7 Signs You Should Consider a Career in Criminal Justice
By Ashley Brooks on 06/08/2020
You’ve always been fascinated by the criminal justice system. From watching crime dramas on TV to obsessively following true crime podcasts, you just can’t seem to get enough of this field! Sometimes you even daydream about what it would be like to be the detective solving crimes or the paralegal helping a law firm win their case.
Lately your search for more criminal justice content has led you to ask yourself, “Could I be cut out for a criminal justice career?” Your daydreams could become reality—but first you need to make sure you have what it takes to succeed in a criminal justice career.
Working in criminal justice isn’t always as flashy as it appears in the media. We spoke with professionals working in the field to bring you these signs you should consider a criminal justice career. See if you recognize yourself in this list!
7 Signs you should consider a criminal justice career
Criminal justice workers are trained professionals who have the education and experience they need to do their jobs. But formal training isn’t everything. There are plenty of soft skills that lead to success in the criminal justice field. These qualities are difficult to teach, so if you have any of these traits, you’re already one step ahead on the road to a criminal justice career.
1. Your curiosity can’t be stopped
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s one of the top traits you’ll need to work in criminal justice. “If you have a curious nature and always wonder how things work, then you may have what it takes to be a criminal investigator or detective,” says criminal defense attorney Kathryn Sheely.
“This is not a career for someone who wants to follow the same playbook day after day,” Sheely says. Whether you have you have an interest in law enforcement, legal proceedings or corrections, criminal justice professionals use their curiosity to follow hunches and continue learning about ever-changing laws and law enforcement technology.
2. Persistence is your middle name
There are some career fields where you can slide through your daily tasks without meeting too many roadblocks, but criminal justice isn’t one of them. Persistence is “the ability to carry on despite opposition or resistance,” and it’s essential to working in criminal justice, according to Joshua Flint, former corrections corporal and field training officer and CEO and president of Empire Strategic Services.
Some situations “require a bit of persistence to get to the bottom of things and de-escalate them, or take total control,” Flint says. Persistence is needed across the criminal justice field, from detectives investigating a tricky case to paralegals searching through evidence for the information they need. If you can show persistence in difficult situations, you might have the makings of a criminal justice professional.
3. You work well on a team
Many people prefer to work on their own, but you’ve never dreaded group projects. Your ability to work well with others will come in handy in a criminal justice career! Forget about the notion of a lone detective single-handedly chasing down criminals and refusing help from others. Most criminal justice jobs are a team effort, where you’ll be working together with colleagues to serve your community and accomplish a common goal.
“A lot depends on your ability to get along with other people,” says Kevin Gres, criminal defense specialist. “Affability and interpersonal skills are key.” You could be putting your teamwork skills to use working with a partner as a law enforcement officer, solving cases as a detective or working with a legal team as a paralegal.
4. You’ve never met a problem you couldn’t solve
Problem-solving is a top skill to have in many industries, but it’s especially important in criminal justice. “In every criminal matter, there is always a point where police, prosecutors and defense lawyers need to make decisions about how to proceed, resolve or litigate a case,” says Stephen Riebling, attorney at Riebling and Payton, PLLC.
Lucky for you, your problem-solving skills are already top-notch. You calmly conquer everyday issues like rerouting a road trip to avoid bad weather or piecing together last-minute child care when your babysitter calls in sick. Applying this skill in the criminal justice world could look like “the ability to analyze information or evidence, negotiate a disposition and think outside the box,” Riebling says.
5. You can empathize with others
Empathy may not be the first thing you think of when you envision people working in criminal justice. But this is one of the most important traits for professionals in this field to have. The best criminal justice pros want to help people, both victims and those who have broken the law. “It is important to realize that no one is as bad as the worst thing they have ever done,” Sheely says.
Being empathetic allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes so that you can see things from their perspective. “When dealing with someone who may have broken the law, it is vital to be able to see the world the way they do and understand the reasons behind their actions,” Sheely says. If you’re naturally empathetic, you’re already armed with one of the abilities you’ll need on the job in the criminal justice field.
6. You’re not afraid of conflict
Working in criminal justice isn’t as dramatic as it appears on TV, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to deal with conflict in this profession. “Whether criminal justice includes working for the FBI or another law enforcement agency, being an attorney, working for a local probation department, or anything in between, successfully navigating this field requires the ability ask tough or awkward questions,” Gres says.
You could be right for this career path if you don’t shy away from conflict. Whether it’s following up with your roommate for their half of the rent or tactfully confronting a coworker who’s been taking credit for someone else’s work, you have the ability to face tough situations head on.
7. You’re a master communicator
Criminal justice professionals communicate with others all day long, including team members, colleagues in other departments, attorneys on the other side of the table, witnesses and suspects. Strong communication isn’t just about talking; listening is a key part of the equation, too. “This would include listening to clients, victims and witnesses with empathy and respect,” Riebling says. “The verbal and non-verbal communications of individuals are important to assess credibility, which is always a central issues in the area of criminal justice.”
You could already be a more skilled communicator than you realize! Fielding emails from your kids’ teachers, coordinating schedules with your partner and handling customer service phone calls when the internet goes down are all part of your daily life. Applying these skills to the criminal justice field could make you a valuable employee.
Are the signs pointing to a criminal justice career?
You’re the only one who can decide if a criminal justice career is right for you. If you recognized yourself in these signs, you already have the makings of a criminal justice professional!
Choosing a career path is a big step. Learn more about if criminal justice is the right field for you with our article Should I Be a Criminal Justice Major? Everything You Need to Know to Decide.
The Criminal Justice program at Rasmussen University has not been approved by any state professional licensing body and does not lead to any state-issued professional license. In Minnesota, the Criminal Justice Associate’s degree program does not meet the standards established by the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board for persons who seek employment as a peace officer.