While most high school seniors were writing yearbook messages, School of Accountancy alumnus Curt Haralson was writing a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), inquiring about which majors might help him become a special agent. “I got a generic email reply,” Haralson recalls, “saying, ‘Thanks for your interest. Check our website.’” The advice was basic and impersonal, but as Haralson followed it and saw “accounting” on the website, he took his first steps toward the BYU Marriott School of Business—and ultimately to the bureau and beyond.
Haralson would need to have at least three years of work experience after graduating to even apply for the FBI, so he enrolled in accounting classes at Brigham Young University after serving a church mission in Everett, Washington. The FBI felt like a long shot, while public accounting offered a secure path forward.
But when Haralson finished his MAcc in 2009 in the thick of the recession, “Job fairs were packed shoulder to shoulder,” he recalls. Recruiters warned graduates that only one or two people would be hired due to the economy. Haralson kept networking until he landed a position at a firm in Las Vegas, a city he would call home for the next five years.
It was in Vegas, then married with three children, that Haralson took a leap and initiated his application for the bureau. He soon hit a roadblock: the across-the-board federal spending cuts of 2013. “All federal hiring was put on pause because of sequestration,” he explains. “The FBI basically told me that my application made it halfway through the process, so they would get back to me when they had the funding.”
Haralson recalls, “I was so excited, but I also knew I would just have to wait.” Patience and persistence kept him optimistic through the many months that followed.
Finally in 2015, Haralson’s dream became real—and so did the sacrifices. Haralson entered The FBI Academy at Quantico, the rigorous twenty-week training camp for FBI special agents. In addition to being far away from his family, Haralson wasn’t allowed to take time off to be with his wife when their fourth child was born. The couple also knew they could be assigned to any bureau office across the country.
After the Quantico graduation ceremony, Haralson and his wife drove through the night with their two-month newborn and children to reach their new home: Chicago. “I loved the massive skyline and downtown,” Haralson recalls. In fact, prior to receiving the assignment, he and his wife had ranked Chicago as their eleventh choice out of the 56 possible bureau locations.
So just one day after leaving Quantico, Haralson closed on a house and opened a new chapter of his life.
Transitioning from accountant to agent was not only possible for Haralson but also pragmatic. “BYU Marriott’s accounting program focused a lot on teamwork and working with a variety of people, which I’ve found critical in both public accounting and investigations,” he shares. “An investigator’s job includes all varieties of problem solving, which is also a large part of public accounting.”
As a special agent for the past eight years, Haralson investigates public corruption—his cases often involving public officials and civil rights. “I’ve been to places I never would have gone otherwise,” Haralson says, including Ukraine, Austria, and Colombia. “I worked in the US embassy in Ghana for three months, assisting all the case agents with financial crimes and scams occurring out of Ghana.”
Haralson pursued additional specialized training to become a nationally certified crisis negotiator. In this role, he facilitates negotiations for people in crisis at the federal level. He regularly helps families whose loved ones have been kidnapped across international borders.
Although his job no longer involves technical accounting principles, Haralson says that integrity is the most important principle he learned at BYU Marriott. That integrity grounds Haralson as he navigates demanding cases and unpredictable situations. “Tomorrow I’m waking up at five in the morning to go out with a SWAT team,” Haralson says. “It’s something I never would have imagined.”
Written by Shannon Keeley