In every community, crimes, conflicts, and injustices are inevitable, which is why jobs in criminology and criminal justice are critical in our society. Professionals in the field are tasked with maintaining peace and stability, protecting citizens, and providing justice to victims.
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the world, according to the World Prison Brief, which means a steady job market for criminology majors entering the workforce. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a seven percent growth in criminology and criminal justice jobs in the next seven years, as improving public safety continues to be a major concern.
Since choosing this career path comes with the responsibility of protecting the community, the application process for these roles is stricter than in most fields since employers must ensure that they are hiring the most trustworthy, honest and well-rounded applicants.
It can be intimidating for any recent graduate to start a career, but there are specific steps criminology majors should take to succeed. Here are six tips for criminology majors to follow as they begin planning their careers.
1. Choose Your Field
Since having a degree in criminology offers up a broad range of job opportunities, you should first determine whether you want a career in the field of criminology or criminal justice.
Here is what makes these two choices different:
Criminology, the study of crime, is research-based and highly analytical. The field focuses on every aspect of crime through a scientific lens, such as its causes, the various types, its impact on those involved, and its overall nature. Some examples of criminology occupations are private investigators, criminologists, and forensic scientists.
Criminal justice, on the other hand, focuses on the practical application of criminology. Careers in this field typically include law enforcement positions, such as police officers, paralegals, and correctional officers.
You should also decide on the sector of work you'd like to pursue. Choosing between working in the public or private sectors of criminology or criminal justice will help you create a clear career path.
Here is the difference between the two:
Jobs in the public sector allows you to work directly with citizens. Public service is vital for a stable community, so jobs in the public sector are always expanding and continuously in demand. Entry-level law enforcement jobs exist at the local, state, and federal level.
Criminology and criminal justice jobs in the private sector also exist, though finding a job may be more difficult. In the private sector, positions are not typically posted on job boards or open to everyone, so networking in the field is essential. Examples of careers in the private sector are private detectives, paralegals, criminologists, and private security guards.
2. Strengthen Your Academics
Once you've decided which role(s) are most appealing to you, it's time to consider whether you have the necessary qualifications. After all, proving to your potential employer that you have the education credentials and skills required is key to landing the job.
Here are some ways to ensure you've got the right stuff:
Study job ads
To find the specific skills and qualifications employers look for in applicants, study job ads for roles you hope to pursue. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with the experience, education, and licensing requirements for the job and figure out what you need to do to meet employers' needs.
Consider graduate school
Although there are employment opportunities at every level, consider pursuing a graduate degree, if you want to start in a position higher than entry-level.
Meda Chesney-Lind, president of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), encourages students to obtain at least a master's degree.
"Looking into higher education is not a bad idea. The more credentials you have, the better," she said.
Being in a graduate program allows you to work directly in the field, meet other professionals, and gain applied experience through involvement in internships, teaching assistantships, or research grants.
Sharpen your hard skills
Despite the obvious soft skills expected of criminology majors, such as having social perceptiveness and critical judgment skills, being well-rounded academically is also important and worth highlighting on your resume.
Chesney-Lind advises that applicants should be able to show they can analyze and make sense of data since many jobs in this field require data analysis. She also encourages applicants to show soft skills, like communication, to round out their resumes.
"Police work, for example, is reliant on very detailed reports, because you have to be able to write down everything that happens and those case files are extremely important for the investigation," Chesney-Lind explained.
3. Plan Your Career Path
Before you begin your job search, consider these factors to narrow down your choices and find a career and job title that best suits you.
Determine where you want to work
Heavily populated areas with high crime rates have a more robust job market for crime-related jobs, compared to smaller towns. Major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta are the most in-demand locations for criminology and criminal justice job seekers.
Figure out your work style
If you work best in a lab and prefer studying the science and analytics behind a crime, rather than working directly at the scene, consider being a forensic psychologist or criminologist, which are both occupations found in the criminology field. If you are passionate about public safety and protecting the community, and do not mind a field that requires you to be physically active, a law enforcement job in the criminal justice field may be better suited for you.
4. Prepare for Background Checks
The nature of all criminology and criminal justice jobs are highly sensitive. Being in this field grants you access to confidential information, which requires you to be honest, trustworthy and serve only in the public's best interest. For this reason, you are bound to face inevitable background checks as part of any criminology or criminal justice job application process.
Preliminary exams, or background checks, typically include questions regarding alcohol and drug abuse, past criminal behavior and any notable problems in credit and employment history. However, certain jobs have stricter background checks than others.
"It's good to not have a criminal record," Chesney-Lind explained. "Certainly if you want to be in law enforcement, [having a criminal record] would be a dealbreaker."
Law enforcement agencies may require you to pass a polygraph exam and complete additional physical training, while all criminology and criminal justice jobs administer drug tests.
Ultimately, it is essential to maintain a clear record and be mindful of all the choices you make when you hope to have a career in criminology.
5. Find an Internship
Internships are a great opportunity for students and recent graduates to gain valuable applied practice in the field and insight into the day-to-day routines of specific jobs.
An internship should give you a variety of tasks and duties to complete, and the chance to speak to various people about their roles, so you can discover what interests you and determine which roles best align with your career goals.
Here are a few common internships for criminology majors:
- Local police department
If you are interested in pursuing law enforcement, apply for an internship at your local police department. You'll get the chance to work alongside officers, participate in ride-alongs, and experience working in a fast-paced, busy environment.
- Juvenile centers
A juvenile justice internship gives you the chance to interact with the youth and help with improving their behaviors. As an intern, you assist the officers and shadow their everyday routine.
- Student Services
If you're still a student and need hands-on experience, why not find an internship on campus?
"Many criminologists are employed in campus programs," Chesney-Lind explained.
Becoming an intern at your university's student services department is an excellent opportunity if you're interested in the different aspects of social work, such as counseling, understanding behavioral issues, and providing resolutions to conflicts.
With criminology being a competitive field, networking is essential. Jobs are not always posted on job boards, and agencies like to hire applicants they are familiar with and see are actively engaged in the field.
"Get off campus," Chesney-Lind suggests. "Many of these agencies need to know you and need to see you working, whether it's in a volunteer capacity or in a research capacity."
Joining associations and volunteering at organizations related to the field are great ways to meet potential employers and gain valuable knowledge from experienced professionals.
Here are three popular criminology and criminal justice associations criminology majors can join:
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
- American Society of Criminologists
- National Criminal Justice Association
Whether you find yourself pursuing a career as a criminologist or a law enforcement officer, you'll need a strong resume that highlights all of your skills and experience in criminology. Get started with LiveCareer's Resume Builder, which can help you build a professional resume for a variety of roles in the field of criminology in just a few minutes.