How Do I Get Hired In This Economy?
Sgt Betsy Brantner Smith
It seems like all we hear in the media is economic doom and gloom. Granted, unemployment is high, layoffs are common, and it’s easy to get discouraged. But it really is possible to get hired, even in this economy.
The Reality of a Lousy Economy
A bad economy tends to mean a higher crime rate; more crime means more cops. It’s one of those paradoxical benefits law enforcement experiences when times are tough. Do your research, find out which areas need cops and if they are hiring. Some departments are offering early retirement to veteran officers so that they can hire lower-paid rookie cops to patrol their streets and staff their jails. Many depressed areas will be receiving stimulus money to hire police officers so find out where and get your application in!
Part Time Policing
Many agencies offer part time positions for cops and correctional officers. It’s less expensive for the organization (part-timers generally do not receive a benefits package and may have to purchase some of their own uniforms and equipment) but it can be the beginning of a great career for you. Part time policing is a great way to gain experience, make some money, and potentially be first in line when a full time position becomes available. Some departments also utilize unpaid, auxiliary police officers, but they often provide training and equipment, and they certainly provide valuable experience and networking with full-time officers who may later become your co-workers.
Consider Civilian Work
Sometimes it is necessary to take a less than ideal job just to get your foot in the door. If your dream department isn’t hiring patrol officers, see if they are hiring dispatchers, records clerks, community service officers, and other civilian positions. I have a friend who began her police career as a dispatcher and just retired as a deputy chief. Several of my own co-workers spent time on our department as civilian community service officers before becoming police officers. Even federal law enforcement offers a variety of civilian positions where you can gain experience, learn policy and procedures and network; you can learn to work effectively within the bureaucratic confines of a government agency. When the time comes to put on a gun and a badge, you will be miles ahead of your fellow recruits.
The Private Security Option
Many cops began their law enforcement career in the private sector. If there are no sworn positions available, consider taking a private security job. You’ll learn many of the same tactics, you’ll develop awareness, you’ll learn how to deal with a variety of people, and you’ll probably have the opportunity to work closely with the local cops, providing a great networking opportunity for the future.
Military and Private Contractors
As the military continues to be stretched thin, there are more and more opportunities for civilian contractors to assist our military trainers, police officers and security forces, both here and abroad. Foreign language skills, prior police, security, or military service, and a willingness to live in a foreign country under difficult conditions are all beneficial. You may be away from home for long periods of time, but the pay can be excellent and the experience invaluable.
Be Willing to Relocate
Now is probably not the time to be particular about where you’re willing to live to get a good police job. The U.S. Border Patrol, in my opinion one of the finest federal agencies in the entire United States, is continually hiring new recruits, but you’d better be ready to relocate, and that’s after living in a barracks at the academy for several months. Many of the larger cities have streamlined the hiring process so that it can be completed in a matter of days, and some of them will even bring the testing process to you. There are many areas of the country that have started new police departments from the ground up (usually in newly incorporated areas once governed and policed by a township or the county sheriff’s department)
Be Flexible and Realistic
Perhaps the local police department isn’t hiring patrol officers, but the state prison is desperate for correctional officers. Maybe the highway patrol is laying off people, but the sheriff’s department just received a grant to hire new deputies. Be realistic and flexible in your job search and in your expectations. Law enforcement is not the type of profession where you walk in the front door of your dream department and say “here I am, put me on the SWAT team,” and yet many people try to do just that. Do your research, see what’s available, and be willing to make changes. You’ll be a better cop, and a better person, in the long run.
Consider the Military
If you’re attracted to police work, there is a good chance that you’d be happy serving in the military. The United States Armed Forces, to my knowledge, is always hiring, never lays people off, and hasn’t missed a payday since the Civil War. You’ll be serving and protecting your fellow citizens, you’ll gain unparalleled tactical and educational experiences, and you’ll certainly satisfy that “adventure gene” that most cops have. You may find a lifetime career in the service, and if not, you’ll receive special consideration when you come out and go after that civilian law enforcement job.
Be the Best Candidate
Fewer jobs mean a more competitive process. It is absolutely essential that you really are the best man or woman for the job. Continue your education, stay (or get) in excellent physical condition, learn how to ace the entrance exam and the interview and learn a foreign language. Go back and read everything “Ask the Experts” has ever posted on Police Link and take those words to heart. Learn from our collective experiences. It is possible to get hired in this economy; you just have to be willing to work for it. Good luck!