Ten Rules for Getting a Job in Law Enforcement

  1. Prepare for the job.
  • Score five points for a graduate degree, four points for a bachelor's degree, two points for an associate's degree or 60 college credits. Score one extra point if your degree is in accounting or computer science (not criminal justice). Add one point if you graduated with honors, one point if you are a veteran (active, guard, reserve), one more point if you were in some form of military police or intelligence. Add three points if you are fluent in a needed foreign language (Spanish, but also Russian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, or other as needed in your community). Yes, you get more points for a language than for two years of college. You get four points if you graduated from any approved (POST) law enforcement academy, as they will save thousands on a candidate who successfully completed an academy. Security experience gets you one point. If you currently work in the system as a dispatcher, records clerk, community service officer, or in corrections, you get two points. You also need to consider your work ethic and history. If you have a history of termination, discipline, poor work habits, or unexplainable unemployment, deduct up to ten points and re-evaluate your future. If you have a strong work history, especially in sales or public contact but not law enforcement, give yourself up to two points.
  • A maximum total of 15 points for this question.
  • Understand and prepare for the testing process, including the oral interview.
    • If you really are practiced and prepared for the testing process, score one to five points. Some departments have mentoring programs and help with testing. Have you researched what help might be available, and taken advantage of it? Have you read books on police oral exams?? Have you talked to others that have taken orals? Have you actually practiced with friends and family?
    • A maximum total of eight points for this question.
  • Make sure you meet the minimum requirements, especially with regard to the background history.
    • A significant percentage of applicants waste their time and the department's time when they apply, knowing they are not eligible for hire. This can be due to a physical or health issue, but more often it involves a red flag in the applicant's background, such as drug use. Each agency's standards and requirements are different, but you need to talk to a recruiter or background investigator if you have doubts. Save everyone time and money. It does not matter if you were not convicted or never arrested. If you used drugs or did some other crime, it will likely come out in your polygraph or background investigation.
    • Score five points if you are eligible, and subtract 100 if not.
  • Go on ride-alongs.
    • You get one point per ride-along, and an extra point if it was with the agency you are applying to.
    • A maximum total of three points for this question.
  • Know about the agency where you are applying.
    • You need to know specifics about the agency you are applying to: mission, size of agency, population served, form of government, chief/sheriff’s name, names of those on the oral board, etc. Law enforcement agencies like the highway patrol, state police, sheriff's departments, police departments, Border Patrol, and other local, state and federal agencies all have distinct missions and functions.
    • A maximum total of three points for this question
  • Understand the various law enforcement jobs in your area--don’t just concentrate on the big police departments.
    • Know that there are lots of cop jobs. Don’t forget tribal (Indian) police, school police, college/university police, corrections, dispatch, transit police, various state and federal agencies, etc. Almost every federal department has some form of police or investigators such a Capitol Police, Secret Service, DEA, Homeland Security, etc.
    • A maximum total of three points for this question.
  • Do volunteer work, serve internships, and join police reserve units and Explorer posts.
    • You will often be asked about community volunteer work, but even better is experience with a law enforcement agency as an Explorer, reserve, volunteer or intern. That way you will know what you are getting into. A term with the agency you are applying is preferred.
    • A maximum total of three points for this question--two if you have completed some work in one of the categories mentioned above, plus one more if the work was with the agency where you are applying.
  • Know how to read and write well, and have basic computer skills (No howe two reed and rite real gooder).
    • If you cannot read, write and use a computer effectively, you will not make it. Even if you pass the entry tests you will fail in the academy or FTO process.
    • A maximum total of five points for this question if you possess the listed skills. Subtract 50 points if not.
  • Be physically fit. Practice the physical agility test.
    • Even if you pass the agility test, if you are not in shape you will fail in the academy or FTO process. Worse, you may fail in a real confrontation and get yourself or fellow officers killed. The purpose of the academy is not to get you in shape. It is to take people who are already fit and make them effective law enforcement officers. Fitness also does not stop the day you complete probation. You also need to practice the agility test. There are techniques to getting over a wall or dragging a dummy.
    • A maximum total of five points for this question.
  • Don’t give up
    • If you get hired on your first try, you are the exception to the rule. It took me three agencies to get my first job offer. Keep trying.
    • If you meet the above requirements and are willing to keep trying; five points.


    • 48 and above: You can likely pick and choose where you want to work, assuming you meet their minimum requirements. Do your homework and choose wisely.
    • 40 or above: You look real good.
    • 35-39: Looks promising, but you might take a while to get a job offer. You might have to start with an agency that wasn’t your first choice. Keep trying.
    • 30-34: Maybe. You should give an extra effort to get your score higher.
    • Below 30: Before you start applying, take a hard look and plot out a strategy based on your work and time constraints. Read books and magazines on law enforcement, and research the Internet. Go on ride-alongs. You should consider taking a few college classes in criminal justice or in any other subject area that requires a lot of reading, critical thinking, and writing reports and papers.

    This test is subjective, as a person with three years of dispatch experience who speaks broken Spanish is certainly a more viable candidate than someone that did a one week internship. With that said, this test should give you a good basis for self-examination and reflection on where you are, and where you need to go. While having a good background of education, military service, or experience is the number one point-getter, based on my scoring and experience in oral boards, a person with no applicable experience whatsoever can get hired. The oral exam is often the key. I once helped hire a butcher with no relevant experience who did well on the oral and made an excellent cop. I failed many cops seeking a lateral transfer from another agency. On my first oral I would have scored 15 points on background, but I failed the oral. However, based on rule #10, I was hired 3 agencies and testing processes later.