I love my jobs. Both of them. As a deputy attorney general in the Civil Division of the Delaware Department of Justice’s Office of the Attorney General, I advise the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security on legal issues related to emergency management, forensic science, and law enforcement technology. And as a faculty member at Strayer University’s Philadelphia and Delaware, campuses, I help students focus on what they want to accomplish—and actually see them do it. I also answer plenty of career questions from students along the way. Here, I share a few tips about working in the criminal justice field and what you really need to know to excel.
“Let your interests determine which area you pursue.”
Careers are varied. You’ll find many options in our field. And being an attorney or crime scene investigator—while rewarding—aren’t your only choices. Your criminal justice degree opens doors to work in law enforcement, forensic science, research, fraud investigation, analytics, corrections, or even victim advocacy. My advice: Let your interests determine which area you pursue. If you like keeping order, a career as a bailiff, corrections officer or law enforcement officer could be a great fit. If you like to help people, you may want to with victims of crimes. If you like technology and statistics, a career in research and analytics could be your calling.
Electives are important. I encourage my students to take electives that will help with their goals. Students interested in forensics should ideally have some background in science, such as chemistry or biology. If you’re interested in the technology and social media that figure into investigations, such as when witnesses take video of crimes or arrests, enroll in those courses. And if you want to help people who are victims of crimes, look into psychology courses.
Work isn’t like TV. What you see in prime time is only a little like real life. And popular legal shows, though entertaining, tend to glamorize what we do. For starters, crimes aren’t solved 45 minutes. Be prepared to work with a lot of different people in different situations over a long term. And get familiar with writing reports. Writing skills are important in our field; you may even want to electives that focus on technical writing and communication.
Get experience any way you can. Speaking of real life, try to experience the reality of your chosen profession. Even if you volunteer a few hours a month, or intern a few hours a week, this experience is important to help narrow your interests. You may find that your “dream job” is far from what you envisioned or discover new ways to indulge your professional passions. Seek out professional experiences by doing ride-alongs with a local police department, observing proceedings in open court, or working in your state attorney general’s office. The criminal justice field is dynamic and constantly changing. Staying involved will help keep you current.