Criminal Profiler

Meet Chloe MacArthur. She has just completed her Bachelor of Arts in Health Sciences and Social Services, majoring in Criminology and Psychology.


26 April 2014


She is studying towards becoming a criminologist. She has a lot of learning experience within this industry, and will be telling us more about how to become a criminologist.

What would the working hours be?

In an office setting, you’re typically looking at +/- 40 hours a week. Depending on the nature of your work, shift work and overtime may be required.

What does the job entail?

Anchored among the social sciences, criminology has evolved as a multidisciplinary field of study, explicitly concerned with the problem of crime, its causes and how it is controlled in society. It is largely based on research and teaching. Criminologists may work alongside law enforcement agencies, security companies or in prisons. They may choose to focus on specific types of crimes, while others devote their careers to profiling offenders in order to gain some understanding of the motivations and causative factors behind deviant behaviour (as I plan to do).

Criminologists may work in a number of settings, including crime scenes, classrooms, courthouses, in their own private practices, prisons or police stations. Part of the job includes scouring statistics and looking at trends and patterns of crime as well as the locations and demographics thereof.

Are there any ‘glamorous’ aspects to being a criminologist?

In very well-known or high-profile cases, criminologists may spend time engaging with the media and working with the public. Some may even have books published about their experiences and discoveries. Most of the time, though, the day-to-day work of this professional – even one involved in a sensational case – isn’t as glamorous as television crime drama shows make it appear. Due to the nature of the job, a criminologist must focus most of her attention on the negative characteristics of human beings. Criminologists’ work sometimes takes them to the scenes of crimes and autopsies, and puts them in contact with people who have committed some truly horrendous crimes. However, for criminologists who wish to understand and explain criminal behaviour, the work can be fascinating.

What are the mundane aspects?

Much of the job involves data collection and analysis. It requires an aptitude for maths as statistics are crucial in the study of criminology. Unfortunately for me, I’m no maths whizz, so this aspect definitely requires a little more effort on my part! Criminology requires a lot of detailed record keeping and report writing, which can at times seem unrelated to real-world progress against crime and be a little boring. Often, criminologists are required to work more than 40 hours a week or work extra shifts. Particularly when criminologists work closely with police forces, they may be called upon to work outside of traditional office hours and instead be available whenever criminals strike. This can take its toll on the family/social life of the criminologist.

What are some of the personality attributes required to make a good criminologist?

Excellent interpersonal and conflict management skills, attention to detail, perseverance, integrity, honesty and patience are highly important within this field. The ability to empathise with victims and offenders alike is also vital here.

Are there different aspects a person could get involved with in this field?

There are many areas of specialisation within the field of criminology. Profilers, for example, are criminologists who build profiles of specific crimes by reviewing patterns of behaviour. Criminologists often focus on specific types of crimes. Some work with killings, some with armed robbery, others with arson, some with rape, others with serial crimes of different sorts. Professionals may alternatively specialise in crime prevention, crime scene investigation, criminal litigation, corrections or rehabilitation. Criminologists may work at universities teaching criminology, legal studies, law and sociology, forensic criminology and the like. Criminologists can also place their efforts into research, victimology, victims’ rights, white collar crime, the juvenile justice system and forensic technology.

Where and what are you studying for this career?

I didn’t leave high school with a matric qualification, rather with A-levels which I studied through the British International College. I was fortunate enough to be able to take psychology as one of my subjects, which UNISA later gave me first year exemption for. I completed a BA in Health Sciences and Social Services with specialisation in psychological counselling through UNISA. My two majors were psychology and criminology. While studying I took a course and gained a certificate of proficiency in Biometric Integration and The Smart Screen Application through Managed Integrity Evaluation, meaning I am qualified in the method of background screening.

As it stands, I plan to relocate to the UK where I hope to be accepted into a reputable postgraduate programme, such as the one offered by the University Of Edinburgh – MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice.

What entry-level requirements should I have to qualify to study?

University entrance requires that you present at least your National Senior Certificate. Each institution will have its own specific requirements for study of the course. Employment as a criminologist will require an advanced degree under almost every circumstance. Specifically, some combination of degrees in criminology, criminal justice, sociology or psychology is preferable. Graduate level education is a must for any research position. Many criminologists seek to obtain a PhD in the field – you’ll need this if you want to branch into teaching in this field.

Breakdown of the subjects I can expect to learn/study:

Your coursework will focus on areas such as criminal theory, behavioural sciences, social deviance, law, the justice system, types of crimes, and the causes and effects of crime.

What would be the best way to get started in your field?

I would recommend researching the specific areas of criminology that you find of most interest. Shadowing, volunteering and internships are a great way to gain practical experience in the field and will help you narrow down which qualifications are best suited to your interests/skill set.

What can I expect to earn in this career?

The salary range for this field is fair, ranging from R6,000 to R35,000 per month, depending on qualifications, specialisation, experience and location. Average salaries are around R20,000 per month.

What are the benefits of this career?

A career in criminology can be extremely rewarding and interesting for those who enjoy problem solving, strategic thinking and working to help understand and prevent crime, in turn giving back to society. Criminologists get the advantage of applying what they have learned about human behaviour to serious real-life situations. The nature of the job affords them the opportunity to work in different settings from one day to the next with new places, circumstances and people to discover. They can choose from an array of career options, allowing for a great deal of flexibility. These professionals can work in educational settings, teaching classes, conducting research and publishing reports on factors that contribute to criminal behaviour. Many criminologists work with government officials and law enforcement agencies, while others take on more entrepreneurial roles, forming their own private consulting practices.

What is the market like in terms of jobs and competition?

While the practice of criminology in South Africa has not yet been professionalised, the future job outlook of criminologists is positive due to the continuing demand for specialists in the field. Graduates can do a lot with their degree in the meantime, as they acquire specific skills and competencies as a result of their coursework. While these skills and competencies may be directly applicable to a number of criminology careers, other skills gained as a result of being a university student in general, such as teamwork, research, project management and problem solving, for example, are valuable skills that can be transferred to a wide range of careers depending on what your interests and values are.

Any tips for teens who want to pursue your career?

Put yourself out there, make yourself known and network, network, network! Networking with professionals already working in the field of criminology will serve as one of the most effective ways of getting your foot in the door. Keep your eyes and ears open for the latest updates and opportunities in the realm of criminology. It is also necessary to keep an open mind at all times. As a professional in this practice, you must be willing to leave your own opinions/prejudices at the door.

Let us know

If you have a specific career you would like more information about, email subject line Careers.

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