Tracking Down a Career in Law Enforcement

Peacekeepers. The nation’s 911 force. Protecting the world for democracy. These are all terms that describe the honorable role Sailors and Soldiers play every day in service to their country. They also describe the role of law enforcement in American society.

While a military career is not forever, serving fellow citizens can be. If you’re a Sailor or Soldier, following your military career with a career in civilian law enforcement can give you fulfillment and satisfaction because you know that service to your country doesn’t have to end when your uniform is put away.

In many ways, a career in law enforcement is a natural progression from the duties and requirements of military service. Both require physical and mental strength and agility, courage, discipline, common sense and intelligence, and a willingness to sacrifice. The daily routines of military life easily transition into the daily routines of law enforcement.

Choosing a career in law enforcement requires planning, assessment, and direction, so start planning at least a year prior to separation.

Choosing a Career

Just like the military, law enforcement careers can take many forms and can provide opportunities from an office setting to extended field operations. Federal, state, municipal, and local agencies, as well as private businesses and security firms, are all searching for qualified, motivated men and women to fill their ranks.

At least a year before you leave active duty, begin to research the myriad of jobs available in law enforcement. Find out what kinds of opportunities are available that fit your personality, strengths, and desires. Not all law enforcement jobs are alike, but there are some basic traits that you need to successfully compete for a position, including:

  • Strength of body and character.
  • A highly developed sense of responsibility and respect for authority.
  • Fairness and open-mindedness.
  • The ability to make independent decisions and exercise sound judgment.
  • Ability to handle people in various situations.
  • Good oral and written communication skills.
  • Good observation skills.
  • A good memory.
The Hiring Process
While law enforcement jobs are available all over the country, competition is stiff for the available positions, and the application process is very thorough. This process can take months to complete. While all departments have their own hiring process, most follow this general pattern:

Initial application.
Contact the agency you want to apply for and fill out their application. This is used generally to prescreen applicants, looking at age, prior arrests, employment, etc.

Written test.
This is generally a test of basic skills and aptitudes such as reading comprehension, writing ability, ability to follow directions, judgment and reasoning skills, memory, and math skills. The results of this test are used to rank candidates for further evaluation.

Personal history questionnaire and background check.
As with a background investigation for a top-secret clearance, investigators will look into your past and present circumstances in detail, including where you have lived, where you went to school, your employment history, driving history, and financial status.

Oral interview.
In some cases the toughest part of the process – the law enforcement oral interview board – is a chance for the agency to find out about you in your own words. The questions are based on information from your personal history statement and the information investigators discovered during the background check. They can ask questions that relate to your mental stability, your integrity, your honesty, your character, your reputation in the community, and your ability to do the physical tasks common to the job.

Physical agility test.
This is designed to find out whether you’re in good enough shape to do well in physical training at the academy.

Medical examination.
You will receive a complete medical exam, including drug screening.

Psychological testing.
Not everyone is mentally capable of performing law enforcement work. The test usually has two parts, a written exam and an interview with a psychologist.

Polygraph exam.
Some agencies will ask you to take a polygraph test. This is used generally to see if you are telling the truth on your background information and to see how you answer hard questions.