Qualifications vary by agency, but a bachelor's degree is usually required. Most employers require candidates to pass oral, written, and psychological exams.
Communication skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to effectively interact and communicate with a wide range of people.
Critical-thinking skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to assess the needs of individual offenders before determining the best resources for helping them.
Decision-making skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must consider the relative costs and benefits of potential actions and be able to choose appropriately.
Emotional stability. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must cope with hostile or otherwise upsetting situations, as well as with other stresses on the job.
Organizational skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to manage multiple case files at one time.
Writing skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists interpret training materials and write detailed reports on a regular basis.
A bachelor's degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology, or a related field is usually required. Some employers require a master's degree in a related field for candidates who do not have previous related work experience.
Although job requirements may vary, related work may include work in probation, pretrial services, parole, corrections, criminal investigations, substance abuse treatment, social work, or counseling. Work in any of these fields is typically considered a plus in the hiring process.
Most probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must complete a training program sponsored by their state government or the federal government, after which they may have to pass a certification test. In addition, they may be required to work as trainees or on a probationary period for up to 1 year before being offered a permanent position.
Some probation officers go on to specialize in a certain type of casework. For example, an officer may work only with domestic violence offenders or deal only with substance-abuse cases. Officers receive training specific to the group that they are working with so that they are better prepared to help that type of offender.
Most agencies require applicants to be at least 21 years old and, for federal employment, not older than 37 years of age. In addition, most departments require candidates to have a record free of felony convictions and to submit to drug testing. A valid driver’s license is often required.
Advancement to supervisory positions is primarily based on experience and performance. A graduate degree, such as a master's degree in criminal justice, social work, or psychology, may be helpful or required for advancement.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition