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How to recruit at colleges and military bases (it’s not what you think)

It’s time to ditch career fairs and start developing relationships

Cobb_Matt_Topeka Police Speaking with Students.jpg

Before you can start successfully recruiting at colleges and military installations, it’s essential to do your homework and make connections.

Photo/Matthew Cobb

This is the third in a monthly series providing tips and best practices law enforcement agencies can deploy to improve police officer recruitment. Last month, we reviewed how to develop a police recruiting presentation that works. Email your police recruitment tips to

When law enforcement recruiters consider how to recruit police candidates from colleges and military installations, career fairs usually come to mind. The problem is that police officers are rarely hired from career fairs.

The Topeka Police Department has found more successful ways to recruit at these venues. It’s time to ditch the career fairs and start developing relationships.

Before you can start successfully recruiting at colleges and military installations, it’s essential to do your homework and make connections.

Recruiting at colleges

Get in touch with the professors in the degree fields you want to recruit from. Don’t limit yourself to criminal justice and related degrees; look at degree fields with traditionally low placement rates and wages.

Tell the professors your agency is interested in providing career opportunities for their students and see if they will let you talk to them. The idea is that you need to hire cops, and the students need jobs when they graduate. Sounds easy enough, but it could take weeks – maybe months – to get into classrooms.

Some professors may not be open to giving up class time so you can recruit. Start by asking if you can be a guest speaker during certain class topics, such as evidence collection, ethics and report writing, to help contextualize that day’s topic. Once you’ve become a staple in the classroom and provided value for all the stakeholders, see if you can change gears and discuss recruiting.

Recruiting at military installations

Most people join the military after high school, meaning they get out between May and August. Members must attend Transition Assistance Program (TAP) classes before being discharged. Start developing relationships with TAP personnel. See if they’ll allow you to display some posters and brochures in their classrooms. While you’re there, talk about your agency’s interest in hiring veterans. Remember, it’s about the veterans getting jobs, not about you hiring cops.

See if they’ll give you 15 minutes to deliver a recruiting presentation to one of the upcoming classes. Evolve to longer presentations and on-site testing. Once again, this may not happen overnight. The TAP process is a big deal, and not everyone who asks will get class time. It’s important to make a good impression and build trust. Consider having a veteran help develop these relationships – someone who has sat through TAPs classes and understands the process.

Putting it all together

Read this article before you develop and deliver your recruiting presentations. End your presentation with the message of “this was for you, not me.”

Tell the students and service members you can’t hire all of them, but you can help them – the things you discussed (pay, benefits and working conditions) are what they should be asking other law enforcement recruiters about.

Make yourself available if they have questions, offer to speak with their friends and family to address concerns about a career in law enforcement, and offer to put them in contact with other agencies they’re interested in. I know that sounds crazy, but it works wonders for my agency’s credibility and reputation when someone tells me their heart is set on moving back home and I set up a group chat with that agency’s recruiter. In my experience, doing business this way has made some students only want to work in Topeka.

Don’t waste your time researching generational stereotypes, which are rarely based on anything but anecdotes that may increase misunderstandings between your agency and potential applicants. Treat everyone with respect, develop relationships and remember it’s about them – not you or your agency. It will pay off.

Vidal Campos, the recruiting and hiring sergeant for the Topeka Police Department, has been wildly successful in implementing these college and military recruiting concepts. His years of hard work networking with college professors and TAP personnel and developing relationships with students and service members have resulted in a steady flow of applicants for the department.

Back to career fairs

Want to know how to successfully recruit at career fairs and get the best candidates (including minorities and females) who want to be cops? Look no further than the other career fair booths.

NEXT: Setting the record straight on law enforcement retention

Sergeant Matt Cobb has served with the Topeka Police Department for 15 years. He currently administers the Topeka Police Academy. Sergeant Cobb is a Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Baker University, maintains numerous law enforcement instructor certifications and owns three businesses.