Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

Police-K-9How do you choose the right law enforcement job for you? There are a lot of different jobs in law enforcement. For many, this can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You want to keep in mind that a job needs to be the right fit for you, as well as you being the right fit for the job. Even though a job may be exciting and something you’d want to do, you have to ask yourself honestly, if the job is a good match for you.

There are many types of law enforcement so first you want to decide on the type of job that you’d like to do, whether it be police officer, criminal investigator, crime analyst, and if you meet the requirements for that job. How competitive is getting that job? If you’re going after a job where there’s very little hiring and it’s extremely competitive, that may influence your decision. There are certain jobs out there where there’s very little turnover, and as a result there are very few openings. Jobs like these may not be realistic to have that as a career goal.

Next, decide on the type of agency you’d like to work for, such as local, state or federal. Then decide on where you’re willing to work. If you want to be a US Secret Service Uniformed Division Officer but you live in Iowa and you don’t want to leave Iowa, that certainly may be an issue.

Generally, the geographic areas that you are interested in or willing to work in will be a major factor in deciding what types of jobs you’re going to get. It’s hard to consider any law enforcement job openings and that are anywhere in the country. You normally need to focus it down a bit. However, if there is a specific job that you’re interested in doing, such as a crime scene investigator, and that’s the most important thing to you, in that situation, you may want to look for any crime scene investigative positions anywhere in the country regardless of where they’re located.

Checking Job OpeningsFor jobs with federal law enforcement agencies, there’s often nationwide hiring, such as for DEA agents, ATF agents, and Secret Service Agents. Generally, you’ll apply for those positions and after you apply, it will be decided on where you will be sent. If you’re fairly open to where you’ll work, a common strategy is to look at all federal openings, then look at local and state hiring for just the geographic areas you’re interested in. For many federal law enforcement positions you will be required to sign a “mobility agreement” meaning that you agree to relocate to any duty station that serves the needs of the agency.

Know whether you want to work a sworn or non sworn position. To decide that you need to know what is a peace officer. For most who want to be sworn and are interested in state or local law enforcement, the most common path is to get a job as a patrol officer, work your way up through detective, and along the way, try to get as many specialized details or assignments as you can, which would include SWAT, K9 unit, homicide. The path in federal can be different. While you always want to try to start off with a job in an agency that is your goal, there’s a fair amount of moving around between agencies in the federal system. Therefore, it isn’t unusual for somebody to start off with an agency that they weren’t planning to work for. Then once they get into it and have spent some time with that agency, they transfer to another agency, and perhaps another agency after that. With most states, if you’re sworn and you move between agencies from local-to-local or local-to-state, you may keep your retirement but not your seniority.

How to find law enforcement job openings

When should you start looking for law enforcement jobs? If you’re still in school, you may want to start during the middle of your first semester of your senior year. You can start as early as towards the end of your junior year. If you’re already out of school, don’t worry. There’s the old adage, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best day is today.” So, if you’re not in school, I would suggest to start looking now.

Police Officer Hiring ProcessHow long will the police hiring process take? It will vary greatly from agency-to-agency, and by type of job. From the time that you first apply until the time that you report to the academy, the shortest is going to be about four months. On the long side, the police hiring process is going to be about 12 months. The average is about 8-10 months. For large hiring with the federal government, it could take even longer. If an agency is filling a few positions, it could be a shorter period of time.

When you’re looking for a law enforcement job, you want to have your criteria in mind. The criteria should include the type of job you’re interested in, where you’d like to work, and the type of agency that you’d like to work for, what and the police officer requirements. When looking for jobs, make certain that you are looks for jobs where you meet the police requirements if that is the job you are interested in.  There may be police officer age requirements that you must meet. So find out how old do you have to be to become a cop. It’s okay if you’re not sure, but it’s important to have some type of starting point. There will be other requirements that you need to make certain will not be an issue for you. Passing a police written test will be required and if you are wanting to work for an agency in California it you will need to get a good score on the PELLETB Test.

Female Police OfficerAside from the law enforcement entrance exam there will be police oral board questions you will need to get a good score on. There will be a police background check will will include police polygraph questions and police psychological questions. And don’t forget about meeting the police officer physical fitness test requirements.

It’s difficult to look for all jobs anywhere. A good source of finding out about job openings are college job boards, and not just at your college, any college within the area that has either criminal justice program, homeland security program, or anything that would relate to law enforcement because when agencies are posting their job openings, they’re going to look for colleges that have majors related to the law enforcement profession.

Go to college job fairs, and not just at your college, but any college within driving distance that has a criminal justice program because agencies will target these schools and their job fairs. college job fairs are also a great way to find out about a police cadet program in your area.

Look at agency websites. It’s a good idea to have a list of agencies that you’re interested in working for, and look on there periodically for anything about hiring, joining the team or applying.

Where to find Job Openings

Check the human resources websites for the city or the county that you are interested in working for, and this is going to be separate from the actual agency website itself. As an example, the City of Phoenix has a website which includes job postings and the Phoenix Police Department also has a website. For many city and county websites you you can subscribe to receive weekly job openings.

Phoenix PD RecruitingCheck your local newspaper, and not just the newspaper, but the website for that newspaper. The reason why this is a good source is that agencies are required to make public announcements about their hiring. One of the easiest ways for an agency to make their hiring announcement public is to put it in the local newspaper, and the local newspaper these days will also have a website.

Check the POST or Peace Officer Standards and Training website for your state, and for a lot of those websites you can subscribe for email listings of new jobs. Many of the POST websites will list new law enforcement jobs within their state. Not every agency will post their job opening on the POST website, but it is a great source of information. The POST website will list the requirements in that state as well as what will disqualify you for being a police officer.

There are many job boards that you should check periodically for law enforcement jobs. When you do, make sure that you don’t have to provide any personal information in order to access the job listing. You may want to set up alerts with that job site, where you can get listings either everyday or every week of new job openings.

How to find Federal Law Enforcement Jobs

USAJobs Police Officer Search

If you’re looking for a job with the federal government, then you’ll want to check usajobs. This is the official website of the US Federal Government. When you do check for job openings, unless you are a current or federal employee, you will want to check off the box that says “Open to the public.”

There are several recommended ways to search for jobs on the usajobs website; search by job title, search by agency, and search by agency, and also search by location.

You can search by job series code. Every job in the federal government has a job series code. The 1811 code is for criminal investigator, federal agent. So, if I put in the 1811 series, it will bring up all of the criminal investigator or special agent positions.

You can search by department or agency. So, for instance, here, I can put in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I will get a listing of all jobs with the FBI. You can search for a variety of different angles. You can try searching by location, just by agency, just by job title, and just by job series. You may get different results each time depending on how it is that you search.

Another day to search is by job title. You can put in the keyword “Police Officer” and it will bring up every job that has “Police Officer” in the title.

The hiring process for federal jobs will be similar if you work looking to get hired by a police department or joining the sheriff ranks. There will be a police officer selection test, a police interview, and possible a police polygraph. Passing every stage is vital, however, getting a great score on your police oral board is key.

How often to check for new Law Enforcement Job Openings

It is recommended to search for job openings at least twice per week. The reason being is some of these openings are only open for a short period of time, especially with federal jobs and you want to make sure that you find a job opening with enough time before it closes so that you can have time to apply and get all of your paperwork together. If you leave yourself enough time, your focus will be on turning in a great application, rather than getting your paperwork in on time.

Law Enforcement Job OpeningsAlso, don’t rely on just one or two sources to look for law enforcement jobs. You may find that 80% of the job openings you’re interested in are coming from just one or two sources. However, keep searching a variety of sources because that job you really want may turn on a source that you rare get results with.

When you are on a job board and they will not show you all of the information about the job, including how to apply, without providing personal information about yourself, stay away from using that site. You should never have to join a website or register in order to see a job announcement. Police department jobs are public announcements and should be able to be viewed without any string attached.

How to get Inside Information on Hiring

A great source of information is the agency recruiter. Many law enforcement organizations have recruiters and they often work in the job that you are applying for. For instance, if you’re looking for a job as a police officer, often, a police department will have an agency recruiter who is a police officer. They may be in a supervisory capacity such as a sergeant. Their job is to be the liaison for those interested in joining that department.

The recruiter really is gold to you. It’s usually easy to find out who the recruiter is for an agency. Often the name of the recruiter will be listed on the agency website, and there will be either an email address or a phone number for you to contact to the recruiter.

Police RecruitIt is suggested to set up a meeting with the recruiter. Prepare a list of questions for the recruiter. Make sure that you’ve read through everything on the recruiting website page so that you’re not asking questions about information which is already available. Preparing a list of questions is very important because it shows that you came prepared, and that you value the time of the recruiter.

When you do meet with the recruiter, treat it like a job interview. They may be taking notes on their interaction with you. Make sure that you’re on time, dress appropriately, act professional, have a list of questions showing that you’re prepared. Also, be prepared to talk a little bit about yourself if you are asked. If you email the recruiter, proofread everything that you send to them. Make sure to put your name on it. Make sure it is very formal.

Questions to ask an Agency that is hiring

When you meet with the recruiter, you can ask them

  • Are they hiring now? If not, are they going to be hiring in the near future? When do they anticipate hiring?
  • Do they have an interest list that you can be put on to be notified when the next hiring will be?
  • What type of candidate are they looking for?
  • What is the schedule for the hiring process?
  • What elements make up the hiring process?
  • What does the written exam consists of?
  • Suggested study guides for how to pass the police exam?
  • Do they have any information that will help you prepare for the hiring process?

Recruiters like these kind of questions because it shows that you really want to do your best and you’re willing to put forth the effort to do your best. Ask them if they have any recruiting events or open houses, and if they do, make sure to show up even if you feel you know as much as you can. Showing up at their events shows that you truly are interested. Even if there’s only one thing that you’ll learn from the open house or the recruiting event, it will be definitely worth your while. There are lots of different types of law enforcement jobs out there. It is good to find out about as many of them as you can to make your decision about which ones are right for you.