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Forensic Jobs & You FAQ

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Forensic Jobs & You FAQ

2014 Graduating Class

Hello Forensic Science Students,

Your forensic science degree sets you up for a large range of career options; equipping you to find work as criminalists in crime labs, crime scene investigators, or as general scientists in labs of all kinds. You can also go on to earn advanced degrees in forensics or other scientific fields, or attend a professional school to prepare for a career as a doctor or lawyer. Narrowing down those options is up to you and what is required for your desired career. Below you will find some tips and resources to assist you in your job search.

Simple steps to get you started:

  1. Visit career services and/or the office of science engagement at Penn State
  2. Talk to your advisor or a member of our faculty about your desired career
  3. Subscribe to the Penn State Forensic Science listserv by emailing L-FRNSC-UNDERGRAD-subscribe-request@lists.psu.edu
  4. Join the Nittany Lion Career Network
  5. Use the list of forensic science professional organizations on our website and our jobs page to search for open positions in the forensic sciences.
  6. Use the linked icons below to follow Penn State Forensic Science on social media to get updates on job openings.

In addition to the FAQ below, the forensic program staff have compiled a list of forensic science job titles, their alternative names, and keywords that can help you better understand and navigate job postings. You can find that information sheet by using this link. If you have questions about specific forensic science careers, please contact your academic advisor or a faculty member.


Forensic Science Jobs FAQ


Where do I start?

Start by knowing what career you want and what positions are entry level for that career. Then complete your professional resume and cover letter. Visit the Career Resource Center for assistance in preparing these documents. Once completed; visit the jobs page on our website for updated jobs postings, subscribe to the Penn State Forensic Science listserv to receive emails about job opening, and use the list of forensic science professional organizations on our website to search for open positions in the forensic sciences.


Can I get personalized advice about my future career?

Yes, you can! Start out by visiting career services or the office of science engagement. Faculty are also available to discuss your career options; it's as simple as emailing a faculty member and letting them know you want to talk about your future.


When should I start searching for jobs?

Generally, students begin looking for jobs four to five months in advance of graduation. Forensic science positions, however, often require extensive background checks that elongate the hiring process. Positions within the federal government, for example, require background checks that can take upwards of a year before completion. Additionally, most employers will not accept applications for forensic science positions until after a student has graduated. Therefore, it is necessary to keep in mind that the long hiring process for forensic positions and degree requirement can result in a delay between graduation and starting a full-time job.


If I can’t apply until I’ve graduated, what can I do before then to prepare?

In addition to preparing a resume and cover letters, agencies will often ask for the same documents and personal information. We recommend obtaining these documents, such as photo ID, birth certificates, transcripts etc. prior to applying to positions to eliminate any delays in the application process. As most applications are completed online it is helpful to have scanned pdfs of these documents saved securely on your device. Create a word document that includes personal information going back ten years, such as previous addresses and roommate contact information to assist with filling out background checks. Applications will also ask similar personal questions, so saving your answers in this document can save you time on future applications. Keep an excel sheet to stay organized and track your application progress. Include organization names, contact persons and application due dates. You can also pre-write thank you letters to send out to interviewers. It is very important to update social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, to ensure they are accurate and work appropriate. All of this can take some time and keep you busy as you search for companies and organization you plan to apply to once graduated.


How many jobs should I apply for?

As many as it takes until you are hired; unfortunately, there is no magic number. For some students, it may take 50+ applications before they secure an interview and/or job. This is a competitive field, and while you are well-prepared after graduating from this program, there are a lot of candidates applying to the limited number of positions available. Once you have completed your professional resume, and have had practice writing cover letters, applying to jobs becomes faster and easier. Make a Word Document on which you keep answers to common application questions so you can cut and paste them in instead of having to type them anew each application. It is recommended that you apply to a range of positions and locations - students who are flexible about where they are willing to work are more likely to find a job sooner. Continue applying to positions until you accept a job offer. Once you accept a job offer, withdraw your applications with other institutions.


What does the interview/hiring process for forensic positions look like?

The hiring process for large agencies tend to be more rigorous and/or detailed than those for smaller agencies. Private companies, as opposed to government agencies, may also have different requirements for hiring. However forensic jobs often require a series of interviews, in addition to varying levels of background checks no matter the organization. At minimum, a background check will consist of submitting an official transcript from colleges you have attended, fingerprints, and interviews/references from former instructors and/or employers. A more rigorous background check may also include a credit check, interviews with personal acquaintances and/or family, drug testing, a polygraph, submission of your high school diploma and/or transcripts, civil service or other exams that demonstrate knowledge and/or competency, proof of a driver’s license, a health screening, etc. The purpose of this lengthy hiring process is to determine your trustworthiness and overall suitability for a criminal justice career.


Will professors help me get a job?

Faculty are happy to act as references for job applications, write letters of recommendation, and meet with students to discuss career paths. There should be no expectation for faculty members to find and/or provide jobs for graduating students.


What if I can't find a job in forensic science?

Jobs in forensic science can at times be somewhat difficult to obtain. If you cannot immediately find a job in forensic science after graduation, finding a laboratory job in one of the natural science fields (chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc.) will give you valuable laboratory technique and instrumentation experience. A strong scientific job background will help make you a strong candidate when applying for forensic science jobs. Being flexible and willing to move may also help you find a job in forensic science. If you limit yourself to a certain city or state, you may wait a long time for job openings. You will have many more opportunities to find a job if you are willing to move to the job instead of waiting for a job to open in your area.


How do I know if a job is a scam or not?

The PSU Career Resource Center has tools on their website to verify job postings. Additionally it is important not to give out any personal information until you have verified a job posting or offer is not a scam. Spelling and grammar errors in emails or web pages are a clue that an offer may not be legitimate. When applying to any government position online, validate the web address by ensuring it ends with .gov. If the address ends in another domain such as .com or .net, report the fake site to PSU Career Resources using the link above and do not proceed with the application. If an application or website is asking you for payment to apply or complete the application, this is also a sign of illegitimacy.


What do I do once I am offered a job?

The PSU Career Resource center has great information about evaluating job offers and negotiating salaries and benefits. Please use this link to access their resources. Once you have accepted a job, let us know! We love to hear about the success of our students. You can contact Katie Mantz (kdm5319@psu.edu) with your employment details to assist future graduates in their job search.


I want to continue my education, what type of graduate programs do I qualify for?  

Our students have pursued masters and PhD degrees in forensic science, criminology, natural science fields (chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc.) and law. Some biology track students have attended medical school in pursuit of a career in forensic pathology. However, it is recommend you meet with a pre-health advisor in addition to your forensics advisor during your undergraduate career if you wish to pursue medical school.


I want to go to graduate school, how do I do that?

Narrow down what your goals are and what you want to study in graduate school (forensic science, biology chemistry etc) and what kind of higher degree you need (MPS, MS or PhD). Research universities who have programs that suit those qualifications. Use this link for a list of FEPAC accredited programs. To further assist you with the above tasks, please visit this PSU Career Resource Center webpage. Prepare to take the GRE exam and expect to go through an interview process.  You can use this link for an overview of the application process and exam prep. You may need to secure references from Penn State faculty. Talk to your academic advisor as early as possible for assistance in preparing for recruitment.