5 Soft Skills to Pursue Criminal Justice Careers

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Many careers require skill sets that go beyond just what you learn in the classroom, and criminal justice is no different. It's important to remember that the criminal justice field can encompass a wide range of positions in law enforcement or the judicial system. While the technical knowledge and job training required in each of these specific career paths will vary, there are some common soft skills—personal attributes not specific to an industry or task—that are important as well.

Developing soft skills is especially important because many positions in the criminal justice field may involve interacting with people in highly charged or sensitive situations. Below we cover some soft skills for criminal justice students to focus on and work to develop during your time in a degree program.

1. Written Communication

Written communication is extremely important in criminal justice professions because things you write may have the potential to become legal documents. This is especially true for law clerks, those working in law enforcement organizations and counselors and probation officers—all roles that may require keeping detailed legally admissible records. Strong written communication is about more than just keeping your writing free of grammatical and spelling errors. In addition to a high attention to detail and clear organization, it's also important to understand how to tailor your writing to specific situations, especially in cases where your assessment of certain facts is being considered as part of a legal judgement or decision, clarity and persuasiveness are extremely important qualities.1

2. Public Speaking

Since many jobs in criminal justice will put you in regular contact with the public, how you speak is important. Do you speak to everyone like they are your close friends or do you adjust your tone and word choices based on your audience? Do you know how to tailor your oral communication skills to particular situations and goals? How you speak can influence not just people’s view of you, but also how much they understand and trust the information and ideas you're relaying. For this reason, good public speaking skills are important whether you're addressing the public as a judge or law enforcement official, or if you're teaching criminal justice courses or advising on policy.1,2,3

If you are afraid of speaking or speak very informally, practice. When you write a paper, read it out loud as though you were giving a speech to an audience. Practice in front of friends and family. You may also look into whether your degree program offers speech classes or extracurricular groups that focus on public speaking.

3. Time Management

Good time management skills are important. This is due in part to how many criminal justice jobs involve managing many different cases simultaneously, and can be especially important if your role requires you to make multiple on-site client visits, court dates, or other appointments in your normal course of work. You may also be required to submit reports and other paperwork according to strict deadlines. Making sure you never miss a deadline or appearance is especially important in the field of criminal justice.1,2,3

4. Active Listening and Learning

Many positions within the criminal justice system involve dealing directly with individuals, often in stressful and contentious situations. It's therefore important to communicate with people in an attentive, sensitive manner while still being able to gather information and document relevant details. For this reason active listening is an essential skill no matter whether you're in counselling and social work, need to collect statements from witnesses during investigations, or need to follow complex arguments as a judge or lawyer during court cases.2,3,4

5. Critical Thinking and Decision Making

Because decisions made within the criminal justice field have such a strong and lasting impact, good judgement and critical thinking skills are very important. Criminal justice careers require high levels of social awareness and perceptiveness, as well as strong deductive and inductive reasoning. While these skills can sometimes be honed through course work specific to certain criminal justice roles and situations, they must also be developed through constant attention to detail and personal practice.1, 2, 3, 4

Ready to learn more? Explore criminal justice degrees at AIU.

1. O*Net, "Judicial Law Clerks," on the Internet at https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-1012.00#Knowledge (visited on 10/15/18).
2. O*Net, "Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary," on the Internet at https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1111.00#Knowledge (visited on 10/15/18).
3. O*Net, "Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors," on the Internet at https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1011.00#Knowledge (visited on 10/15/18).
4. O*Net, "Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates," on the Internet at https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-1023.00#Knowledge (visited on 10/15/18).

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended these programs, go to www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures . AIU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Not all programs are available to residents of all states.
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