Does Homeland Security Equal Job Security?

For better or for worse, the United States is an increasingly security-conscious country. And along with tightened security comes more jobs: there’s a growing need for professionals who can police, enforce and investigate threats in the effort to keep our country safe.

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a projected rise in jobs in police enforcement in general, with slower growth in government employment—except for the newly created Department of Homeland Security. This department employs law enforcement personnel within numerous agencies with roles including border protection, customs enforcement, maritime law enforcement, disaster readiness and intelligence-gathering. Homeland Security employees are involved in management and prevention of natural environmental catastrophes as well as man-made threats.

There is an extremely diverse array of careers within the Homeland Security sector, and their requirements vary depending on the job search. If you want to start a career in homeland security, here are a few things you’ll need to know.

Be a U.S. citizen. Like with most government-sector jobs, you are required to be a U.S. citizen to work for the Department of Homeland Security.

Pass a security clearance check. Many jobs within Homeland Security require a thorough background screening process—which can considerably lengthen the time it takes to land a job. This involves verification of your U.S. citizenship, a criminal background check, a check of records pertaining to you at the FBI, a credit check, and a follow-up with your references and past employers. You’ll also generally have to go through a comprehensive interview process and pass a polygraph exam.

Be a veteran—or the spouse or mother of one. The Federal Government has a veterans’ preference program in place that assures ex-military candidates will be preferred in hiring for most government jobs—and will be the last to be let go during force reductions. To qualify for veterans’ preference, you’ll need to have earned five to ten veterans’ preference points. To earn these points, you must have left the armed forces with an honorable or general discharge. Other factors in your favor include serving during certain time periods or military campaigns—some carry more weight than others and having a compensable disability acquired during service.

Spouses, mothers, widows and widowers can also qualify for veterans’ preference and preference points based on their partner or child’s service. If they qualify for the right number of preference points, they can have the same preference for Federal jobs as veterans themselves.

Get educated. The type of education you’ll need depends on the job you’re going for. In general, some sort of post-secondary education will put you at a vast advantage over other candidates for jobs that don’t require it—and many jobs within the Homeland Security sector do.

If you’re looking for a professional position within a field such as cyber security, you’ll likely need a Bachelor’s degree—although it doesn’t necessarily have to be in computers or technology as long as you have the requisite skills. If you’re going for a position in an agency with an emphasis on enforcement—such as the Border Patrol—you’ll generally need a Bachelor’s degree, although you may be able to get a job with a two-year degree from a law enforcement school or training from the ROTC and some on-the-job experience as well.

Bachelor’s degrees in specialized subjects such as Homeland Security and Disaster Management are available at both traditional and online schools—but you don’t need a specialized degree to get a foot in the door.

Get experience. Homeland Security is a young department—and that means you won’t be competing with other applicants who already have prior departmental experience. Instead, experience from another career may be extremely valuable in your job search if it’s applicable to the position you’re applying for—and it can often make up for the lack of a four-year degree. Backgrounds in law enforcement, intercultural studies, the military, computers and engineering can all be highly valuable in various Homeland Security positions.

Know where to look. It can be tough to find jobs in the Homeland Security sector—but not if you know where to look. The Department of Homeland Security posts job openings at its official website. It also posts them at USAJobs.gov, the official job search website for government positions. The government doesn’t typically advertise in broader venues like Monster.com, so you’ll have to go to the government-sponsored sites to find information.

The Department of Homeland Security protects our country from natural and man-made disasters from a wide range of causes. As a career Homeland Security professional, you’ll likely have a stable, lasting career keeping our country safe. For many, there’s no other career that provides as much reward.