The job market is always competitive, and the criminal justice field is no exception. Many job listings ask for two to five years of professional experience, which can be a difficult requirement for recent graduates to meet. However, students who choose to pursue a criminal justice internship can gain the experience they need to stand out to employers.

Job shadowing, internships and other pre-professional opportunities allow you to “demonstrate your commitment to your chosen profession and, even more importantly, provide you with vital contacts to assist you on your job hunt,” The Balance explains. Because many careers in criminal justice are in public service, many opportunities exist for those seeking to gain experience and help make a difference in their community.

West Virginia State University has included optional internship credits as part of its online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program to help students gain hands-on knowledge in criminal justice settings. We’ve provided the following guide to criminal justice internships to provide the insight you need to find the right internship and get ahead.

Job Shadowing

The first step is to determine what criminal justice career path you are interested in. This can be achieved through job shadowing. Internships also give students an opportunity to learn more about various law enforcement and criminal justice positions, such as:

  • Police officers: Professionals in this role are responsible for patrolling designated areas and responding to both emergency and nonemergency calls. They look for potential criminal activity and make arrests when necessary. Some police officers specialize in a specific type of crime, such as narcotics or homicide. State police officers, on the other hand, are responsible for enforcing traffic laws. “State police officers have authority to work anywhere in the state and are frequently called on to help other law enforcement agencies,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes.
  • Criminal investigators: They help gather evidence for criminal cases to help police officers and detectives identify suspects and solve crimes. Criminal investigators might “conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of suspects, and participate in raids and arrests,” the BLS continues.
  • Corrections officers and bailiffs: These criminal justice professionals “are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison,” according to the BLS. Corrections officers can also work as part of rehabilitation programs for those convicted of crimes. Bailiffs are tasked with enforcing order in courtrooms at the local, state or federal level.


Discover How You Can Gain Hands-On Experience in Criminal Justice

West Virginia State University's online Criminal Justice program includes optional internship credits. Learn how you can gain the experience employers want.

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Making Connections

Once you know what career you are interested in, you can begin developing a professional network. This is a vital part of career advancement: According to a survey by the Adler Group, 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. The following are some of the ways you can make career connections:

  • Create a LinkedIn profile and add professionals in your chosen career path.
  • Join professional associations and bring business cards to meetings.
  • Attend conferences or public lectures that are relevant to your desired role.

What Employers Look for in Internship Applicants

Aside from a degree in criminal justice, employers look for other skills and experience in potential hires. Internships are an ideal way to gain those competencies. For example, communication and interpersonal skills are vital in many roles. For other criminal justice positions, research and analytical skills are highly valued. If you are seeking a career within a specific government agency or branch of law enforcement, pursuing a related internship or other pre-professional experience gives you an inside look at what you will need to make it on the job. The work you do through criminal justice internships can usually be directly applied in the workplace after graduation.

Criminal Justice at West Virginia State University

Undergraduate study in criminal justice is a way for students to prepare for law enforcement careers. West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree that provides in-depth study of the modern criminal justice system along with a criminal justice internship option that gives students the chance to gain real-world experience to succeed. With a curriculum informed by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, this program provides a comprehensive understanding of the causes of crime, the relationship between criminal justice and society, and more. Students graduate with theoretical and practical knowledge they can apply in the workplace.