Professional Networking in Criminal Justice

In the professional world, who you know is almost as important as what you know. This often holds true for the criminal justice field as well. At its core, professional networking is simply the process of building relationships to advance your career or business goals. These goals might include finding a new job, increasing your industry influence, or deepening your knowledge. Business goals typically refer to improving sales, expanding reach, or penetrating new markets. In the criminal justice field, building relationships of trust with industry peers is vital since the field virtually rests on the element of trust.

Fresh graduates, especially those with limited work experience, benefit greatly from professional networking.

Fresh graduates, especially those with limited work experience, benefit greatly from professional networking. It opens doors and provides access to opportunities that can launch their criminal justice careers. Most people rely on professional networking mainly to find jobs, but it can be useful for other purposes as well. Professional networking helps individuals find and share work-related resources, strengthen community ties, and create avenues of collaboration.

Different Types of Professional Networks in Criminal Justice

Individuals can employ three types of professional networking: operational, personal, and strategic. Operational networking often includes only key personnel involved in a particular task or within an organizational structure. Cultivating an effective operational networking system provides depth as it fosters strong internal working relationships. Personal networking provides breadth. It consists mostly of external contacts who possess useful information or specialized knowledge.

Personal networking not only projects outwards, but also towards the future. It involves maintaining contacts who are potential sources of information and assistance. Strategic networking shares this future-oriented aspect. It entails identifying future challenges and priorities, and harnessing stakeholder and influencer support. Strategic networking involves managing external and internal contacts to achieve one's professional, personal, and organizational objectives.

Criminal justice professionals seldom work alone. Most jobs in the field require support from colleagues, superiors, and stakeholders. Thus, these three networking types are crucial in fulfilling the demands of a criminal justice professional's job.

Networking Events in Criminal Justice

The criminal justice field encompasses several professional areas, including law enforcement, forensics, crisis management, and cybersecurity. As a result, networking events tend to be varied as well. Although some gatherings, such as career fairs, are not presented as networking events, they provide ample opportunities to initiate or reinforce professional connections. For example, the National Forum on Criminal Justice holds an annual convention that includes lectures, training and plenary sessions, and panel and small group discussions.

The National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center offers a list of professional organizations and associations connected with the intelligence community.

The National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center offers a list of professional organizations and associations connected with the intelligence community. This is a good place to start in your search for professional criminal justice organizations that offer networking opportunities. Keep in mind that a professional networking event is not a job fair, even if you are attending one to find a job. Instead of resume copies, bring plenty of business cards to give out.

Elevator Pitches in Criminal Justice

In addition to your business cards, have your elevator pitch ready and well-rehearsed when you attend a professional networking event. An elevator pitch is a 30-second introduction that gets your listener interested in pursuing a further connection with you. Although an elevator pitch is about you, it should answer the tacit question in the other person's mind: What do you bring to the table? Why would a potential employer want to hire, interview, or connect with you? Personal integrity is crucial in the criminal justice field. Be sure to show (not tell) the other person how you embody this particular trait. This is your chance to make a lasting first impression, so make it count.

Social Networking Sites for Criminal Justice Professionals

Technology makes it possible to network online almost as seamlessly as in person. LinkedIn is one of the most popular virtual professional networking sites, but it is not the only one. You can join most sites for free or pay a nominal fee for a basic membership. These sites provide convenient professional networking opportunities, but be mindful. The site may be legitimate, but the member communicating with you may be a scammer or an impostor. As with any online communication, stay alert for any signs of suspicious comments or activity; don't volunteer personal information too quickly; and take the usual precautions when accepting an invitation for a face-to-face meeting.

Networking is a skill that you can learn and improve over time. As with any skill, you must practice to get better, so attend as many relevant virtual or in-person professional networking events as possible. You may find that as you continue to network, you will not only get better at it, but begin to enjoy it more.

  • Have Your Elevator Pitch Ready

    Know it by heart and practice saying it out loud in private, so it will sound natural. Find an appropriate time to share your elevator speech during the event, but don't wait until people are checking their watches or heading out the door.

  • Don't Take Up Too Much Time

    Understand that the person you're talking to may want to network with other people as well. If you want to talk to the same person again, watch for another opportunity later during the event, instead of monopolizing their time.

  • Ask Questions

    People are naturally drawn to those who express a genuine interest in them. Asking questions may also reveal common interests, which can help you connect with people in a more memorable way. However, avoid asking personal questions as this may be viewed as intrusive.

  • Connect Others

    If you know two people at an event who might be interested in talking to one another, offer to introduce them. You will come across as a confident team player, which is the kind of employee a business owner or hiring manager wants working for them.

  • Maintain an Open Posture

    Remember that you're attending the networking event to make connections, so maintain an approachable stance. Greet people with a smile and a firm handshake. The goal is to come across as friendly yet professional.

Networking Event "Do's" for Criminal Justice Professionals

Set Goals

Having a clear goal when you attend a professional networking event helps to focus your attention and effort. It allows you to steer your conversations more toward the people who can further your goals.

Dress Appropriately

This may seem obvious, but it's easy to forget, especially during casual daytime events. You can add a personal touch to display your personality, but overall, choose professional attire.

Bring Business Cards

Always bring more business cards than you think you will need and hand them out from a case. Fishing for a business card from your jacket pocket makes you appear unprofessional and unprepared, characteristics no one wants in a criminal justice professional.

Be Concise

Although you should never ask for a job outright, it's important to be clear about your purpose for attending the event. This helps the people you meet place you clearly after the event.

Follow Up on Connections

A follow-up call or email allows you to cement the impression you made on your new contacts. Thank the person for their time and include a friendly reminder of your discussion, especially if the person offered a favor, such as a referral or recommendation.

Networking Event "Don'ts" for Criminal Justice Professionals

Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume

Nobody likes getting handed resumes at networking events. Where do you expect people to keep them? This is one way to be remembered at a networking event, but not in a positive light.

Use a Shotgun Approach

A networking event is not a numbers game. Simply handing out your business cards or talking to as many people as possible will not necessarily help you accomplish your goals. Networking is about establishing connections and building relationships. This can't occur without meaningful exchange, especially at the beginning stage.

Interrupt or Talk Over Others

Manners count. Just as it was rude to interrupt or talk over others when you were a child, it is still rude to do so as a professional, especially at a networking event in a room full of your peers. People tend to remember polite individuals.

Be Intimidated

When you attend a professional networking event, remember that most attendees are in the same boat as you. No matter what your level of experience or education, exude confidence. As a criminal justice professional, you often must be in command of problematic situations. If you have no confidence in yourself and your abilities, no one else around you will either.

Neglect to Follow Up on Connections

Don't waste the connections you made at a networking event by not following up, especially when you say you will. Follow up within 72 hours of meeting someone at a networking event.