Probation officer

Starting your probation officer career

By Liam Dale

​We recently wrote about how you can start a career as a probation services officer, but for those with a little more experience and a relevant degree, you may find that your sights are set upon working in a more senior role. Working as a probation officer means that you’ll be working directly with offenders and helping them to rehabilitate themselves back into society.

It’s a fulfilling career choice and one which is extremely popular for those who may have worked in adjacent sectors (such as social work, housing, youth offending or prison services) and are looking for a new challenge.

A key part of the recruitment strategy for the National Probation Service is their regular assessment days. These assessment days take place throughout the country; not only do they facilitate interview opportunities, but they provide opportunities to learn more about probation officer jobs.

You can apply to qualify on the official HM Prison and Probation Service website.

What qualifications do I need?

Unlike more junior roles, to work in a probation officer position you must have a relevant degree or a Level 5 qualification.

Those with degrees in behavioural science, criminal justice or social work are highly sought after.

What if I don’t have a Level 5 qualification?

You can apply to participate in the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQIP) programme which is a full time, work-based learning initiative.

As part of the programme, you will be required to work in a probation services officer job role whilst simultaneously studying and learning the theory behind probation. Therefore, the PQIP is an extremely popular choice for those already working in a PSO role who are actively seeking a promotion to a more senior position.

You’ll receive a Level 5 vocational qualification in probation practice as well as an honours degree.

Make the most of your experience

It’s vital that you highlight your relevant experience during the assessment days. The assessors will be looking to find the right candidate who has a history of supporting those in need and will succeed in the PQIP programme.

If you have a social work background and you’re keen to make the switch to probation, then it’s wise to show your multidisciplinary expertise. Try to find examples of when you’ve worked with other agencies and how you have effectively influenced positive outcomes.

For those working in the housing or criminal justice sectors, you should also try to find examples of times when you’ve worked with people demonstrating challenging behaviours or who have chaotic lives. You may also have relevant experience from voluntary roles which could help you stand out from other candidates.

How long will it take to complete the PQIP?

The programme is expected to take between 15-21 months to complete, depending upon your previous qualifications and experience.

The Train to be a Probation Officer website has a really useful infographic which clearly showcases the routes to qualification.

We have written a series of blogs around starting and navigating your probation career. There are also a number of useful resources on our careers hub.