess the point is these guys/gals are great at financial/operational analysis, secondary source data but they tend to lack the HUMINT gathering skill and ability to get in front of things (ie; be strategic when it comes to competitors). Maybe this is partially because they bounce from project to project, industry to industry frequently and to get depth and perspective one has to stay focused on a particular industry and the competitors and dynamics within it to be really successful in CI. Could be the model, could be the mentality, consulting and CI are different animals....etc.

I guess I'd ask- what are your strengths? How are you defining a CI role? Are you sure that what's you want? It can be very challenging as a career path because it is not well understood broadly.



Dear Mrs Nixon,


Thank you for your reply - it is very much to the point and helpful.


It makes a lot of sense to go through market analysis and from there to the CI function. To put it the other way round, I suppose the core advice is "target companies with established CI functions and work your way up within the company".


Also, I'm a bit surprised at your critique of the supposed link between management consulting and CI--surprised in a good way, as I wasn't convinced either of the virtues of the Big4 > CI career strategy.


However, on the HUMINT point you make, I wonder what sort of job could actually help one develop such skills, save working in government intelligence. I'd venture to say that maybe Sales comes close in some ways.


As for myself, I wouldn't go into much detail about my skills here, but I'm quite positive that I've got the right profile for this field and I'm also quite sure it's what I want. I've even did a rather extensive term paper on CI for my Intelligence module in War Studies, so I'd say I'm as clear about it as any young non-CI professional would be.


Thank you again for your comments!





You are most welcome and yes, its a good idea I think to target firms with established CI because as a new practitioner you almost certainly aren't prepared to fight the war to create a start-up CI function -yet. Its a very difficult endeavor even for the seasoned pros.

There is one thing I would add to my comment above however- I would not try to start in a formal Market Research division -MR is not CI and you could find yourself effectively pigeon holed. (See the discussions on the board about the differences between CI and MR) No, I would try and get a market analyst role or something to that effect in a future product marketing group or R/D division. You'll have a lot more latitude to focus broadly not just predominately on customers and quantitative elements, and to look into what will be not just what is or was.

Regarding management consulting and CI- well, I wont pull any punches here and I apologize for offending anyone in advance - the following is based on my personal experience. That said, I have never been impressed with Bain, BCG, Mc Kinsey etc and I've worked with them. Or perhaps I should say that anytime a certain company I worked for hired them they camped out at my desk for the duration of their project to elicit me and the the other CI folks. I found them to be extraordinarily arrogant, and that really their main skill was tapping the folks in the org that were respected SMEs , assimilating what they know across the organization and then regurgitating what they thought was the best of the best back to internal exec management. So, what's their value add really? My view is its compiling whats known across the organization and bringing it together, but are they able to be truly strategic about the business, do anything with the insights (sense making, develop a solid strategy with what they gather)? Not in my experience. I know the last time the Fortune 10 company I was working for hired one of the aforementioned firms and paid them an obscene amount of money- they got fired for shoddy work.

With regard to HUMINT skills- you know, I think they kind of come naturally to folks with the right profile.That said,  I've always found an ongoing dialogue with sources over time works best...not drag and drop, project by project collection....



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