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Getting Ahead in Your Criminology Career

Learn How to Better Your Chances for Promotion


Close up of finger print in forensic lab
Rafe Swan / Collection Mix: Subjects / Getty Images

Entry level positions are great for those who have no experience or prior background in criminology, but what about folks who are ready to take the next step and move up the chain or advance their careers?

There are a number of mechanisms in place to allow for objective measurements to find the best candidates for promotion, from oral boards to in-basket exercises and promotional exams.

There's also a subjective component to any promotional process, which includes prior work history and performance as well as relevant knowledge, skills and abilities. Here are some tips to help you shine through the pack and put yourself ahead of the rest.

Dress For the Job You Want

When agencies consider candidates for promotion, everything matters. This includes personal appearance. Remember, right or wrong, impressions matter. When you're going after a promotion, how do you want your name associated? Do you want to be thought of as smart and sharp, or do you want your superiors to think of you as a slob?

Though it may seem harsh, the truth is that your personal appearance really does matter, because it sends a message about the kind of person you are. When a department is looking to promote someone, they are looking for the person they feel can best represent the department in every aspect.

In order to paint yourself in the best light, take care of yourself physically. Exercise and eat right. Whether you wear a suit or a uniform, make sure it's always clean and pressed. Shine your shoes and be clean shaven. Look like the person you want people to think you are.

Don't Let Your Work History Haunt You

Your work history up to the point that you're competing for a promotion will have a lot to do with whether or not you're considered for the job. In the realm of criminal justice careers, there's a wide-spread belief that past performance is one of the best indicators of future behavior.

If you're even considering working your way up the chain, you need to evaluate how well you're doing on the job you've got. Listen to the feedback and criticisms of your supervisors. Make changes if necessary.

Overcome Weaknesses and Highlight Strengths

Pay special attention to what you're told that you do well, and focus on assignments in which you can excel, but don't shy away from tasks on which you can improve, because these will demonstrate your ability to respond to criticism and overcome shortcomings. Make it a point to develop a reputation as a team player and as someone who can get the job done.

Build Your Resumé

Performance is one thing. Qualifications and experience or something else entirely. Resumé building is vital to anyone looking to advance their criminal justice career. Work towards learning as many jobs as you can at your current level so that you'll have the experience you'll need to lead just about any unit in the organization.

Take advantage of training opportunities that become available to you. Many agencies allow lower level officers and employees to become trainers.

If there are training certifications required to become an instructor, do whatever it takes to obtain the necessary credentials. Become an expert in your field and make it a point to learn as many aspects of your job and your agency as possible.

When you draft your resume, be sure to highlight your strengths. Take the opportunity to not only show all of the training and education you've accumulated, but also the fact that you've applied the training in relevant areas of the job. Showcase any special projects or assignments you've completed.

Promote for the Right Reasons

Getting ahead in a criminology career takes hard work, dedication and perseverance. Financial considerations are certainly a motivator, but they shouldn't be the only factor.

We'd all like the chance to earn more money, but you also need to believe in the job and the agency in order to be effective and successful.

If you decide to take on the added responsibility of supervision and leadership, you can make a real difference, not only for yourself, but for your agency and the people you work for and with.

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