What to Expect When You Apply for a Job in Criminal Justice

How the Hiring Process Works in Criminal Justice

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. There are often a number of laws and rules that govern how people are hired because so many of these careers are in the public sector. This leads to a hiring process that can be different from other jobs that you might have applied for in the past.

It's a Numbers Game

Many criminal justice agencies receive thousands of applications each month, and they also have a lot of vacancies, especially for police officer and corrections officer positions. But hiring staffs are often small despite all the vacancies and recruitment needs. Only a few people are available to pour over applications to determine which among them meet the minimum qualifications.

It can take a while—possibly a month or longer—before you receive any communication about your application status. Be prepared to wait.

The Supplemental Application

You'll probably receive a conditional job offer if your initial application passes muster. You can then expect to complete a more in-depth supplemental application. This application will provide more information so the agency can conduct a thorough background investigation later. 

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

Physical Abilities Testing for Criminal Justice Jobs

Some criminal justice jobs can be physically rigorous, and these require a physical fitness or physical abilities test. This is often the next stage of the hiring process, and it will generally occur within a month or two after you apply.

The test might include an obstacle course or another job-related task, or it might be a measure of your overall fitness level.

Polygraph and Psychological Exams 

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

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

Background Investigations for Criminal Justice Jobs

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

The background investigator will compile a report when her investigation is complete and forward it to the hiring authority who will make a final determination.

Oral Board Interviews

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

Are You Ready for a Criminal Justice Job?

You can expect the entire criminal justice hiring process to take four to six 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 chances are you'll discover it was well worth the wait when you start your career.