What to Expect When You Apply for a Criminal Justice Job

How the hiring process works in criminal justice careers

3 police officers
•••   Darrin Klimek / Getty Images

Careers in criminal justice and criminology come with a tremendous responsibility to adhere to the high ethical standards demanded by the public. And because so many such careers are in the public sector, there are often a number of laws and rules that govern how people are hired.

All of this leads to a hiring process that may be different from many other jobs you may have applied for in the past. If you are at all interested in working in criminology, you'll need to know what the hiring process will be like and how long it will take to get hired.

The Criminal Justice Hiring Process Is a Numbers Game

Many criminal justice agencies receive thousands of applications per month, which is a good thing because many agencies have lots of vacancies - especially for police officer and corrections officer positions.

Despite all the vacancies, though, recruitment and hiring staffs are often small, which means just a few people are available to pour over the applications to determine which applicants meet the minimum qualifications.

This means it may take a while - possibly a month or longer - before you receive any communication about your application status.

The Supplemental Application for Criminal Justice Jobs

If your initial application passes muster, you'll probably receive a conditional job offer. With that conditional letter, you can expect to complete a more in-depth supplemental application. This application will provide more information for the agency to conduct a thorough background investigation later. 

The supplemental application will include questions about prior drug use, any previous arrests, all addresses that you've lived at, and all employers you've worked for within a certain period of time - usually the last 10 years. It will also require you to provide your complete education history.

Physical Abilities Testing for Criminal Justice Jobs

Some criminal justice jobs - like law enforcement - can be physically rigorous and require a physical fitness or physical abilities test. This is often the next stage of the hiring process, and will generally occur within a month or two after you apply. The test may include an obstacle course or another job-related task, or a measure of your overall fitness level.

Polygraph and Psychological Exams for Criminal Justice Jobs

Some jobs will require either a polygraph exam, a psychological exam, or both. If they're required, they will probably be scheduled by your background investigator a couple of weeks after your physical abilities test.

The purpose of these exams is to determine your trustworthiness and overall suitability for a criminal justice career. This will help the department decide whether to expend the time and resources on a full background check.

Background Investigations for Criminal Justice Jobs

At some point in the process - usually, right after any polygraph or psychological testing - your file will make its way to a background investigator. The investigator will pound the pavement, checking with each of your previous employers, meeting with neighbors, and looking for any issues in your past that might suggest you're not a worthy candidate.

Once the investigation is complete, the background investigator will compile a complete report and forward it to the hiring authority to make a final determination.

Oral Board Interviews for Criminal Justice Jobs

Once you've passed the background check, you might be required to sit for an oral interview board. Often, the interview will determine your ranking on a ready-to-hire list, so it is in your best interest to score high so you'll be given preference for hiring.

When Are You Ready to Hire for a Criminal Justice Job?

All told, you can expect the entire criminal justice hiring process to take 4 to 6 months, from the time you apply to the time you finally get the call you've been waiting for. It's a long and worrisome process, but once you start your career, chances are you'll discover it was well worth the wait.