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How to Pursue a Job with Homeland Security

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"Homeland security" is a term that's been bandied about a lot in the last decade, but how is this concept really applied in the protection of our country, and who's responsible? Thinking about how to pursue a job with homeland security might conjure images of working in a Washington D.C.-based high-security office with top officials. Though the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are located in the nation's capital, there are many opportunities to serve in this field across the country, in a variety of roles.

What is Homeland Security?

The Department of Homeland Security is charged with protecting and securing the country's borders, airways, transportation system and waterways. The organization is also responsible for assisting during natural disasters, as well as with terrorist threats and attacks. Despite the focus on security and protection, though, not all homeland security roles are in those fields. Many additional positions exist in "component careers," such as human resources, medicine, or fraud and technology. The Department of Homeland Security also oversees 22 other federal organizations, including U.S. Immigration Services, the U.S. Secret Service and the Coast Guard, among others. But because it's such a large organization with a somewhat complex structure — overseeing many security-based departments — understanding how to get a job with homeland security can seem complex as well. Knowing the kind of education and experience required can help you take steps in the right direction to the kind of position you'd like to find.

Take a Tour of a Local Office

It's one thing to find information remotely or online, but because Homeland Security consists of so many combined organizations and departments, calling a local office to see whether you can gain information can help you get a sense of the organization. To find out whether there is a local office near you, check out the Homeland Security locator. Find out whether you can speak to someone at, for example, the local Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — another agency that falls under Homeland Security oversight — to gain information on the kinds of education and experience, as well as important security credentials, you should have before you apply.

Do Your Homework by Considering How Positions Differ According to Agencies

It's not enough just to understand what experience you should have for a position; you need to do your homework to understand what experience is important for that particular agency. So, it's best to start with what roles interest you and then gather information about Homeland Security job requirements.

You can start with the department's "Mission Areas" to review job opportunities and descriptions in four main areas: Cybersecurity, Acquisitions, Law and Law Enforcement. Cybersecurity, for instance, is a broad term that encompasses many roles, from forensics to analysis and assessment to engineering. Decide which track you'd be most interested in, then in what agencies these opportunities exist, to find what kind of experience is needed.

Research Coursework That Can Prepare You for Job Duties

Since 2004, colleges and universities have offered degrees in Homeland Security. Knowing what coursework will best prepare you for a specific role is a practical and sensible way to research whether an institution is right for you. Typical curricula focus on prevention, crisis management, ethics, and preparedness and response. You can get a good foundation for Homeland Security roles through coursework such as "Foundations of Crisis Management," an introduction that aims to prepare students for crisis-readiness across many disaster scenarios. Courses such as "Ethics, Intelligence and Technologies in Homeland Security" prepare students to understand common ethical challenges as well as the latest technologies and how agencies and departments can best communicate — an important subject, given the breadth of agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella.

To best prepare for a career in homeland security, look for programs that have well-rounded coursework and seek opportunities to connect with professionals who work in the field.

Interested in more career-related articles? Read our Career Development blog.