1. Careers
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

How Not to Get Hired in Criminal Justice

Four Real-World Mistakes Law Enforcement Applicants Make


Office Desk

Sitting in the hot seat at a job interview doesn't need to be intimidating or uncomfortable. Copyright 2011 Tim Roufa

Tim Roufa

One would think that when participating in any kind of job application process, job candidates would want to present themselves in the best possible light. Criminology careers in particular typically have high standards when it comes to personal appearance. Dressing sharply and appropriately, maintaining proper grooming and acquiescing to at least a few social conventions and mainstream notions of professionalism would be universally understood and practiced. One would think.

However, not everyone adheres to what most would consider pretty standard guidelines of job searching etiquette. Some jobs and organizations are more permissive than others, and so it's understandable that, in some instances, applicants might find themselves slightly adrift of some conventions.

Against the Grain

Some people, though, run so far afoul of what would be considered normal or acceptable behavior in the hiring process that recruiters and employers can do little more than shake their heads in disbelief as they quietly slip a candidate's application to the bottom of the pile.

In honor of those applicants who are so badly prepared that they make the rest of us look great, here are a few tips for how to behave during your job search. Call it the list of stuff employers didn't think they had to tell you. These tips are based on things that real, live law enforcement applicants did during the hiring process. It won't surprise you to know that most of them are still looking for employment.

Really? Shorts and Flip Flops?

No one begrudges a person who wants to be comfortable, and certainly there's nothing wrong with relaxing on your day off or even wearing comfortable clothes when you're out running errands. However, when you have a job interview scheduled, you might want to consider putting on a pair of long pants and shoes. Maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea to tuck in your shirt.

The clothes don't make you who you are, but they say a lot about what you think. Dressing poorly for a job interview speaks volumes about both your decision-making and your level of commitment to the job.

The Eyes Tell the Story

Lots of people wear contact lenses. They're great for folks who don't like glasses, and there's some practical benefits, as well, especially when it comes to jobs where eye protection is required or when wearing sunglasses.

If you wear contact lenses, though, a good practice would probably be to stick with your natural eye color. Or at least a natural eye color.

What's not a good idea is to show up for any step in the application process wearing red contact lenses. What's an even worse idea is to show up at a hiring function wearing zombie-eye contact lenses. Unless, of course, you're trying not to get hired or you really are a zombie, in which case you probably have bigger problems than landing a job in criminology.

Take a Bath

It's an uncomfortable subject indeed to have to discuss good personal hygiene with people who don't practice it, but the truth is that bathing regularly and a modicum of personal grooming is a necessary component of any job search.

As much as possible, be aware of any issues, such as body odor or lingering filth, before you appear for a job interview. If, for whatever reason, you don't have access to shower at home, try to take advantage of public facilities, such as a municipal pool or gym.

At the very least, get a hold of some deodorant and use it. The last thing you want to be remembered for is your poor grooming. Your body odor shouldn't still be sitting in your recruiter's office an hour after you've left.

Shave and a Haircut

Among law enforcement careers, it's a pretty consistent requirement that the face be clean shaven. Fairly strict standards are in place at most agencies which require the hair to be short and regulate how it is to be worn. Policies also govern the wearing of facial hair, if any is allowed.

Generally, if mustaches or goatees are allowed, they must be neatly trimmed and may only cover certain portions of the face. Showing up to a job interview looking like a long lost member of ZZ Top is probably not going to go over well.

Tattoo Face

Once thought of as the sign of sailors, gang members and bikers, tattoos have become far more socially acceptable and mainstream. Many upstanding citizens have tattoos. They have even become quite popular within the law enforcement community.

However, as with most things, there is a time and a place. In this case, the place is the most significant issue. While tattoos are a great means of personal expression, there are also still a few social taboos associated with them.

Face tattoos can be distracting and will keep potential employers from being able to see you for who you really are. Instead, they will likely be questioning your professionalism. Many department's have strict policies regarding the placement of tattoos. If they are allowed to be visible in uniform at all, they are usually prohibited on the neck, face, hands and elbows.

Appearance Isn't Everything, But It Says a Lot

These are extreme examples, to be sure, but they're also true. It's important to remember that when you're searching for a job, you want employers to have the highest opinion of you and your level of professionalism as possible.

Especially in criminology careers, where a high importance is still often placed on conservative dress and appearance, it is vital to make sure that you conform to what people in the field regard as "acceptable".

This doesn't mean that you can't express yourself or be your own person. It does mean, though, that you must demonstrate that you're prepared to follow rules and be a "team player." One of the best ways to do that early on in process is to dress the part.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.