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Chapter 7: Seeking Employment

The process of seeking employment can be very mechanical and repetitive. Most employers require a similar process. Some organizations require the completion of a formal application while others will accept a cover letter and resume in application for positions in the organization. Regardless of the documentation required, applicants who submit carefully prepared materials have increased the chance that their application will be favorably received. Remember that the employer is also engaged in a somewhat mechanical process and may be required to follow a strict routine for each applicant. The recruitment process can be very expensive, and can take a lot of time and other organizational resources. In addition, federal and state regulations regarding equal employment opportunities may require consistent processes and documentation for each applicant.

Finding Position Announcements

The Internet has completely changed this process. While your local paper may be helpful, you are significantly reducing your options by relying on limited sources of information. As you discovered in previous sections of this text, many justice agencies post position announcements on their web sites. These are often the timeliest announcements and may provide an opportunity to apply online.

Internet job search and placement services may allow you to post your resume so it becomes available to many potential employers. The process is very easy and these sites may contain thousands of resumes. When deciding if, and how, to use these services it is a good idea to think about the employer’s potential use of these sites. Is this a site that justice system employers are likely to consider when seeking applicants? If yes, have you included relevant keywords in your online resume so your resume will be presented as the result of an employer’s search?

You may also want to consider the nature of the process. Employers typically advertise positions. In fact, governmental employers are probably required to publicly advertise openings. Rather than taking time to scour websites for information about viable applicants, employers are likely to follow the traditional process of posting announcements and waiting for the applications that result. However, if an employer demonstrates that they are using these services by posting position announcements, applicants should not be reluctant to take advantage of these free services.

Job seekers may also learn about position announcements through personal contacts. These contacts can be nurtured through friendships, internships, and volunteer service. Professional conferences also provide opportunities to network and may offer employment services to conference attendees. Professional associations may also offer web-based employment services. Successful job seekers have developed connections throughout their educational and professional careers. Don’t think of these contacts as job opportunities. Instead, think of these contacts as opportunities to learn names, and have your name learned, by other justice professionals.

Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of the range of career services offered by your college or university. These offices offer many services and are familiar with the process of obtaining the first job that can begin a career. Many of these campus career services remain available to alumni. Campus career centers recruit employers, host career fairs, provide information about career options, and help with resumes and other documents.

Position Announcement Links

America’s Job Bank


FirstGov – The U.S. Government’s Official Web Portal





Homeland Security Careers


Partnership for Public Service

USAJOBS – The Federal Government’s Official Jobs Site




Writing Your Resume

The first step in applying for a justice system position is to submit an application, either by mail, in person, or online. Many agencies will accept a resume and cover letter in application for positions, but in many cases a formal job application will also be required. The formal application may seem to be unnecessary and if you have submitted an accurate resume the application form is redundant. However, many government agencies require applications on the same form for all applicants. As the information included in the application is the same as that assembled in a resume, we will focus on writing an effective resume.

A good resume may not necessarily get you the job, but a bad resume can ensure that you do not get the job. Your resume is not meant to convey your complete life history. Your resume conveys your capability for a particular position; it must be clear, directed, and persuasive – the objective is to secure an interview. Your resume should (1) support a career direction and (2) be selective. Career direction gives the resume focus. All information included in the resume should support the career direction that you are trying to convey. You should make yourself as attractive as possible on paper so that the employer feels like they would be missing out by not interviewing you. Your resume should project you as someone who produces, accomplishes, and is results oriented. Use active verbs and descriptive terms. Use active verbs to describe what you accomplished. Don’t write what someone else told you to do - write what you did. For example, write “researched and drafted reports” rather than “responsible for research and reports.”

A conservative writing and formatting style with a focus on key achievements is most effective. Focus on achievements that relate to the position for which you are applying. In effect, you are suggesting that your achievements will continue with the new employer. Find out as much as you can about the prospective employer and modify your resume to highlight those items that will most benefit the targeted company or organization. The most effective resume is one that is tailored to a specific job. The foundation remains the same, but a few changes to tailor your resume will be well worth the extra effort.

Resume Links

Career Journal




Monster.com – Resume Center


Riley Guide


WorkTree.com – Resume Basics


Writing Effective Resumes


The Cover Letter

If your prospective employer requires a resume, a cover letter should always accompany it. Like the resume, the cover letter should be direct, persuasive, descriptive, and attractive. Remember, the cover letter is specific to the potential employer. Each letter should emphasize credentials and experience that apply to a specific position. Your cover letter can differentiate you significantly from others competing for the same position. In contrast to a formatted resume, your personality and intelligence can be obvious to readers of your cover letter.

Cover Letter Links

Career Lab


Career Services (Virginia Tech)


Cover Letter Blunders to Avoid


Job Star Cover Letters


Monster.com – Cover Letters


Quintessential Careers – Cover Letters


Riley Guide




The Examination Process

Once your application has been submitted, the next step for many justice system jobs will be a written examination. Most state and federal agencies require written examinations that assess skills and attributes related to job performance. The steps in the examination process, and the weight attached to each of the included criteria, will differ depending on the career. For example, careers in federal law enforcement include a more thorough background check than can be expected for other careers.

The background check typically begins with fingerprinting, photos, and a background interview. This investigative phase includes a complete check of police records and personal, military, and employment histories. Depending on the level of review, reference checks may follow this phase. In addition to listed references, background investigators often schedule interviews with each of your criminal justice professors, past employers, and others with whom you have had personal or professional contact. Some agencies may also require a security clearance. This process is very thorough and can take over a year. Students who are able to secure an internship in a federal agency may be required to go through the security clearance process. This can be a big advantage for the student who is now able to initiate the job search with a completed security clearance.

Background Check Links

Background Check Gateway


Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce


Employer Background Checks


Employment Background Checks (About.com)


Federal Security Clearance Forms


Getting a Security Clearance

Info Links Screening

Job Security Clearance

The Job Interview

The job interview plays a very important role in your job search. To interview successfully, you must understand the interview process and prepare well. Do not assume that the interview is or should be one-sided. During an interview, you must make your most impressive qualities apparent to the employer. In other words, you must sell yourself. As part of the evaluation process, the interviewer will be deciding how you will function as an employee. It is essential to demonstrate how your skills, knowledge, and experience match the requirements of the position for which you are interviewing.

Review your resume and cover letter before every interview. In addition, review your resume or application for possible questions you might be asked. Formulating answers ahead of time will allow you to be more relaxed and articulate during the interview. If you applied for a civil service job, review the examination bulletin and know the duties and responsibilities of the classification for the position. Job interview attire can be summed up in two words - conservative and businesslike. Proper dress will give you confidence and enhance your professional image. For most professional-level jobs, the standard dark suit is appropriate for both men and women. Less formal clothing may be more appropriate for some jobs but it is best to be conservative if there is any question.

Remember – conservative and businesslike. The job interview is no time to impress prospective employers with your unique individuality. They want to know you, but also need to see that you can, and are willing to, fit into their organization. Remember that piercings and tattoos may scare employers. They do not feel a responsibility to “get used to it.” Keep perfume or cologne and jewelry to a minimum. Do not chew gum or other food during the interview. Bring interview copies of your resume or application, your list of references (or reference letters), any other relevant documents, and your transcripts. It is also a good idea to bring a pen or pencil and notebook and a list of questions.

Interview Links



Interviewing and Networking (About.com)




Monster.com – Interview Center


WorkTree.com – Interview Tips


The Thank You Letter

A thank you letter should always immediately follow a job interview. In fact, you should start thinking about the thank you letter as soon as the interview is over and mail it within 24 hours of the interview. The thank you letter is not just “a nice thing to do.” This letter provides another opportunity to “sell” yourself.


Career Lab – Say Thank You


Monster.com – Sample Letters


Quintessential Careers – Thank You Letters




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