Q: I am 18 years old and interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. I am aware of the fact that I need to be at least 21 years old to apply. What I’d like to know is how did you know law enforcement was the right career for you? Was it your first choice?

A: Knowing which career is right for you is a difficult and personal question to answer. Before choosing law enforcement as a career, there are many factors you should consider.

Careers in law enforcement include a wide range of specialized positions, like detective, training officer, traffic enforcement (motors), S.W.A.T., and neighborhood resource officer, to name just a few of the positions that exist in the Santa Monica Police Department. One of these positions could be the perfect fit for you, but before you can attain a specialized job, you must be able to successfully graduate from a police academy.

After the academy, new officers are also required to successfully demonstrate their ability to be an effective patrol officer before they can move to a specialized position. I’ll share with you my experience in choosing law enforcement as a career. Remember, not every officer has the same experience.

Becoming a police officer was not my first career choice, although it should have been. I attended a high school with an emphasis on science and medicine. During my senior year in high school, I discovered that I really didn’t have a passion for medicine. One of my teachers saw that too. He gave me a career personality test and asked me to be completely honest in answering all of the questions. So I did. I took the test and answered every question as honestly as I could. My test results revealed my personality was best suited for a career in law enforcement or firefighting. I didn’t believe the test was correct, and at that time in my life, I could not see myself as a police officer or a firefighter.

I ended up pursuing different career paths and found myself unhappy in each one. The results from the career personality test finally began to make sense to me. The only thing I needed to do was choose between police officer and firefighter. I chose police officer, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve been a police officer for more than 17 years and I still love it. It’s a career that I’m passionate about. I consider myself to be lucky in a way. I was lucky that I didn’t wait too long before I chose a career that fit my personality.

I can’t think of a fail-proof way to tell whether or not a specific career is going to be the right fit for any given person. Sometimes people have a “gut” feeling or maybe even possess a natural talent to know what career is right for him or her. Others find the right career through counselors or friends. If you’re currently enrolled in school, consider seeking advice from one of your school’s counselors. Counselors will have more information on career personality tests as well as information on areas to study for any career choice.

You may also want to look into becoming a police explorer. You can find out more information on the Santa Monica Police Department’s Explorer program by calling (310) 434-2627.

My experience may be different from other police officers. There are many officers throughout the country who have never taken a personality test but are passionate about their careers in law enforcement. A career personality test is just one way that may guide you in choosing a career that’s right for you. Please note that many people may qualify to become police officers based on their personality, but this job is not for everyone. You’ll need a lot more than personality to be a police officer.

A school counselor is probably your best resource in seeking information about career personality tests. However, there are a number of resources you can find online about career personality tests. All you have to do is type in “career personality test” in the search engine of your choice (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.), and find a test. Most of the tests are free and don’t ask for any personal information. If you decide to take one, just make sure you answer the questions as honestly as you can. You wouldn’t want to cheat yourself out of a great career that best fits you.

This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Mike Boyd (Beat 8: Pico Neighborhood). He can be reached at (424) 200-0688 or Michael.boyd@smgov.net.