Among law enforcement careers, jobs with the federal government - especially as federal agents - are some of the most-sought after careers within criminal justice and criminology in the United States. Many, if not most, people who consider criminology jobs ultimately have some designs on obtaining a federal law enforcement career, and with good reason.
Federal jobs have great health and retirement benefits, as well as good pay. They also offer opportunities to live all over the country and even the world. And, of course, with the popularity of so many movies and television series that feature special agents, they just seem cool. Before you get too excited about becoming a G-man or woman, though, you should pause to consider whether or not you're qualified to be a federal agent.
Police officer jobs are hard enough to get, what with the lengthy background investigation and academy training. For the most part, though, they do not require the level of education or experience that a federal law enforcement agent career typically does.
Beginning with the Basics
The first consideration when determining your eligibility for a federal law enforcement career should be whether or not you can even submit an application. Just to be able to apply, you need to be a U.S. citizen, hold a valid driver's license and be between the ages of 23 and 37.
Emphasis on Education
Perhaps one of the most stringent qualifications to be a federal agent is the education component. Whereas the majority of police departments across the United States do not require a college degree, most federal agencies not only require a degree but prefer agents to hold advanced degrees.
Depending on the type of crime you hope to investigate, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree – and preferably a master’s degree - in fields such as finance and accounting, computer systems, or criminology will be necessary.
While it is possible to land a job as a federal agent without a degree, it is generally accepted that a college education is a de facto requirement.
Even with a degree, you’re not going to qualify for a job right out of college. Federal agents take on complex investigations, and candidates need to have the kind of experience that demonstrates their ability to take on the job.
Typically, agencies want to see at least 3 years of other professional experience. Necessary prior work history can include prior law enforcement work, especially as a detective or investigator; military experience; or other work that demonstrates investigative or tactical experiences.
Strong Focus on the Physical
The education and experience components are tough, and so are the physical requirements. Federal law enforcement instruction includes intense physical fitness training, and while a large portion of the job is not necessarily active, there are plenty of physical rigors associated with any law engagement job.
Federal agencies have strict physical fitness standards you are expected to meet before you can be considered for employment. Get in shape and stay in shape to make sure you can meet the minimums.
Don’t Let Your Background Break You
The importance of keeping your background clean prior to applying for a career as a federal agent cannot be understated. Your past is going to be scoured, and you’ll be subjected to a polygraph exam to look for any undetected crimes or other problems in your past that might disqualify you for a job. While you’re working toward meeting the minimum qualifications, be sure to avoid any problematic behaviors.
Worth the Work
Landing a career as a federal agent is a difficult prospect, and may be too daunting for some. There are lots of rewards that come with the job for those who are willing to put in the work, though. If you think you can meet the minimum requirement to become a federal agent and make it through the hiring process, you can look forward to a long and rewarding career