Plan to Advance Your Career

When it comes to career planning, first things first: Figure out your desired career path.

Photo courtesy of American Military UniversityPhoto courtesy of American Military University

Throughout your career, you should always be thinking about what you want to do next. 

I had the opportunity to speak with Tim Hardiman, a 23-year veteran of the NYPD, who retired as an inspector and commanding officer of the 47th Precinct. After retirement, Hardiman started his own consulting firm and also began teaching as an adjunct professor at American Military University. Hardiman says when it comes to career planning, first things first: Figure out your desired career path.

After you figure out what you want to do, you need to determine how to get there. Ask yourself two questions:

1. Are you lacking experience in areas like leadership and project management?

2. Do you have the educational background required for desired positions?

If you are missing leadership experience, Hardiman recommends requesting assignments with leadership roles and increased responsibilities. Depending on your department and supervisor, this may be easier said than done.

However, you can always have control of your education.

There are many reasons to continue your education:

•     More departments are requiring degrees for promotion. A lack of education is used to "screen out" candidates. It gives decision makers an objective standard for selecting one candidate over another.

•     Education can enhance existing skills like writing and research competency.

•     Education can prepare you for a career after law enforcement. You are very good at police work, but how does that translate to the private sector? Your police skills—communication, decision-making, analysis, operating well under pressure—are all desired in the private sector. Education can help you translate those skills into terms private employers understand.

So the next question you should answer is what degree to get. Many officers think it makes sense to get a degree in criminal justice. However, even if you plan to spend your entire career in law enforcement, Hardiman recommends getting a degree that broadens your perspective. After all, you already have knowledge and experience about criminal justice, so use education to fill the gaps on your résumé.

Degrees you should consider:

Public Administration. A degree in public administration can give you experience in budgeting, planning, procurement, and administrative law.

Business Administration/Management. Especially if you plan to move into the private sector, business administration can teach you everything from organizational behavior and leadership styles to budgeting and human resources practices.

Emergency and Disaster Management (EDM). You have likely participated in some aspect of EDM, whether through training or real-life scenarios. This field gives you a broader perspective on how public safety departments interact with municipalities and private businesses.

Homeland Security. A degree in homeland security can broaden your perspective. This is great for people who want to move into the government sector.

But what if you want to transition into the private sector?

It will be challenging to make this move. However, it can be very rewarding. The following advice may help you:

•     Job interviews are two-way streets. Ask a lot of questions to make sure the position is a good fit for you.

•     Learn to translate your experience as an officer into business skills. If you aim to join the corporate world, learn the language. Remember, it is your job to explain how your law enforcement career directly translates to the requirements of the position. Do not assume that your prospective employer will "get it"—you need to spell it out. Use specific examples from your career to demonstrate these qualities.

•     The proper education can play a big role in helping you make this move. Be sure to reiterate your educational accomplishments. Education demonstrates your willingness to keep learning. It also shows you want to learn about your new profession and you are not just relying on your law enforcement experience to prepare you.

•     Lastly, take what is appropriate from your law enforcement experience and leave behind what is not appropriate for the civilian workplace. Hierarchy structure is very different and you must adapt.

Now is the time to start planning your future career, especially if you have educational gaps to fill. Getting your degree will take time and hard work but can be well worth it when you go to take those next steps in your career.

Leischen Stelter works with the public safety team at American Military University. You can follow her on Twitter @AMUPoliceEd and on Facebook.

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