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How to Become a Federal Probation Officer

Learn how to become a federal probation officer in this video. Discover the education and career requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in federal probation.

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Should I Become a Federal Probation Officer?

Federal probation officers look after individuals paroled from federal incarceration or those who are placed on probation in lieu of jail time. They also prepare background checks on people awaiting sentencing and act as liaisons between the parolee and the court officials. Probation officers are usually employed full-time by government agencies; although, the job may demand long hours, including evenings, nights, and weekends. On-call hours are also part of this career, during which time officers must respond immediately to the call of duty.

Federal probation officers may work with some of the more dangerous criminals that are paroled and as a result, this job carries some risk. Travel and extensive paperwork are required when parolees flee. Many such officers choose to carry a firearm to protect themselves. There is also great reward in helping to successfully reintroduce a parolee to life outside of federal prisons.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree standard; some employers prefer a master's degree
Degree Field Social work, criminal justice, psychology or related field
Training 6-week new officer training; up to 1 year as a trainee may be required before permanent placement
Key Skills Strong communication, critical-thinking, decision-making and organizational skills, emotional stability, knowledge of self-defense tactics
Salary $49,060 per year (2014 median salary for all probation officers and correctional treatment specialists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, USCourts.gov

Step 1: Earn a Degree

While there are no specific major of study for this career, potential federal probation officers typically obtain bachelor's degrees in criminology, psychology or criminal justice. A master's degree is not usually necessary, but some employers may prefer those who've completed graduate-level education.

Success Tip

  • Participate in an internship. Working as an intern provides good experience for future federal probation officers to learn about the everyday workings of the federal court system. An internship also allows them to network and meet court officers and professionals who might help them later in their careers.

Step 2: Pass the Medical Examination and Meet all Requirements

There are very specific federally-mandated health requirements for those looking to become federal probation officers. Because these probation officers work in such a highly stressful and sometimes physically demanding environment, they must fulfill certain age and physical fitness requirements. For example, new federal probation officers must be between the ages of 21 and 37 and be able to meet the physical demands of the job, such as using firearms and defending themselves physically. They must also be on solid mental ground, since the job can be emotionally taxing at times.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Before becoming federal probation officers, interested men and women are generally required to have work experience. Most begin as probation officers at local, county and state courts. At this level, potential federal probation officers will gain experience and hone the skills necessary to work in the more demanding federal court system. Additionally, working in pretrial services or corrections may count as work experience for aspiring federal probation officers.

Step 4: Find a Job as a Federal Probation Officer

Those who aspire to become federal probation officers can use the contacts they have made during their internships and local previous probation officer jobs to find positions in the federal court system. A number of federal job service websites are available for applicants to search and apply for jobs. Once hired, individuals must typically go through a 6-week training program including firearms training. New employees are monitored for as much as one year before being offered permanent jobs.

Success Tip

  • Join a professional organization. Federal probation officers may benefit from joining a professional organization, such as the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA). Professional organizations can provide networking opportunities and other career-related benefits.

Step 5: Continue Education

Federal probation officers have the ability to continue their education throughout their careers by taking courses in advanced topics related to probation. Officers can take courses covering topics such as domestic violence, elder abuse and officer liability.

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