Resume Guide

Whether you are seeking a job, switching careers, or entering the workforce, a resume represents the initial step to obtaining an interview. It is often the first item a hiring manager sees, and you have mere seconds to set yourself apart. In addition to visual attractiveness, an effective criminal justice resume must persuasively convey your credentials, training, and experience. Because criminal justice careers are so diverse, your resume should be specific. Law enforcement officers can emphasize their physical fitness and knowledge of police protocols and governmental policies. Forensic anthropologists can showcase their research background, investigative skills, and attention to detail. This guide reveals how to create an application that showcases your unique expertise.

  1. Do Your Research: An effective criminal justice resume shows that you possess the designated skills, training, and experience. Analyze the job description carefully, noting required and preferred qualifications. Research the employer’s website and social media platforms, looking specifically for current goals and projects, and how you may assist. As you gain a better picture of the job and work environment, reflect on whether the position aligns with your professional goals.
  2. List Key Points: Jot down points that respond to specific qualifications. These may include a minimum number of years in the criminal justice field, a level of academic credential, and licensure or certification. Next, create an outline. To ensure you make the right impression, find ways to connect with the reader. Employers want candidates who demonstrate professional accomplishments and can transfer these successes into their new job. Finally, discuss your weaknesses honestly and how you actively work towards improvement.
  3. Format Your Resume: Expand the outline into complete sentences, organized under logical and straightforward headings. To get a hiring manager's attention, keep it distinct and accessible. Do not use complicated templates and fancy fonts or coloration. One of the best ways to stand out is through a concise statement of your professional objectives.

Types of Resumes

A criminal justice resume represents a snapshot specific to the individual and desired position. Three main resume formats exist: reverse chronological, functional, and combination. Candidates should use the one that best highlights their professional credentials, work experience, and personal characteristics. However, these resume types, at best, provide a malleable framework. Criminologists should adapt these formats in ways that help them stand apart.

Reverse-Chronological

This resume type emphasizes work experience, making it ideal for criminal justice professionals with extensive and relevant work experience. The drawbacks of this style includes gaps and frequent employment changes.

Functional

This format prioritizes skills, education, and professional training over employment history. It best suits candidates with limited work experience in the criminal justice field, such as recent college graduates and career changers. Most employers recognize it as a way to minimize lack of relevant experience.

Combination

Also known as the hybrid style, this resume allows professionals to craft an application that effectively showcases skill, training, and employment history. It offers the most flexibility, but it is also the most difficult to write, requiring candidates to choose information and display elements wisely.

Required vs. Preferred Qualifications

The criminal justice field encompasses such occupations as police officers, private security professionals, cyber security analysts, and corporate loss prevention specialists. Job descriptions vary and include both required and preferred qualifications. The former represents skills, work experience, and academic and professional training a candidate needs to be considered. The latter consists of qualifications that benefit the position, but are not absolutely necessary. While applicants with preferred qualifications do not automatically earn a hire, they stand a better chance of obtaining an interview than candidates who only meet the required criteria.

Employers generally review applications holistically. Criminal justice professionals who do not possess preferred qualifications, or even all the required ones, should apply for a job if they believe they can impress in the cover letter and during interviews. The resume should include all required qualifications and as much of preferred criteria as possible while maintaining a concise form that highlights keywords valued by an applicant tracking system (ATS).

What Should I Put on My Resume If I Don't Have Any Criminal Justice Experience?

A statement of professional objective that details your individual aims and institutional goals is helpful

Recent college graduates or those who lack criminal justice work experience should construct a resume using the functional or combination format. This enables you to structurally focus on skills, education, and licensure/certification. However, minimizing employment means exposing a weakness that you should address in the cover letter. You can partially make up for this lack by demonstrating that you understand job criteria and also know and respect the employer. A statement of professional objective that details your individual aims and institutional goals is helpful.

Relevant work experience does not need to directly relate to the criminal justice field. As long as a prior position includes duties and accomplishments that transfer into the one in application, you can include it. For example, a professional seeking work as a police officer can include their security experience to demonstrate physical acumen, knowledge of organizational protocol, power of observation, and effective management of high-pressure situations. Volunteer positions also benefit you in this way and should receive their own section.

What is ATS?

Employers often receive hundreds of resumes in response to a single job posting. To save time, many organizations use an ATS. Like a hiring manager conducting a preliminary scan, the ATS ranks resumes by how many designated keywords they contain. Theoretically, this streamlined process filters resumes with generic filler content, a red flag for a candidate’s lack of qualifications. However, the ATS works through algorithms, which disadvantages candidates who do not explicitly employ the right terms and phrases. Writing an effective criminal justice resume necessitates an understanding of how to work within and overcome the ATS process.

Tips for Outsmarting an ATS

  • Simple Headers: Use “Skills,” “Professional Experience,” “Education,” and other headings that often appear in keyword searches. Also include your location (city, state, and, if outside the U.S., country) because employers usually set up their ATS to vet applicants by location.
  • Clean Format: The standard ATS cannot process complicated formatting, graphics, or unusual fonts. A simple and accessible layout, such as a plain text/ASCII format, works best. And in general, Tahoma, Verdana, and Arial at the 10.5 font size or above registers well with the ATS.
  • Keywords/Phrases: You can discern keywords by analyzing the job description. In the criminal justice field, popular phrases include “situational assessment,” “crisis intervention,” and “operational guidelines.”
  • Industry-Specific Jargon: ATS keywords are meant to reveal a candidate’s familitary and experience with the criminal justice field. The more specific your terms, the more effective your resume.
  • Tailor Your Resume

    A police officer’s resume differs from a forensic investigator’s. Analyze the job description and research the employer’s institutional goals and philosophy to construct a resume that directly responds to their criteria.

  • Save Your Resume Under a Professional Name

    Every step in the application process should emphasize your professionalism and uniqueness. Make it easy for the hiring manager to differentiate and retrieve your resume with a format such as “Firstlast_specialty_resume.doc.”

  • Make it Easy to Read

    When constructing your criminal justice resume, prioritize accessibility over fancy fonts and multiple color schemes. While standing out is important, the most visually engaging resumes employ clean formatting that empowers the content.

  • Include a Cover Letter

    A cover letter enables you to elaborate on valuable skills, accomplishments, and work experience through quantifiable details and anecdotal evidence. The document also lets you discuss weaknesses and how you plan to improve while on the job.

  • Keep it to One Page

    Employers view bloated applications negatively. Unless you possess more than 10 years of work experience and qualifications directly relevant to the position, a resume should be one page. You should concisely and creatively employ only the most pertinent information.

Common Mistakes Criminal Justice Professionals Make on Their Resumes