Frequently Asked Questions - Criminal Justice and Criminology Jobs

Answers to Your Questions About Criminal Justice, Criminology and Forensics

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Whether you're still in school and just exploring your options or you're hitting the pavement hard on the job hunt, if you're at all interested in careers in criminal justice and criminology, you probably have tons of questions. We know because you ask them. From learning more about what kind of jobs are available to what kind of degrees you'll need, we've got the information you need to discover and land a great job.

To get that information to you as quickly and conveniently as possible, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about criminology careers.

What kinds of jobs are available in criminal justice and criminology?

One of the best things about the fields of criminal justice and criminology is the sheer variety of career choices available. Of course, there are the traditional career paths associated with the industry, such as law enforcement and corrections, but there truly is so much more to it than that.

College professors, policy makers, conservation officers, lawyers, dispatchers, private security and loss prevention specialists all have important roles within criminal justice and criminology. In truth, no matter what your interest, you're very likely to find a corresponding career path in the industry.

    What kinds of jobs are available in forensic science?

    Like criminal justice and criminology, forensic science offers a wide array of specializations so that there's a place for almost anyone. Besides the most commonly associated job of the crime scene investigator, nearly every scientific discipline has a forensics component.

    Properly qualified and educated job seekers can explore entomology, psychology, anthropology, ballistics, biology and more, with practical applications in jobs such as bloodstain pattern experts. There's also a place for the technologically inclined through computer and digital forensics, and for the detail-oriented individual through handwriting analysis.

    How much do criminal justice and criminology careers pay?

    People who enter into criminal justice and criminology usually do so because of a desire to serve the public. For the most part, these jobs are largely about service and sacrifice. Unfortunately, altruism won't put food on the table or pay the mortgage, so you're going to want to know how much you can expect to earn. 

    Salaries vary widely depending on the level of education, responsibility and technical expertise necessary to perform the job, but in general, you will probably start out earning between $30,000 and $40,000. Corrections officers, police dispatchers, and loss prevention workers tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale, while professors, scientists, and private consultants can earn well over $100,000 annually.

    What are the best majors for criminal justice jobs?

    Because of the variety of jobs available, there are lots of education paths you can take to prepare yourself for a career. Typically, people interested in criminal justice and criminology careers will want to study the social sciences. The best degrees for these types of jobs, besides criminal justice or criminology, are sociology, psychology, or political science, with any combination of majors and minors in those areas.

    What are the best majors for forensic science careers?

    For those of you interested in a career in forensic science, they key word is "science." The best degrees are found in the natural sciences, like biology, chemistry, and physics.

      In addition to the basics, if you have a particular specialty in mind, you can explore entomology, anthropology, psychology, computer science, just to name a few. Again, the emphasis should be on building knowledge and training in scientific principles and processes. 

    How much education do I really need for criminology careers?

    College is a tremendous investment, both in time and money. If you're going to make such an investment, you definitely want to know how much skin in the game you need to have and what kind of return you can expect. The amount of education you'll need to have will depend greatly on the kind of job you want. 

    There are plenty of criminal justice and criminology careers that don't require any degree at all, whereas others will necessitate a master's or even a doctorate. You’ll have to do a little research here about the specific job you're looking for, and be sure to take earning potential into account so you don't saddle yourself with needless student loan debt and minimal resources to pay it back.

    I got my criminology degree. What can I do with it?

    Our first rule of deciding college majors is to determine exactly what you want to do before you select a degree to earn so you can tune your educational objectives to your career goals. With that said, plenty of people find themselves with a college degree that they're not sure what to do with. If you earned a degree in criminology, you have a lot of options available. You may choose to become a criminologist, a juvenile justice officer, a probation or community control specialist, or even work in a government policy position, among others.

    I got a degree in criminal justice. Where can I work?

    A criminal justice degree is best suited for people who want to work within the justice system. These degrees will best prepare you for work as a police officer or corrections officer. They can also provide important foundational knowledge for aspiring lawyers. If you have a criminal justice degree, look for jobs in law enforcement, investigations, or the court system.

    Where should I be looking for criminal justice and criminology jobs?

    There're tons of options available for criminal justice and criminology career seekers, but you've got to know where to find them. Most of these jobs are going to be found in the public sector. Visit your municipal, state, county and federal websites and focus on law enforcement agencies, departments of corrections and investigative bureaus. 

    If you have a specific area of interest or expertise, look into the bureau or department that oversees that area. You may be surprised to learn that most government agencies, particularly on the state and federal level, employ some sort of enforcement or investigative body, including agriculture, the postal service, the military and even the parks systems. There are also, of course, private sector jobs available, such as loss prevention, security, and consulting, but government jobs are the best place to start your search.

    What sorts of stuff in my background can keep me from getting a job?

    A great deal of criminal justice and criminology jobs require an extensive background investigation, which may include looking into you past employment, your criminal history and even psychological evaluations and polygraph exams. Things in your past that may come to light during the process may very well impact your ability to get hired. 

    Major issues that can hurt you include common background disqualifies such as past drug use, especially more serious drugs like cocaine and hallucinogens; detected and undetected serious misdemeanors and felonies; patterns of poor work behavior; falsified job applications; any issues of domestic violence; and a poor driving record. 

    Most agencies will look at the totality of the circumstances and if there is a significant amount of time between a problematic event and your application, it may be overlooked. It's important to realize, though, that you need to work hard to keep your background and blemish-free as possible to give yourself the best chance.

    A lot of jobs require experience.  How do I get it?

    It's an age-old paradox: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job. Or can you? True, many jobs require you to have some experience, but you can obtain it through a variety of sources. Certainly, if you're still in school, internships are a great option. Even if you're out of college, though, there are chances to gain valuable experience to get the job you want. 

    Look for volunteer opportunities in your chosen field. If you want to work in law enforcement, for example, consider working as a reserve or auxiliary officer. You may also need to think about starting out in a position at a lower level than you'd prefer in order to get your foot in the door. Hey, everybody's got to start somewhere.

    How do I apply for criminal justice and criminology jobs?

    Practically speaking, there are plenty of ways to apply for jobs. Most employers now have some sort of online application system, or you can go the traditional paper route. Learning about the application process is relatively simple. Completing the application correctly, however, is something else entirely. 

    When filling out any job application, make sure you fill it out completely. Simple mistakes and omissions can give an employer the impression that you are either untruthful or careless, neither of which will get you hired. Be certain you understand what is being asked for on the application, and if you truly have a question, contact the recruiter or hiring representative to get clarification. 

    Your job application is often the first impression you'll give of yourself to a potential employer, so make it count. Avoid misspellings and grammatical errors, and be sure to fill it out neatly if you can't type it.

     How can I become a forensic scientist?

    Shows like CSI and Dexter have increased the popularity of and the interest in forensic science careers. Coupled with scientific and technological advancements in the field make these sorts of careers more and more appealing, and thus more competitive. To become a forensic scientist, you'll want to focus on learning about science. In college, study the natural sciences, and hone your expertise if you are interested in a particular specialization. Try to find internships at forensics labs, apprentice under other scientists, and develop strong written and oral communication skills. You can also expect to have to pass a background check.

    How can I become a crime scene investigator?

    While some agencies hire non-sworn technicians to be crime scene investigators, many departments still use sworn officers. The typical route is to begin by finding work as a police officer for a few (usually two or more) years and then transition into a specialty position like crime scene tech. 

    Whether sworn or non-sworn, though, you'll need to have the knowledge and training to do the job. A foundational knowledge of the natural sciences will be helpful, as will taking classes and certification courses in crime scene investigation. Develop skills in photography, analysis, and communication, and look for opportunities to intern or apprentice.

    How can I become a police officer?

    Most often, the process to become a police officer is regimented through a series of steps, beginning with the job application. You'll need to pass a written basic abilities test, a physical fitness evaluation, eye and physical exams. 

    You can expect a thorough background investigation which may include a polygraph, possibly a psychological assessment to determine your suitability for the job, and you may go before an oral interview board. And, of course, you'll have to successfully complete a police academy and field training.

    Why should I consider a criminal justice or criminology job?

    There are lots of things that make criminal justice and criminology jobs appealing, both for practical reasons and personally gratifying ones. For one thing, you have the opportunity to help and serve others. There's also job stability, good pay, and great health and retirement benefits. All in all, criminology careers are a great opportunity for satisfying and rewarding work.

    What non-law enforcement criminal justice and criminology jobs are there?

    Too often, people immediately associate criminal justice and criminology with law enforcement and investigations.  In truth, there are many, many career options outside of policing. 

    Crime analysts gather and interpret data for all kinds of criminal justice applications. Police dispatchers provide the communications support police officers need to do their jobs safely and are the lifeline between people in need and people who can help. Other great civilian careers include victims' advocates, forensic scientists, forensic psychologists, and criminologists, to name just a few.

    What are the physical fitness tests like?

    For law enforcement and special agent careers, the physical fitness assessment is an important component of the hiring process. The nature of these jobs sometimes requires physical exertion in order to help other people, capture fleeing suspects and protect yourself. 

    The physical abilities testing that agencies conduct may vary slightly, but they usually consist of evaluating you based on your strength and endurance, such as counting the number of push-ups and sit-ups you're able to perform and the speed at which you're able to run 1.5 miles; the other popular assessment tool involves a timed obstacle course that simulates some of the things you may actually have to do on the job. 

    For either test, the best way to prepare is to maintain a training regimen and try to stay in good physical condition.

    How thorough are the background checks?

    The sensitivity of the job and the level of authority and responsibility will often dictate just how thorough a background investigation may be, but you can expect employers to dig pretty deep.

    Obviously, they're going to check to see if you have any prior arrests, but you can also expect them to look into whether you ever used alcohol excessively or abused drugs. 

    Contacting past employers is also standard practice, as are credit checks to make sure you're not so indebted as to compromise your ability to do your job and that you're meeting your obligations. 

    The background investigator may also conduct home visits and meet with neighbors to get a better picture of what kind of person you are. In short, expect the background check to be very thorough.

    Should I get a master's degree in criminal justice or criminology?

    The question of whether or not to get a master's degree really hinges on what type of job you want and what your career goals are. For most careers, a master's degree won't be required, not even for advancement. It can, however, make you a more attractive candidate for promotion and prepare you for working at a higher level in your organization. 

    If you want a research job or have designs on teaching at the college or university level, a master's degree or even higher will be a must.

    What should I do to get ready for a criminal justice or criminology career?

    The first step is to do your research and find out what kinds of jobs you're most interested in. Once you've chosen a career path, you can focus your efforts on meeting the requirements and making yourself competitive for that particular job market. 

    Consider educational, training and experience requirements and work to build a resume that will make you an attractive candidate. 

    While you're at it, work on meeting people in your chosen industry to build networking contacts and learn more about the job you're trying to land. The adage that knowledge is power is very true here, so the more you can gather, the better prepared you'll be when it's time to look for jobs.

    How can I find the best criminal justice job for me?

    Find a job you love, so the saying goes, and you'll never work a day in your life. The key to finding the job you love is figuring out what you like to do. Look to your hobbies and your personal preferences to inform what kind of wok you may be best suited for. 

    If you enjoy reading or are interested in statistics and data collection, you may want to find a position as a researcher, scientist or analyst. On the other hand, if you like being outdoors or interacting with other people, you may enjoy working the road as a patrol or wildlife officer.  Find your passion, and then do the research to find your best job fit.

    Why am I not getting hired, and what can I do about it?

    If you're falling on hard luck on the job hunt, there are a number of reasons why you're not getting hired, some of which you can control and some you can't. The trick is understanding the difference and then working on the things you can do something about. 

    Make sure you're filling out your applications thoroughly and accurately. Make sure your qualifications meet those of the particular job description. When drafting your resume, ​for example, keep it relevant to your career goals. Work on making sure your education and experience are at the level they need to be. 

    Of utmost importance is to dress professionally at all times when interacting with potential employers, and ensure your communications are professional as well and that they paint the best picture of you as possible.  Above all, keep your head up, stay persistent.

    Asked and Answered

    With so much to learn about these great careers, it's understandable that you may have more questions that don't appear here. Fortunately for you, we'll continue to add resources for you to learn and  grow your career prospects to give you the best possible chance to discover and land a rewarding criminal justice or criminology career.

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