Many people watch crime shows on television and decide they want to pursue similar criminal justice jobs. These jobs are often portrayed inaccurately on television, contributing to a situation known as the “CSI effect.”
The CSI effect has many different interpretations, says Stuart Henry, director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program School of Urban and Public Affairs, at the University of Texas. Henry, who is also the co-author of the book, A Realistic Guide to Criminal Justice Careers for College Graduates, says in the criminal justice careers context, the CSI effect produces myths about careers that appear to be abundant, but are in fact difficult to obtain.
For example, Henry says police and crime shows inspire some students to want to become FBI officers, but when they get to college, they are disappointed to learn that the FBI is highly selective, only hiring a small portion of outstanding individuals.
A college degree with a clean criminal history is a plus for any applicant. Work ethic, loyalty, and honesty are highly desired traits.
Henry says that when some crime scene investigation shows began to appear on television, criminal justice students became more interested in jobs that examine the science of crime, especially forensics and criminal profiling.
Students quickly learned that forensic scientist jobs actually require a natural science degree, instead of criminal justice, and that many other jobs in forensics are often glorified for television, Henry says.
Common Entry-Level Criminal Justice Careers
Denny Powers, interim chair for Criminal Justice at South University, says that some of the most common entry-level criminal justice careers include city police officer, juvenile correctional officer, corrections officer, deputy sheriff, probation agent at the state and federal level, border patrol agent, game warden, state police officer, and law enforcement positions in all branches of the armed services.
“Law enforcement is still the most popular and available form of employment [for criminal justice graduates], and not just in state and local police agencies, but also for federal law enforcement and in the private sector,” Henry says. “Here prospective students will find a variety of careers in management, analysis, and investigation from insurance fraud to retail loss prevention.”
Henry says law enforcement is only one aspect of criminal justice offering interesting career options.
“Going to law school or graduate school is a common choice of many students who want to go on to become lawyers or judges, or to conduct research,” Henry says.
Tips to Avoid the CSI Effect
Powers suggests that students do research on any specific criminal justice jobs that interest them.
“Many students want to be a CSI, but when they find that very few agencies hire individuals as a CSI and that CSIs are police officers who have graduated from the academy and worked in uniform prior to becoming a CSI, their interest diminishes,” Powers says. “Many students have a mental picture of their ideal job only to find the mental picture of the ideal job is just that, and does not exist in the real world.”
Powers says that students should schedule an interview with a person who holds a job they think they would like to have. They should ask the person questions about how they got to where they are in their career and what their day-to-day work responsibilities really entail.
It’s also a good idea for students to try to get an internship with the agency that interests them, Powers says.
“Many agencies hire their interns, assuming the intern demonstrates the qualities an employer seeks,” Powers says. “Compare salaries at the federal and state level, [and] look for the job qualifications. Most federal agencies have a detailed application process.”
Henry suggests searching for employment facts on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) site to get information on job salaries and hiring trends. He says the BLS also publishes projected employment growth data and gives salary ranges.
“This data is critical for anyone wanting a realistic, rather than a CSI effect, assessment of their likely future salary,” Henry says.
Criminal Justice Job Outlook for 2011 Graduates
“Criminal justice careers abound and the qualifications vary by agency, but a college degree with a clean criminal history is a plus for any applicant,” Powers says. “Work ethic, loyalty, and honesty are highly desired traits.”
Powers says that criminal justice jobs are available nationwide.
“Job fairs are conducted locally and regionally and visiting a job fair is highly recommended,” Powers says.
Powers recommends that students complete an application on both their state’s employment job site and the federal government’s official job site.
“When a particular job is announced, the application can be forwarded electronically to the hiring agency,” Powers says. “This procedure is commonplace in state agencies and especially in the federal government.”
Criminal Justice Careers on the Rise
Powers predicts that the border patrol and all federal investigative and law enforcement agencies will see an increase in the need for workers in the next few years.
“More cops [means] more arrests, more court cases require additional personnel in the court system, more convictions means more jails and prisons, and that translates to more jobs in corrections and probation,” Powers says.
Author: Laura Jerpi