Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

Starting a career in law enforcement is related to making several choices about your future job. While becoming a police officer is one of the most common preferences, there is a great variety jobs in the field that you are able to select from.  

In order to be able to find the right law enforcement job for you, you need to consider several factors. The first thing is to be aware of the overall application process and the basic requirements to become a law enforcement officer. Then you need to consider that you can enter law enforcement at local, state or federal level. Finally, you need to select the desired job and the department that offers the conditions in which you would like to work. 

How to prepare for a job in law enforcement? 

You should be aware that the law enforcement hiring process is quite complicated and includes several steps. You may think that the process starts with browsing the job openings, however, that is not quite true. In most of the cases, it is better to be already aware of what position and at what level of law enforcement you would like to work prior to start looking for a job.  

Even though the requirements of the different agencies may differ slightly – in terms of minimum or maximum age of the candidate, specific requirements about the level of education or experience, in general, you will be faced with a standardized hiring process. Each candidate should be able to pass a written exam, oral interview, physical agility test, medical examination, polygraph test and a background check. All of the components are necessary in order to proceed further with the hiring process. If you have doubts about your readiness for any of the components, it is a great idea to take an online course that can help you pass it with better results. Sgt Godoy offers great online Police Exam practice tests that will make you feel more confident on your written exam. Mastering the Police Interview will help you prepare for the Oral Interview while Mastering the polygraph is an online course that will make sure that you approach the polygraph test without any fear or anxiety.

Select the right level of law enforcement agency – local, state or federal 

One of the main choices you need to make is regarding the level of law enforcement at which you would like to work. You can select between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. There are certain advantages and disadvantages for each place of employment, as it is in any other sphere of work. Here is in a nutshell what to expect: 

  • Local law enforcement jobs 

You will need to start your career as a patrol officer and then work your way up if you want to become a detective or join a specialized unit like the K-9, for example. One of the main advantages is that you do not have to relocate in order to start the job or to get a promotion. A possible drawback can be the size of the department and hence the more limited opportunities for growth (in case you work in a smaller department).  

  • State law enforcement jobs 

In most of the cases, you also need to start your career at a state agency as a patrol officer, who are referred to as state troopers. Some state agencies, though, also hire investigators directly without previous experience as a law enforcement officer. Usually, there is a requirement for a corresponding education. 

If you want to work for a state agency, you have to be prepared to move around the state in order to grow in your career. As state agencies are generally larger than local ones they offer more options for promotions or change of the position. 

  • Federal law enforcement jobs 

Federal law enforcement agencies operate at the highest level. If you want to join the ranks of federal agents, you should be prepared to work across the entire country and all U.S. territories. You might become an investigator with a federal agency without being a patrol or uniformed officer first in case you have the relevant college degree and/or work experience. No doubt, federal agencies offer more opportunities for growth and career development compared to any other department in law enforcement. 

In order to select the law enforcement level you would like to work for, it is important to have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses along with your priorities. It is also possible to start work at a local agency and then move forward to apply for a position with one of the state or federal agencies.

How to choose the right department for you? 


Law enforcement needs people with interests and skills in a great number of spheres. If you are good with computers and technologies, you might join the forces fighting cybercrime for example. Regardless of the field you want to work in, it is also important to find the right department for you. 

Let’s imagine that you want to become a police officer. It is really important to find the right department for you. You may want to work in a smaller department, where you would have to do several tasks at one time. Or you might want to be part of a metropolitan police department, where your opportunities for career development are much higher – you have a chance to join specialized units.  

It is also important to research the salary and the other benefits and compensations that are available. It is good to have access to specialized training and mentoring. Regular career assessments and counseling are also something quite beneficial for your career development.  Recognition and rewards should be part of the department policy as well.  

It is worth it to take some time to investigate the working conditions different agencies offer. Take a note that you cannot rely only on internet comments. If you have the opportunity to visit the place (open doors or other events) it is good to take advantage of it. Look for a place, where you can picture yourself working after 5, 10 or 15 years and possibly retire. Keep in mind that working in law enforcement is a commitment to serve the community, so chose a place where you will be able to give the best of you to fulfill this task.