It's the day you've envisioned for years – your graduation from college with a degree in criminal justice – and you can't wait to put all that knowledge to use in the real world.

Whether you're looking to launch a career in law enforcement, corrections, the courts and judicial system or private security, you're ready to do whatever it takes to land your dream job.

To help you start that process, here's our gift to you: some sage advice from Saint Leo University criminal justice educators, seasoned professionals who've been there and done that and offer a few critical tips you need to know before stepping into the real world of criminal justice.

1. The market is opening up for jobs.

Opportunities are bubbling up out there for criminal justice grads, according to Saint Leo criminal justice professor Dr. David Persky.

Much of the new hiring is being driven by the retirement of senior leaders in all areas of law enforcement. That's good news for new grads looking to get into law enforcement on the ground floor and gain valuable experience.

2. Federal agencies aren't for beginners.

Opportunities at the federal level are exciting, but it typically takes time to land a federal job. Dr. Persky says it's highly unusual for federal agencies to hire brand new graduates. He advises students to be patient and put in their time as patrol officers and deputies before looking to move into the federal sector.

"The federal agencies go after current law enforcement officers, especially ones who are bi-lingual or who have some experience with accounting," he says. "The FBI, in particular, likes to hire new agents who are accountants and/or attorneys."

3. There's no substitute for experience.

Saint Leo online instructor Brandon Ball, a major with Florida's State Fire Marshall's Office and a veteran bomb tech, stresses that any law enforcement experience is good experience.

"Competition for entry level positions is fierce," he says. "It's critical that officers get their foot in the door somewhere; then they can get picky about where they want to spend the bulk of their career."

Ball advises starting with an agency to hone skills, such as learning how to properly and professionally interact with victims, witnesses, suspects and members of the general public. Developing those crucial communication skills will pay benefits down the road. Ball also recommends that officers consider moving into specialty units after a few years on the job to expand their knowledge base and skillsets.

4. Watch what you post.

Your social media life could haunt your job search, cautions criminal justice instructor Debra Mims.

"I suggest you edit your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or other accounts that can be viewed by potential employers – especially if you plan to have a career in law enforcement. Agencies will ask for your Facebook and other accounts and will view and monitor those accounts."

Mims also advises providing employer prospects with useful information about your experience that will highlight your skills and attributes. "Rather than saying 'I worked at the school library,' say I helped students find research material."

5. There's about to be a shortage of lawyers.

A degree in criminal justice is a great foundation for law school. Dr. Persky, an attorney who spent 10 years in private practice before turning his focus to education, says the number of students applying to law school has been dwindling in recent years. The bottom line is that there will be a shortage of lawyers in the coming years, and that means a competitive market for employers.

"Even if you never practice law, law is a great education," he says, adding that many schools are currently offering strong financial aid packages and scholarships to students interested in pursuing a law degree.

We hope you'll find these tips helpful as you embark on your career in criminal justice. Did we miss anything? We'd love to hear if you have any tips to add to our list.

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Criminal Justice Careers: What's It Like To Be An FBI Agent?

Criminal Justice Careers: What's It Like To Be A Bomb Tech?

Exploring Criminal Justice Careers In Federal Law Enforcement

Future Crime Scene Investigator Models Strength For Her Daughters

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