Profiling as a Career
You are just getting finished with high school or you are getting to the point where you need to declare a major in college. Perhaps you are embarking on a second career after burning out on the first one and this time you want to get into a really interesting line of work. Maybe you are a true crime buff, a mystery reader, a CSI addict, or you are fascinated with the deviant mind and abnormal psychology. Suddenly, you know what you want to do. You want to be a criminal profiler.
Then just as you figured out WHAT you want to do, you realize that you have no idea exactly how criminal profilers do their job and you can"t find any criminal profiling programs and for that matter, there seem to be so few criminal profilers in existence, you wonder if there is really any work in the field anyway. You start researching and you find it hard to get any straight answers. You wish someone would just give you the lowdown on the field so you could make a rational decision on what to do with your life and not waste any more time.
Hopefully, I will be able to answer all of your questions in this article so you can rationally decide if the field of criminal profiling is for you.
QUESTION ONE: What does a profiler actually do?
Most profilers analyze very cold cases. However, if they work for the FBI or police department, they may access the case files fairly early on, actually be involved in the investigation, and go out in the field to the crime scenes. Police departments that are more proactive in their investigation of serial homicide, or departments that are in the throes of very busy serial killer dropping bodies right and left, may actually have a profiler come out to a fresh crime scene and work on the case from the start.
Independent profilers, however, mostly work cold cases that have a thick layer of dust on the files. This usually means the family of a homicide victim or police department contacts the profiler and asks for help on the case. If the case is closed and the family has all the photos and police records, the profiler may work on the case in his office rather than go to the location of the crime. If the police do not have a problem with allowing crime scene information out of their files (and most do), they may also send information to the profiler. When the case files cannot leave the police department, the profiler will have to work on the case at that location. Also, if significant information can be gained by visiting the crimes scene locations and interviewing people, the profiler may need to go into the field.
Lawyers may also ask a profiler for help with a case and usually the materials can be forwarded to the profiler with a signed document that no information on the case can be shared until the trial is over and done with.
Most profiling work means reading police reports, staring at photos, and spending hours trying to figure out what happened. Sometimes a profiler will do crime scene reenactments or special tests to help understand the evidence and the behaviors at the crime scene. When the profiler has reached his conclusions, he will write up his analysis and forwarded it to the proper party. Most profiling work is done sitting for hours at a desk and unless one is actually out in the field, there is not much "action" happening!
Other than actually creating profiles, many profilers teach and write, both for income and for educating the public and those interested in or already working in the field.
QUESTION TWO: How do I know if I have right kind of mind and personality to be a successful profiler?
Good profilers have the following traits and abilities: A very logical mind, an ability to solve puzzles, and a tenacity to keep struggling for answers when your head is getting very bruised from the walls you keep slamming it into. A very realistic view of human beings bordering on cynical, but not without empathy, an ability to spot liars and frauds, and the belief that all of us have the ability to think like a serial killer or criminal to some degree. You must have enough life experience to not be surprised at human behavior or to find bizarre sex acts all that freaky. You need a good sense of humor, a healthy lifestyle, and be you should be in excellent mental health.
If you tend to be overly emotional or depressive, easily freaked out, you can't pick a decent boyfriend/girlfriend to save your life, you are easily addicted to drugs, alcohol or sex, and people are always telling you that your thinking is bit screwy, this is a poor line of work for you.
QUESTION THREE: Is there a good age to become a profiler?
Well, the more experience you have had in life dealing with all sorts of people, the better foundation you have for this field. Also, the younger you are, the more effect the field will have on your carefree days of youth. Let's face it, dealing with death and creeps everyday of your life is not exactly an uplifting experience. I never really encourage people to go into this field right out of college. It just seems a kind of a ugly entrance into adulthood. Working in the field is less traumatizing to slightly older folks who have already been through a lot of crap in life and lost their rose-colored glasses years ago. Of course, there are those younger people who have seen so much of the dark side of life early on that working in the field isn't going to be all that much of a downer, and there are those college students who want to be profilers so badly, no one is going to discourage them.
QUESTION FOUR: Where are the educational requirements of the field?
There aren't any and by that I mean there are really no established rules and regulations that have been followed with any consensus. Obviously, it is always nice to have as much traditional education as possible. Employers like degrees and if you can get a PhD, more power to you. However, a master's may be perfectly acceptable and a bachelor's will at least give you the ability to say you are college educated. There are very few actual criminal profiling programs around although they are starting to surface. Most people chose forensics, psychology, or criminal justice as their degree programs. Some double major along the way and some focus on one aspect like psychology in their undergraduate program and then go on to get a forensics degree for their master's. Some students take police investigative courses or death investigation courses at community college and then go on to a four year university.
Others who want to become profilers join the FBI or the police. Either one of these organizations may offer the possibility of becoming a profiler in the very distant future and neither one can promise you will get the opportunity to actually profile. If you go this route, you need to be willing and interested in other aspects of these jobs in case you never get the opportunity to become involved in profiling.
There are a few of us who did not study profiling in college nor do we have law enforcement backgrounds. We accumulated our knowledge through self-study and research, seminars, and experience.
Regardless of how you gain your knowledge in the field, it is up to your employer or client to determine the suitability of your skills to handle the job.
QUESTION FIVE: What experience would be helpful to gain experience to improve my profiling skills?
Obviously, working with a profiler is the optimum method but since there are so few around it is also highly unlikely that this opportunity will surface very often. Therefore, accepting any work in related fields is a must: investigation, victim services, psychiatric work, prison work, lab assistant, morgue attendant, funeral home assistant, EMT, you name it, anything remotely related to the criminal profiling field. Some experience in any related work is better than no experience at all. Volunteer work is just as good as paid (from the standpoint of learning) and far too few folks are willing to work without pay. Therefore, they end up with absolutely no experience and no contacts in the field when they finish school.
QUESTION SIX: How many jobs are available in the profiling field?
Hardly any. There are very few profilers in the United States or in other countries in the world. There are also few profilers who make any real money in the field. Unless the profiler is on the FBI or police payroll, he must make money either from consultant work, teaching, or writing. Some profilers work full time as college professors or earn money through teaching on-line classes. Some are full-time psychologists in private practice or in the employ of the correctional system. Others make money by working for client lawyers (usually criminal defense lawyers) and some earn a paycheck by testifying in court as expert witnesses. Being an independent profiler is not an easy way to make a living. For this reason, I again emphasize the advisability of having interest in related topics. This way you will have a job you enjoy even if you never truly profile, or if you can only profile part-time. Many related jobs still use the skills of profiling and although you may not be working serial crimes of any sort, there are still advantages to applying profiling methodology in other fields.
FINAL QUESTION! Am I nuts to still be interested in profiling as a profession after reading your not-so-encouraging answers?
Probably! But, then, if you can't let it go, you probably are one of those who will make it! Good luck!