So You Want to Be a CSI
By: CSI Lurena Huffman
(15+ years in law enforcement, CSI and training)
You want a career in forensics. Awesome! But, what do you actually want to do? There are so many choices. Do you want to be called in to work all hours of the night to process a homicide scene? Or would you rather work in a lab looking through a microscope? Make sure when you’re researching your intended career that you’re looking at the right job for your expectations and lifestyle.
Today we’re going to talk about the career of a CSI. Crime Scene Investigator. Field Forensics. Forensic Technician. The person who wants to be on the ground floor documenting crime scenes and collecting and preserving evidence.
There are several paths you can take to start off in this career with two basic outcomes: working as a sworn employee for a government agency or working as a non-sworn (or civilian) in a government or private agency. With few exceptions, CSIs will work for government agencies.
To become a sworn CSI, after completing the application process and getting hired, you generally start off in a basic position, such as a patrol officer. It may take years of work, experience, and training to get promoted or transferred to the CSI division. The positive side of this is, usually, these positions only require a high school diploma or GED to get started. If you’re not one for traditional schooling, or are in a rush to get started on a career, this might be the choice for you. Once in the position, you participate in on the job training to learn how to be a CSI. There are also usually opportunities to go to trainings to further your knowledge.
To become a civilian CSI, after completing the application process and getting hired, a degree of some sort is usually required, whether it be an associates, bachelors or masters. There also may be a requirement on what those degrees should be in. This is where you want to pay attention to any specialties or subspecialties you would like to pursue. Differing degrees and educational fields may assist in furthering career choices. For example, working in latent prints may require statistics or, alternatively, latent print processing may require chemistry.
Speaking of those expectations discussed earlier, be sure that you can meet the requirements and expectations of the agency you are applying to. You likely will have to submit yourself to the following, during application processes: background checks, financial checks, drug and/or alcohol testing, psychological testing, and a variety of interviews. You may also be required to do specific skills tests on forensic topics such as photography, evidence collection, and evidence processing.
There are a couple things to remember when going through the job search and application process before committing yourself to the lure of one agency. Read the job description! Make sure you fully understand what you are applying for. Make sure that Evidence Technician opening is for crime scene processing and not running the Property & Evidence Room. Look for requirements such as shift rotation, holiday work schedules, overtime pay, on-call coverage/pay, uniform requirements, vehicle policies, etc. Understand that most CSI jobs expect some ability for manual labor and co-existing with nature when processing crime scenes. And, come to terms with relocating. The job you want may not be in the town you currently live in. This career choice is overly competitive due to interest and you may have to search outside your area for a job that is right for you.
Because of that, there are hundreds of candidates for each job and the hiring managers are looking for the best fit. So, how do you stand out?
Make sure you can check that box that asks for required experience. Make the most of your time in school or while you are applying for jobs. Belong and participate in forensic organizations. Work on research projects in school. Participate in internships, whether or not they are required by your school. Some agencies may not take interns if you are not actively enrolled in educational programs; however, they may take volunteers. This is another way to potentially get some experience, while also getting your foot in the door. All of those listed equal experience, connections, and potential references for job applications. And, the biggest piece of advice of all is don’t give up!
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