There are many roles available in the criminal justice field. People in this field include attorneys, police officers, correctional officers, security managers, and agents and criminologists at federal agencies such as the FBI and CIA.
Criminal Justice Careers
This is an expansive field, but if you work within it, your efforts are devoted—in some way—to enforcing the law.
There are plenty of opportunities for people seeking to work in criminal justice. The job outlook for police and detectives is predicted to grow faster than average.
Here's a look at some of the skills you'll need to cultivate to succeed in the criminal justicefield —to get the attention of hiring managers, you'll want to include these in your cover letters, resume, and job applications.
What Are Criminal Justice Skills?
Because of the wide variety of roles in the field, skills and requirements for people working in criminal justice can vary sharply. For example, an attorney will have to attend law school and pass the bar exam in order to practice. Educational requirements for police officers typically are far lower. On the other hand, many police officers must be able to pass a fitness test.
For any role you're interested in, it's important to review the prerequisites, which may include training, education, and certification, as well as physical skills and the ability to use weapons with accuracy.
In terms of education, it's worth noting that a criminal justice major could qualify you for an array of law enforcement roles, including a police officer, park ranger, paralegal, and forensics expert.
Even with the wide range of roles within this field, some skills are required across the board. For example, people in the criminal justice field generally need to be good communicators, since the roles typically involve writing (reports, briefs, and so on), as well as oral communications (speaking with victims or clients, interviewing suspects, and so on).
And, of course, having a strong sense of ethics is necessary for anyone in this field, since it's so devoted to telling right from wrong. Even specific criminal justice skills that are required for one role are often transferable to another role in law enforcement.
Top Criminal Justice Skills
Take a look at some of the most important criminal justice skills that employees will value.
Criminal justice professionals are on the front lines of maintaining and upholding the basic ethical standards of society. They must be well-versed in the details of the law, and also commit to acting ethical in all decisions.
A criminal justice professional should have a sense of right versus wrong, even when those ethics are tested by difficult people or situations. If you select this vocation, there's a good chance you'll end up in a position of power that demands public trust. Maintaining scrupulous ethics will help you model standards throughout your department or office. Here are some specific examples of ethics-related skills:
- Accessing Resources with Crime Data
- Adapting to Changing Circumstances
- Analyzing Societal and Economic Factors Contributing to Crime
- Assessing Models for Correctional Facilities
- Adherence to Safety Standards
- Problem Sensitivity
A big part of most criminal justice careers involves writing. Therefore, strong written communication skills are essential.
For example, you may need to create reports to get approval for a warrant. Or, you may need to keep key records of policy papers or create proposals for funding. In most cases, a well-written report could mean the difference between convicting a known felon or setting them free. All too often, cases are often lost (or go un-tried) because of poorly written arrest reports.
Whether it’s to apprehend a criminal, demonstrate research findings, or convey any pertinent idea, a criminal justice professional must be able to communicate, in writing, the details of the issue at hand.
Verbal communications are also essential. People in this field speak to a lot of people, in both formal and informal situations. They must be able to convey information and also ask listen carefully, taking in information during conversations, testimony, and interviews.
Some key communications skills for people working in criminal justice include:
- Active Listening Skills
- Composing Reports
- Writing Essays Supporting Criminal Justice Perspectives
- Writing Research Papers on Criminal Justice Topics
- Critical Thinking
- Nonverbal Communication Skills
- Producing Presentation Slides
You'll also need to be quite comfortable with research in many criminal justice roles. This can include the ability to access resources with crime data, assess models, and create charts and graphs. One also needs to be able to utilize data visualization software, interpret social science research data, and create presentations.
You might be asked to analyze public policy and its impact on criminal justice. You also might be called upon to study and analyze the impact of reforms on criminal justice systems or to see how previous changes to policy has impacted crime. Either way, your research skills will be vital to your success.
- Case Studies
- Reading Comprehension
- Legal Codes & Procedures
- Inductive Reasoning
- Deductive Reasoning
- Building Arguments
- Attention to Detail
- Interviewing Witnesses
- Note Taking
- Developing Hypotheses for Criminal Justice Research
- Researching Legal Precedents
- Research Techniques for Criminal Justice
Not every role will require fitness. But many will. Security officers, police officers, probation officers, and agents, along with many others, must be in good shape to do their job effectively. For many roles, you can expect to be given a fitness test. Along with fitness, comfort and skill using weapons is also essential for many roles.
- Physical Conditioning
- Firearms Proficiency
- Non-lethal Weapons Proficiency
In nearly every role in the field, you'll need to enter information into some kind of system, and use databases to get more information. And in many areas of criminal justice, the technology and systems can be quite complicated.
The field of cybercrime in particular has opened up a world of more specialized demands within criminal justice, such as cybersecurity investigation/prosecution. But both cybersecurity roles and more traditional criminal justice roles need computer skills to solve problems.
Prior to applying for a role, it's a good idea to review some of the technology commonly used in the role.
- Microsoft Office Suite
- Crime Databases
- Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems
- Crime Mapping Software
- Internet Search
- Employing Data Visualization Software
- SAS and SPSS Software Proficiency
More Criminal Justice Skills
- Composing Criminal Justice Case Analyses
- Creating Charts and Graphs
- Decision Making
- Evaluating the Efforts of Organizations to Control Crime
- Evaluating the Validity and Reliability of Criminal Justice Research Studies
- Facilitating Group Discussion
- Interpreting Social Science Research Data
- Managing Stress
- Project Planning
- Prioritizing Tasks
- Problem Solving
- Statistical Analysis
- Time Management
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
ADD RELEVENT SKILLS TO YOUR RESUME: Each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description for every position you're applying for carefully and focus on the skills listed by that employer.
HIGHLIGHT SKILLS IN YOUR COVER LETTER: Often, law enforcement agencies care about why you feel strongly about enforcing the law. It can be helpful to provide a brief explanation about what event(s) in your life cause you to want to pursue a career in criminal justice.
USE SKILL WORDS IN YOUR JOB INTERVIEW: You should also consider providing examples of how you’ve demonstrated these skills toward measurable success in prior work. And don't be shy about using these words in your interview and be prepared to share examples of how you've exemplified each skill you mention.