Choosing a Career as a Criminal Profiler

Shadowy criminal figure in the doorway of a jail.
••• Steve Parry / Getty Images

One of the most fascinating, challenging and interesting careers available to criminal justice and criminology job seekers is that of the criminal profiler. Popularized by television shows like The Profiler and characters like Hannibal Lecter, the idea of tracking criminals by studying their motives and methods to develop a picture of who they are is understandably appealing to a lot of people.

Add to that the potential for a high salary and decent fringe benefits, and it's little wonder that so many people hoping for a criminal justice job would be drawn to criminal profiling.

With this high interest, though, comes high competition. Landing a career as a criminal profiler is no easy feat, and there are a lot of folks competing for not a lot of jobs.

If you're interested in working in such a highly sought-after and wildly competitive field, you're going to need to know how to become a criminal profiler and start planning for your career path now.

Minimum Requirements

Before you get started on getting competitive, you need to make sure you can meet the minimum requirements. These are the basics that you'll need to have to get an employer even to consider an application for a job.

Understand that you are most likely not going to walk out of college and right into a lucrative profiling career. Most often, criminal profilers are detectives or investigators who work for state police agencies, large municipal police departments, or as FBI special agents.

It means the typical path to becoming a profiler is through the police department, state, or Federal Bureau of Investigations. It also means that you're going to have to start off your career at the bottom rung of the ladder and work your way up.

The first step, then, is to meet the minimum hiring requirements for an officer at whatever law enforcement agency you're hoping to work for.

Specific requirements will vary among agencies, but generally, in the U.S. you must first:

  • Be a United States citizen
  • Have either some college, prior law enforcement or past military experience
  • Be at least 19 or 21 years of age - depending on the jurisdiction
  • Hold a valid driver license
  • Have no prior arrests or convictions for felonies or serious misdemeanors

Again, these are the bare minimums just to be considered for law enforcement. Without these, you probably won't be able to get hired as a police officer, which in turn means you won't be able to become a criminal profiler. Meeting these minimums, however, in no way guarantees you'll land a job. You still have to make yourself competitive.

Please note: not all departments have behavioral science or profiling divisions. Research your local and federal agencies to be sure the career path you want is a viable one.

Get Competitive

As we've mentioned, becoming a criminal profiler is an extremely competitive endeavor. That means you need to stand out from the crowd and make yourself the best and most obvious candidate when a position comes available.

To put yourself in the best position to make it as a criminal profiler, you'll want to build a resume that demonstrates that you have the knowledge, experience, and training necessary for this mentally grueling career. There's no specific degree required, but if you want to have a good shot, you'll want to pursue an advanced degree in behavioral science, such as psychology, and take courses in forensic science.

Relevant experience is also a vital key to becoming a profiler. You'll need to work your way up through the ranks to become a detective or investigator or - in the case of the FBI - a supervisory special agent. As an investigator, you'll need to develop years of experience successfully investigating violent crimes and studying dangerous criminals.

Along the way, you can probably expect to partake in oral interviews and other assessments to determine your suitability for promotion or transfer to a profiling unit. Your past body of work should be impeccable, meaning well-written and thorough reports and successful arrests and prosecutions.

Physical Fitness Requirements

Because criminal profiling is a law enforcement career, you will most likely be required to demonstrate and maintain a certain level of physical fitness. If you're not in shape now, consult with your doctor and start working to get there - and stay there -so your health doesn't keep you from achieving your dream job. Different agencies will have different requirements, but if you exercise regularly and eat healthily, you can put yourself in the best position possible to compete physically.

Background Investigation

Given the sensitive nature of the field, you'll be required to undergo an extensive background check when you begin your job. By the time you get to the point in your career when you can start being considered for a job as a criminal profiler, the background check should be less of an issue. Nonetheless, whether you're just getting started or you're already well-established, it's always a good idea to keep the prospect of a background check in the back of your mind and make sure your behavior - both on and off the job - is above board.


According to the FBI - the agency that pioneered criminal profiling - in addition to their law enforcement and police academy training, criminal profilers receive professional training and development to hone their skills and prepare them for the specific job of profiling.

Training is conducted by units such as the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Initial training will include up to 500 hours or more, and profilers are also expected to join national and international profiling organizations, as well as attend seminars and continuing education courses to stay fresh in their field.

Getting Started

Embarking on a career as a criminal profiler is a difficult prospect. It's also an incredibly interesting career choice, with plenty of challenges to keep you busy and excited about your job for years to come.

If you're well motivated and determined to become a criminal profiler, then there's no time like the present to get started on gaining the knowledge, training, and experience you'll need to compete for this great criminal justice career.