Kory Williford, MSW ’03, has been a victim specialist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 18 years. She landed the position during her final year in the School of Social Work’s 3-year program. Recently, we caught up with Williford to learn more about her work with the FBI and how her education at UNC has influenced her career.
Q: Tell us about your role with the FBI and what you do.
Specifically, I work directly with all the victims in our investigations, including through crisis intervention, and resource and referrals. I also keep in touch with the victims and their families through the life of our investigations and beyond. Our crime types include child pornography, human trafficking, investment fraud, violent bank robberies, kidnapping/missing children, and more. My position is not a sworn law enforcement position, so I don’t carry a gun or badge. However, I work very closely with the agents in the Eastern half of North Carolina as they do their work. My role is very similar to that of a victim advocate at a local law enforcement agency.
Q: Because people don’t often understand all the various opportunities available for social workers, they may not realize that working for the FBI is a possible career path. Tell us a little more about how your social work education and skills are a good fit for the agency.
To become a victim specialist with the FBI, you have to have three years of experience working with victims and have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. I met those qualifications, and was working on my MSW when I was offered the job. Knowing I was going to make this my career, I was able to tailor my last year of the program to my job responsibilities, and the SSW was very flexible in helping me fit my internships into my current job.
There are some special agents that have a background in social work as well. Our agents have all types of professional experience, including backgrounds in finance, computing, teaching, military and law enforcement. We even had an agent who left divinity school to work here! The process to become an agent with the FBI is more rigorous than the process for “support” employees. Potential agents face physical agility testing and 4 months of intensive training at Quantico.
Q: What previous jobs prepared you for your current position?
Prior to my career at the FBI, I worked for Family Service of the Piedmont in Guilford County. There I had several roles. I did an internship there during college and was fortunate to get a full-time job after graduation as a child victim advocate working in the domestic violence shelter. From there, I worked as a family advocate in the Child Advocacy Center offering services to victims and their non-offending caregivers/guardians. My last role at Family Service was as victim advocate supporting the Child Victims’ Unit at Greensboro Police Department. That position taught me how to work closely with law enforcement within the scope of their investigations.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is juggling all of the work. I cover 6 satellite offices in the Eastern half of North Carolina. I cannot be everywhere at once, but I have been able to build a network of agencies across the state that I can reach out to help support the victims in our cases.
On top of all of my professional responsibilities, I am also a mom. I have 4 beautiful children, ages 4-14. I tell everyone my first job is “mom,” and this is my second job. My husband is a full-time firefighter, so managing schedules is hard sometimes when we both need to be somewhere for our work. We are fortunate to have family close by we can call when needed. There have been times when I have had to work long hours at command posts for missing children cases, but with the support of my husband, kids and extended family, I’ve been able to make it happen.
Q: Why are you passionate about the work that you do?
I am passionate about this work because I find it so rewarding to help people navigate the criminal justice system. We meet people at their worst moments, but I hope that somehow the assistance I offer helps them find the path to hope and healing.
Q: What advice do you have to offer graduating MSW students who may also be interested in pursuing a position with law enforcement?
I always tell people who are interested in social work to stay flexible, keep an open mind, look for opportunities to network, and you will be amazed at the doors that may open for you. Twenty years ago, I never would have thought I’d be here doing this work today, but I am because I took a couple of chances that paid off. Having a background in social work can also be an asset if you decide to become a sworn law enforcement officer as you already have the skills to work with people, to listen and to respond to their needs.
For more information on positions with the FBI, go to www.fbijobs.gov.