Criminal Justice as a Career: What Agencies Require

With opportunities to protect society and have an exciting an active career, criminal justice is a popular field. While employment requirements vary among agencies, most agencies have a few specific requirements that must be met before an individual can become a law enforcement officer. Knowing what to expect can help you put together an effective application when applying to a criminal justice agency.


While many colleges and universities offer degrees in criminal justice, it is not always necessary to major in law enforcement to work for a criminal justice agency. In fact, it is possible to work for the FBI and many state and local law enforcement agencies with almost any bachelors’ degree. Most agencies do require some form of post-secondary education; however, the desire to work in the criminal justice field and the ability to act ethically and think on one’s feet are much more important than the course of study one chose as a college student.

Physical Examination

The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on physical disabilities. That being said, when you apply for a position with a criminal justice agency, you must be able to perform all the job’s requirements, with reasonable accommodations. For police officer, parole officer, or prison security positions, you may need to pass a physical examination in order to prove that you can meet the demands of the job. For less strenuous positions, like dispatcher or court reporter, you may not have a physical examination. It is important to note employment with most criminal justice agencies is contingent upon passing a drug screening, and that periodic screenings may be required during employment.

Background Check

In order to prove that you have strong moral character and that you have no reason to enforce the law unfairly, you will most likely be asked to submit to a background check. A typical background check includes employment history, military service record, driving history, credit check, checking references, and checking with neighbors. You may be asked to explain any gaps in your employment history, and other than honorable military discharge can be a reason to deny employment. Likewise, poor credit history, poor relationships with neighbors, and any felony or misdemeanor convictions are all factors that may cause criminal justice agencies not to hire an applicant. For a detailed example of how a criminal justice agency pre-employment background check works, click here.

Other Qualifications

Other qualifications vary from agency to agency. For example, most state police departments require a psychological evaluation in addition to the physical exam requirement before hiring an applicant. Similarly, some state and local agencies require applicants who have been hired to attend and pass police academy courses prior to being given duties. Prior experience in the criminal justice field, as can be obtained through military police duties or campus or local private security employment, is also helpful in obtaining employment.

If you have an interest in working for a criminal justice agency, 2-4 years of post-secondary education, the ability to pass a drug screening and physical exam, a clean background check, and a little experience can go a long way to helping you land the career you’ve always dreamed of. You can find your agency’s specific requirements online or by inquiring in person. Society will always need protectors, and criminal justice is a growing field of opportunity.