From belt keepers to gatekeepers, the transition from the public to the private sector may seem like a natural fit. However, how does law enforcement experience measure up when compared to the fierce competition in the anti-money laundering (AML) industry? Are the knowledge, skills and abilities of a law enforcement applicant easily transferable to a position within the Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) field? For that matter, what makes a law enforcement applicant best suited for change?
From Officer to Office
The shift from law enforcement to the private sector may seem like a reward for years of public service, but it is a decision that must be assessed against the realities of the “corporate life.” Budget cuts vs. bonuses and financial stability vs. considerable salary are just a few things for law enforcement officers to consider before retiring the lifestyle that is the product of their career. With that in mind, it is necessary to not only mentally prepare for these changes but also to learn how to best capture the career experiences that match the desired qualifications of a hiring firm.
Discovering the factors behind your own decision-making process can customize your industry and job search
The most important question for hiring firms to ask and for law enforcement to answer is “Why?” The answer to the why question has an impact on your job search experience and drive. Why are you, the applicant, leaving law enforcement and applying for in-house roles? Why did you originally join law enforcement? Why do you believe leaving law enforcement is the best move now? Why is banking and/or consulting better than the job you have now? How applicants answer these questions will give substantial insight into his/her own driving motivation. Discovering the factors behind your own decision-making process can customize your industry and job search. However, during this journey of self-discovery, it is essential to remember that while the responses may be sincere, it is vital to “dress to impress” the answers. Let us analyze legitimate retirement reasons, but focus on the ornamentation:
“Because I am retiring”
— This is a simple, honest and practical answer. However, hiring managers may doubt your dedication and work ethic after paying your dues and thus make you unfit for the position. It is important to clarify that you are not ready to retire but rather ready to transition your crime-fighting efforts to the private sector. Words matter.
“Because I want a more flexible schedule”
— Although a law enforcement officer may have been classified as “essential” and holidays were nothing more than figments of the imagination, this phrasing could be interpreted by the hiring manager as being a clock-watcher or even indicative of laziness. Practically speaking, while the shift may not wax and wane, the hours remain long and demanding.
“Because the grass is greener”
— A better job? A well-run administration? There are misconceptions about all career fields and it is important to remember politics exist in all organizations and an applicant must be prepared to demonstrate his/her merit coupled with integrity and savviness. In an environment where an annual increase is not guaranteed, ambitions, jealousies and competition are driving factors that must be met with the character expected of a professional law enforcement officer.
All dressed up, but where to go?
If expectations are not “sized,” this can lead to a different type of law enforcement apprehension; for example, support function angst. What positions are best suited for a law enforcement applicant to pursue? As the transition becomes reality, applicants must begin by first weighing permanent/full-time roles against contract/consulting roles. Once an applicant realizes their personal goals, he/she can determine if a temporary or long-term position is in line with their expectations.
Fortunately, a law enforcement background is the “cut above” experience that is in demand in all industries. In financial services, though, former law enforcement officers fit well into specific AML and compliance verticals. However, to be clear, qualified and confident law enforcement applicants can get a job in any vertical or department of a financial services firm’s compliance program. Some natural fits include:
- Financial intelligence units (FIU) or transaction monitoring and investigations (TMI): The backbone of a real-time AML and financial security program, FIUs and TMIs help the firm decide whether to work with current and potential clients. They conduct enhanced due diligence on accounts, monitor flagged activity, investigate vetted suspicious activity and begin, what you would consider, the internal version of an official law enforcement investigation.
- Fraud: Fraud, compliance and BSA/AML are all part of the same mission, but have different arrangements at different institutions. Fraud departments are a great starting point for post-law enforcement, white-collar professionals. Bigger financial institutions that have retail products (retail and consumer banks, retail insurers, fintech firms that provide taxing services [seriously!]) all need fraud investigators for internal employees and external customers.
- Management consulting: Management consulting gives you the chance to be employed by one company, but travel and work on many different projects with multiple clients. Former examiners and law enforcement professionals have created many boutique and large management-consulting firms.
- Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity is important to nations and corporations alike. Law enforcement at all governmental levels should consider taking on cybercrime assignments, if possible. Management consulting firms are building out their cybersecurity practice areas too.
- Physical security: Physical security is a complicated matter when working with multiple locations and the always-varying number of people in any given spot. Law enforcement makes great candidates for physical security roles at banks, real estate management companies and amusement parks (i.e., Disney World).
There is no need to typecast an applicant into one corporate profile. It is also important to investigate the positions that may not have originally been a good fit for a law enforcement skillset and personality. Thus, look at all types of industries.
Where do you want to be when you go into retirement? Ask all your former law enforcement colleagues who went in-house how they are doing. Who is genuinely happy in their new role? You just might be suitable for that same job.
From Capturing Lowlifes to Highlights
With the end of duty begins the concerted effort to underscore the experiences that came with a career in law enforcement. Choosing the content to bullet point in a resume requires a targeted approach to reviewing one’s career highlights. An expert score at the firearms range is not an expertise necessarily needed to qualify as a Bank Secrecy Act officer. The natural inclination for a law enforcement officer is to emphasize arrests, successful prosecutions and assignments. What in a law enforcement officer’s past should be featured when striving for a future in the BSA/AML field?
While there are no standard templates, there are best practices that provide the guidance necessary to create a “just” resume. Recruiters who specialize in addressing the needs of the private sector by promoting the best of the public sector have shared their successes in order to help law enforcement tailor their curriculum vitae.
Hiring managers and recruiters always want to see an aesthetically pleasing resume. “Good-looking” resumes with substance are hard to pass up. You can use professional resume builders or copy the formatting (not the content) of resumes you like online. Make sure you have multiple people review it. However, be very wary of where and to whom you send your resume. Vet potential recruiters before blindly sending your resume and keep track of how many times you email it. You do not know how many subsequent “forwards” there are. Below are a few of the pertinent recommendations:
- Research your favorite style, template and format that you can copy, enhance and tailor to your own preference and image. Do not rely solely on Microsoft Word or other software resume templates. You should send out resumes that not only proudly summarize your background, but also make you proud of their style. It is important to remember that recruiters or hiring managers’ first judgment of who you are is based on the way your resume looks.
- Make sure the structure is clear and consistent. In general, resumes layer information from the big picture to the small details. For instance, we start with our name and end with the software we know best. In addition, within each job we have held, we mention the name of the employer, the years of employment, a description of the employer (maybe), and then a summary of both tactical daily responsibilities and our success stories. Make sure—and this cannot be emphasized enough—that all fonts, sizes, formatting, margins and alignments are 100 percent consistent. Do not fluctuate from formatting consistency even once because discrepancies are relatively easy to spot, especially when you are in the business of looking at them. Moreover, it could create a horn effect (opposite of halo effect) bias from the start.1 Hiring managers and recruiters—alike —could believe you are not detail-oriented, do not care enough to edit your resume diligently or are naturally sloppy. Mitigate all chances of being at a disadvantage even before walking through the door for an interview. This is a common circumstance with former law enforcement. Oftentimes, resumes with grammar mistakes or poor style are sent relying on the applicant’s reputation rather than what is reflected on paper. Strong writing skills are in demand more than ever.
In place of an objective, include a summary section. Summaries are made up of bullet points of your quantitative and qualitative skills. This is a good section for you to concentrate on buzzwords, such as “analytical skills” or “strong leadership,” so that you appear in recruiters’ searches. Recruiters use applicant-tracking systems (ATS) to search for candidates’ resumes using buzzwords they find on job descriptions, because recruiters, like law enforcement, can have limited time. As a result, you want your resume front and center for roles that pertain to your skillset and background. Lastly, the “one-page resume” is a myth. If you just graduated college or graduate school, you will not have much experience to present, so keep it to one page (and write strong cover letters). Nevertheless, if you have enough content to fill up most of a second page, then go for it. However, this content has to be as important as the information provided on the first page. In addition, if you have a two-page resume, it is suggested to add your educational background information on the second page. This will make any recruiter and talent specialist turn the page. Finally, consider adding the “prized” features. Below are some noteworthy accomplishments that should be highlighted in a resume:
Emphasize the extras:
— Any and all promotions, such as officer to detective
— Both remediation and prevention:
What did you discover and fix after the fact?
What, from experience, wherewithal and good judgment, did you help prevent?
— Investigations, experience and participation
To what extent were you involved: participant, team leader, commanding officer, etc.?
Successfully being a member of teams and how you added leadership to them
The degree of sensitivity, complexity and confidentiality of work
— Communication skills with the chain of command, across different jurisdictions and between departments
— Formal and informal training you had from being part of special committees, teams or investigations
— The positive effect you had on your colleagues. Were you tasked with formally or informally training others?
Designing the Cover Letter
Like the resume, figure out what formatting fits who you are best. Choose your own style while maintaining the required professionalism.
In addition, have distinct paragraphs, so that each paragraph has a function and purpose. You should have a general cover letter that acts as a template. However, each cover letter you submit has to be tailored to the job you are applying to. For instance, a general cover letter could look like this:
- Introduction: Who are you as a person? What sworn position is held and with what agency?
- Second paragraph: Describe what you learned in law enforcement and your proud moments.
- Third paragraph: Provide a more detailed synopsis of your skillset and life lessons that pertain to that particular role (this will be the most edited paragraph).
- Conclusion: Write a wrap-up of who you are, what you have done, what you have learned and most importantly, what you want to do next and why this particular role appeals to you.
Styling a law enforcement officer’s resume that garners the interest of an employer begins with the mental readiness of the applicant
Styling a law enforcement officer’s resume that garners the interest of an employer begins with the mental readiness of the applicant. Only when a contender has accepted they are no longer serving a process but processing service requests will he/she be a viable candidate. Thus, make sure to accentuate on a resume both the desk-oriented duties (writing, formal presentations, trainings attended and certified, strong communication experience across different levels of management, etc.) and successful involvement in complicated investigations. Having a polished resume is just the beginning. In order to impress at the interview, get ready to roll up your sleeves.
- The halo effect and horn effect are both biases we all succumb to. The halo effect occurs when you have a positive view of someone based on an action (quality, characteristic, value, etc.) that skews your judgement. The horn effect occurs when you have a negative opinion that affects your assessment and causes you to have a negative impression of all subsequent interactions.