wikiHow to Be a Probation Officer

Three Parts:Having the QualificationsFinding EmploymentGoing on the Job

A probation officer, sometimes referred to as a PO, is an officer of the court. To be a probation officer entails supervising, implementing and enforcing court-ordered probation given to a convicted offender. If you feel like you have the stuff to get criminal offenders on the right path, this page is for you. Here's how to get started.

Part 1
Having the Qualifications

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    Get your bachelor's degree. The educational requirements to be a probation officer will vary by region or agency. However, a bachelor's or master's degree in criminal justice, social work or psychology is usually required. Some agencies may accept work experience in correction, parole services or court services in lieu of education.
    • A master's degree is required for rising up the corporate ladder or for working at the federal level.[1] An upper-level degree in the social sciences or criminal justice would be ideal.
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    Meet the training requirements. In order to qualify for the training program (usually just a month or two -- varies by state), you'll need to meet certain requirements. State and federal government agencies will post mandatory requirements (and other necessary details) on their website. Most look something like the following:
    • Applicants must be at least age 20, but less than 38 years old.
      • A few states, like Florida, will consider 19 year olds.[2]
    • You need to pass all emotional, physical and mental examinations.
    • Provide valid proof of citizenship or legal residency with a passport, visa or birth certificate.
    • Have a clean criminal record. You can't be managing criminals if you're one yourself.
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    Be in good physical and mental condition. If you weren't already aware, probation officers need to be in pretty awesome physical and mental shape. This can be a very, very demanding job. Not only will you be working with people who are physically intimidating, but they'll test your mental endurance, too. In order to succeed in this position, you need to be on top of your game.
    • You'll probably have an office, sure, but you'll be doing plenty of work out in the field, too. You'll be visiting your offenders in their natural environment which might include some sticky situations. In general, the stock of people you're working with won't be drinking champagne out of golden flutes. The environment itself can be draining, in addition to the possible need to get physical.
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    Be stable. Your job will be working with people (often kids, really), that don't exactly have their acts together. You have to be a rock -- on the outside for them and on the inside for you. You'll be helping them find their path (a better path) and need to be someone they respect and trust. You also need to get through you work day, staying strong and positive, despite all the negative things you have to deal with.
    • If you're particularly moved by poverty, abuse, violence, or anything else associated with the criminal system, this job may not be for you. There is a certain level of sensitivity you need to help your clients and a certain level of "de-sensitivity" you need to help your clients. You shouldn't be insensitive, but you need to be a teeny bit desensitized. You can't feel for everyone.

Part 2
Finding Employment

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    Volunteer. The best way to show you're serious about this before you even start applying is through volunteering. And it's the main way to get experience! You could do work at a hospital, a juvenile detention center, correctional facility, or anything that's semi-related and interesting to you.
    • Some states, like Georgia[3], require a letter of interest to be considered for employment. It'll be a whole heck of a lot easier to write if you have experience!
      • In addition to volunteering, some states have internships they recommend their trainees get. All the information you need is available online.
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    Look on your state's website for opportunities. Along with qualifications and internships, plenty of states have job postings on their websites. You may even find an application form! While you're looking up requirements, take a gander at the openings. It'll give you a good starting point for what the market looks like and what the jobs entail.
    • There are other agencies you could work for, too, that will be on a smaller level. Consider your county's website or criminal jurisdiction as well, in addition to independent facilities.
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    Focus on a specialty. Probation officers have two distinct fields: youth probation and adult probation. Juvenile or youth probationers are under the age of 18. Adult probationers are age 18 and older. The salary starts in the mid $30,000 range and increases with experience.[4]
    • Working with children is always a little risky. While the payoff may be greater (seeing them amount to wonderful things thanks to guidance from you is incredibly gratifying), the risk is greater too (not all of them will succeed). Generally, it's something you know you want to do -- or know you don't want to do.
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    Complete an employment application. If you meet all the requirements and you see a job you like, apply! After a few minutes pressing buttons, it'll be done -- so why not?
    • Read the entire job posting or job announcement for minimum qualifications.
    • Download an application from a prospective employer's website.
    • Fill all applicable blanks. Put N/A if the question does not apply to you.
    • List only relevant information for the position and include volunteer information.
    • Be attentive to the required experience and training. Note any special requirements.
    • Input dates accurately for training, employment or education questions.
    • Attach required documents such as degrees and credentials.
    • Make sure the correct format is used.
    • Print a copy of employment packet for your personal file.
    • Submit documents in a timely manner.
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    Review your job duties. Duties of a probation officer involve many facets. A person must be willing to be a counselor, disciplinarian, social worker and enforcer. Make sure you're willing and able to complete them all. A probation officer must:
    • Investigate background, environment, personal and family history.
    • Submit compliance or non-compliance reports to the court.
    • Make recommendations based on dispositions.
    • Initiate revocation of probation or modification of procedures.
    • Perform interviews and analysis.
    • Enforce court-ordered community services, restitution and fines.
    • Attend court hearings and give testimony.
    • Interact with diverse groups.
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    Get trained. Often upon being hired, your employer will enlist you in some type of government training. This usually only lasts a matter of weeks and is paid. It may or may not include dealing with firearms.
    • This is the schooling that will prepare you for the certification exam. In addition to a college degree, the training and examination are the main obstacles that stand in your way. However, your employer should facilitate most of this, making it easier on you.
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    Pass a background check and drug tests. In order to successfully pass the training and examination, you need to have all your "t"s crossed and "i"s dotted. A clean record and drug test are must-haves. You'll be given a psychological assessment and a physical, too. These are the easy tests, though!
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    Pass the certification exam. Each candidate must successfully complete and pass a series of written and oral certification exams. The certification process may include firearm exercises. This will be at the end of your training and will be facilitated by your program trainer.
    • Each state has a slightly different process. In order to know what to expect, talk to your mentors! Your employer and those running your program are great resources to prod.

Part 3
Going on the Job

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    Brush up. There are a plethora of skills a good probation officer must have. In addition to being able to read people, get information out of them, and know what's best for them, you have to get book smart, too.
    • Familiarize yourself with the laws in your state and at the federal level. And the consequential punishments, of course. Knowing the procedures when it comes to what's happening around you will help you make sense of your environment.
    • You'll be writing reports almost daily, so hone those writing skills. Other people will be judging you on your writing, so make it good!
    • People skills, as stated, are invaluable on the job. Keep up with policies in your work environment (harassment, confidentiality, etc.) in addition to gaining the trust of those who depend on you.
    • If you're familiar with another language or two (in the US, Spanish and prominent Asian languages will be the most useful), stay on it. If it's not incredibly useful already, it will be.
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    Be prepared for dangerous situations. Most of the time you'll be working with people that only have minor offenses to their name.[5]</ref> Those on probation will be first-time offenders and those that aren't doing jail time (hopefully). That being said, that doesn't mean you won't get put into situations that aren't slightly threatening. You probably will. And if you know that's in the cards, you can prepare yourself.
    • You'll be wandering through your fair share of halfway homes or houses, decrepit parts of town, and just in general not being around, well, the most trustworthy of folks. You may find that people don't like you just because of your job title. Things can get heated. Never resort to violence if you don't absolutely have to.
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    Check up on your parolees. A large part of your job as a probation officer will be to run constant check up on your offenders. You'll be doing interviews, seeing how they're doing, making sure they're on the right track, helping them pay fines, pointing them in the right direction, and finding them opportunities in addition to running urine tests and the like. This won't always be fun, but it can be rewarding when you see someone who's turned around and living life to the fullest.
    • If one of your cases doesn't violate their probation, you do have the power to arrest them.[5] Depending on your agency and your cases, you may be issued identification, a firearm, and other tools to pad your arsenal.
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    Get ready for a hectic schedule. Some probation officers are on-call pretty much 24/7. If a case of yours goes awry, you may get a phone call in the middle of the night. These things will happen. You deal with them in stride.
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    Be both Dr. Phil and a UFC fighter.[6] Though they're sort of mutually exclusive, for you they can't be. You need to be a metaphorical arrow for the people you work with, showing them where they need to go. You also need to show them who's boss. If Dr. Phil were kicking butt and taking names, he'd look like you.
    • It's a fine line to toe, but an understanding hard-ass is what would serve you best in this work world. People will be tempted to take advantage of you and you can't let them. However, you also have to act in their best interest and not your own. If you can cultivate a personality that's both oriented to the other and yet rational, logical, and unmoved, you'll be off to a good start.


  • Volunteer for a juvenile or youth agency. The experience will help to determine if this field is right for you.
  • This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Do your research and talk to officers before you commit to this career. It can be very, very draining on your psyche.


  • A probation officer's job can be stressful and may require non-traditional work hours.
  • Dangerous situations may occur while supervising convicted offenders.

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