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Blog>Guides>Careers in Criminal Justice: How to Make a Career Change in 2022

Careers in Criminal Justice: How to Make a Career Change in 2022

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  • Learn the steps to pursue a career in criminal justice.

  • Uncover the variety of different positions you can pursue within criminal justice.

  • Learn about the skills that help professionals excel in the criminal justice sector.


A career in the criminal justice system can take various forms, but each one allows you to work for the good of the community and society. These jobs go beyond only police officers or judges — though those roles comprise a critical piece of the system. You can work in several capacities on this quest for justice.

Working in the criminal justice system allows you to study a wide range of subjects, ranging from law and government to psychology and sociology.

Interested in pursuing a career in the exciting criminal justice field and want to know how to get started? We’ll walk through what it takes to start building a career in the criminal justice system.

How to Start a Career in Criminal Justice

Getting started on the path toward a new career in the justice system requires research and hard work. But these investments can help you achieve your goals and embark on an exciting and rewarding career. Let’s explore the steps you’ll want to take to earn a position in your desired field.

Research the Different Types of Criminal Justice Jobs

Before starting, research and understand the wide range of jobs available in the criminal justice system. For the system to work properly, it needs capable and passionate members at all levels, such as corrections officers, victim advocates, and defense attorneys. To fill one of these positions, however, you’ll have to pursue a specialized course of study. You want to make sure you head in the direction that works best for you.

Therefore, ask yourself some key questions to help determine your desired position:

  1. Do you want to work in an office or prefer more hands-on fieldwork?

  2. What do you feel most passionate about in the criminal justice system? Defense? Maintaining order? Advocacy?

  3. Do you prefer working more with people and investigation? Or do you prefer lab work and the science side of investigations?

Once you start to get an idea about the side of criminal justice where you want to work, you can begin to form a career plan. Research what educational background and other requirements exist for the role you would like to achieve. For example, if you want to work as a defense attorney, you need to study criminal law through a law school, while other positions require a specialized training academy.

Earn a Degree in Criminal Justice

Now that you have your plan, you can begin to set it in motion. Enter programs that offer the criminal justice degree or certifications you need to work in your preferred field.

You can earn a bachelor's degree or master’s degree in criminal justice or criminology, which can get you started in several different areas. Some jobs might also have openings for those with an associate degree. You can also look into certificates from criminal justice programs that can further advance your credentials and prepare for your future role.

Get Involved in Your Local Community

The heart of criminal justice lies in serving communities. You work to keep the local community safe, make sure victims are heard, and provide proper representation and due process for people accused of crimes. Therefore, the best place to get started is in your local community. You can get involved in the field with volunteer positions, even during your time in school.

See if you can find a mentor who already works in your target field. Learn about internships and volunteer opportunities to get started. A mentor can also answer your questions about the field's challenges and what to do to prepare for your new job fully.

Start Building Your Resume

As with any other type of job, you want to build a strong resume that ensures you land the open position you desire. As you progress through school, look for internships designed for people who are criminal justice majors. You can also seek part-time positions that do not require completed degrees to build your resume while you study. These job opportunities can give you an up-close look at the court system, how a criminal investigation proceeds, and what you can expect when working in a related field.

Once you finish school, see if any internships or part-time positions could potentially turn into full-time entry-level careers. Search for available jobs in your field that seek entry-level candidates and get started building your career.

What are the Different Career Paths in Criminal Justice?

There are countless career opportunities within criminal justice. As you narrow down your interests in the criminal justice system, you’ll start to see what type of position fits you best. Let’s walk through some popular career options so you can start to see the variety available.

Police Officer

Male police officer with dog patrolling city street.

A police officer helps maintain law and order in their community. They work to protect both the lives and the property of people in their jurisdiction while also promoting public safety.

These law enforcement officers investigate crimes, gather evidence, interview witnesses, and make arrests. Officers are often called upon to testify in court for the cases they were involved in.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for police officers is $64,610. In addition to education and training, police officers should be observant and perceptive, physically fit, and execute good judgment.

Private Investigator

Young inspector in suit pointing at evidence on whiteboard.

Private investigators or detectives perform investigations into personal matters, legal affairs, or financial situations for private clients. The median wage for this role is $60,970. In addition to education and training, those interested in this job should cultivate their inquisitive nature, resourcefulness, and communication skills.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic science in white lab coat examining computer hard drive.

A forensic psychologist works to interpret the psychological implications of criminal cases. They may serve as criminal profilers. Those who specialize in forensic psychology may also testify in court. Forensic psychologists need to be licensed in most states and typically require an advanced degree. Analytical skills, observational skills, and integrity are critical traits in this job. The median income for psychologists is $81,040.

Crime Scene Investigator

Criminological expert collecting evidence at a roadside crime scene.

A crime scene investigator might also be referred to as a forensic science technician. These professionals earn an annual median salary of $61,930 and help collect and understand the evidence for court cases. These professionals need to be detail-oriented and able to think critically. They also need to develop strong math and science skills.

Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Paralegal working on documents looking concentrated with briefcase and phone on the table.

Paralegals work in law firms and provide tasks to support the work of the lawyers. They need to earn specialized degrees in paralegal studies, which familiarize them with the legal process and the type of research and assistance they provide for lawyers. These professionals need to have excellent research and organizational skills to do their jobs effectively. They should be familiar with legal research specifically. The median salary for this field is $56,230.

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

Accused man in orange prison jumpsuit with handcuffs on stands near bailiff and lawyers.

Correctional officers and bailiffs play a critical role in keeping order in courtrooms, jails, and prisons. They are responsible for the safety and security of those accused or convicted of crimes. This job can be stressful, and to perform it well, these professionals need to have quality interpersonal skills, physical strength, and discipline. They must also excel in resolving conflicts and ensuring that procedures are being followed within the correctional facilities. The median wage for this position is $47,920.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent

Bearded FBI agent in his office in uniform.

FBI agents, also known as special agents, enforce the laws and investigate crimes that occur against public agencies or across state borders. They also help manage investigations in certain state situations.

These agents, like police departments, run investigations, arrest criminals, and work to protect people’s lives and property. FBI agents may also be called upon to testify in court. Those interested in this field should exhibit excellent communication skills, leadership skills, good judgment, and keep themselves in good physical shape to perform well.

There are also other law enforcement agencies that work with the federal or state governments. Some criminal justice professionals may want to pursue careers as border patrol agents, working with the Department of Homeland Security, the DEA, or the Secret Service. Law enforcement who work for the federal government earn a median annual wage of $89,300.

What Are the Top Skills Needed to Start a Career in Criminal Justice?

Pursuing a career in criminal justice can open several doors for you and let you work in diverse fields and environments. However, you will find that a few key traits play a significant role in your success during training and then in your new career.

Some attributes and skills you want to focus on nurturing include:

  • Your critical thinking skills. You need to be able to think through situations carefully and conscientiously, working for fairness and justice.

  • You must be detail-oriented. Particularly in investigations, small details can make a big difference.

  • You need to have good communication skills. Those in the criminal justice world never work alone, always as part of a team. Communication helps your team function effectively.

In addition to excelling in your degree programs, dedicating effort to these skills ensure you perform well in your desired field.

Find the Best Careers in Criminal Justice on Joblist

If you want to find your next position in criminal justice, turn to Joblist. Our quiz will help you better understand the type of job you’re looking for to get matched with the position you want. Make your job search even more powerful and find the perfect position for you. Get started now!

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