What Does a Criminal Profiler Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Day in the Life of a Criminal Profiler

Image by Jiaqi Zhou. © The Balance 2019

Criminal profiling started to become a major focus of the FBI in the 1970s, and in the decades since then, it has become a common tool in investigating and solving crimes. One of the most common sources of employment for criminal profilers in the U.S. is the FBI, which also provides training in the practice to other law enforcement officials around the world.

Many people have become familiar with criminal profiling through popular movies and television shows that highlight the practice of developing psychological profiles of criminals based on their behaviors.

Criminal Profiler Duties & Responsibilities

The job of a criminal profiler requires the ability to perform the following tasks:

  • Visiting and analyzing crime scenes
  • Analyzing evidence
  • Reading reports from investigators and other analysts
  • Studying human behaviors and characteristics
  • Developing psychological profiles
  • Writing reports
  • Providing court testimony
  • Working with police officers and detectives
  • Teaching

Criminal profilers consult with local police or other law enforcement agencies on major cases that require their specific expertise. Profilers also might serve as lead investigators on some cases.

The objective of profilers is to develop a psychological profile of a suspect based on the evidence available. The nature of specific crimes and the clues left behind can help skilled profilers deduce that the responsible criminal likely possesses certain traits or characteristics. Profilers may visit crime scenes or they may assist from afar by reviewing and analyzing evidence.

Some profilers also teach and train prospective FBI agents and other law enforcement officers about the techniques used in criminal profiling and the skills necessary.

Criminal Profiler Salary

Criminal profilers who work for the FBI are paid according to the federal government's general schedule paytable. Pay for special agents falls between schedules 10 and 13, which ranges from $48,973 for schedule 10's step 1 and $99,691 for schedule 13's step 10. Supervisory special agents are paid according to schedules 14 and 15, which ranges from $90,621 to $138,572.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a separate category for criminal profilers, but it does note that police and detectives working for the federal government earn a median annual salary of $87,130, which is significantly higher than the numbers for all police and detectives. Detectives and criminal investigators in all branches of government earn a median annual salary of $81,920. Pay for all police, including detectives is reported to be:

  • Median Annual Salary: $63,380 ($30.47/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $106,090 ($51.00/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $36,550 ($17.57/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

A bachelor's degree is the bare minimum educational requirement, but advanced degrees are common among criminal profilers. Years of experience and advanced training are required to become a profiler.

  • Education: Getting started in law enforcement in general does not require a specific type of degree, but undergraduate programs in psychology, criminal justice, or forensics are a good starting point. Prospective criminal profilers often enhance their chances by pursuing advanced degrees in those or similar fields.
  • Experience: Former criminal profiler and author Dr. Mary Ellen O'Toole states that most investigators have between seven and 15 years of experience before joining the FBI's BAU. Many profilers are FBI special agents who work at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) at Quantico, Virginia, or they are investigators from large state or local agencies. The bottom line is that to become a profiler, it is necessary to receive law enforcement training from a police academy, as well as build a long resume of investigative experience.
  • Training: O'Toole states that even after joining the BAU—which requires completing FBI Academy training—agents undergo an additional two or three years of training that involves classroom work and working with an experienced profiler.

Criminal Profiler Skills & Competencies

In addition to specific training necessary to work in law enforcement, criminal profilers need to be highly skilled in several areas to be effective at their jobs. 

  • Perception: Good profilers are able to see things most people might miss. More than just recognizing clues at a crime scene, they are able to pick up on the social cues of others and see patterns where they are not obvious.
  • Attention to detail: Even the smallest piece of information can be relevant. Good profilers recognize this and make note of small details even if they don't seem relevant at the time. They may turn out to be relevant once other evidence is uncovered or analyzed.
  • Analytical skills: The job often involves putting together a profile of a person the profilers have not met. This requires identifying behaviors and traits based on the way crimes were committed, where they were committed, and when and how, and why they might have been committed.
  • Communication skills: Because they often consult with other police agencies, criminal profilers need to have excellent communication skills. This often involves helping to walk other law enforcement officials through the process of seeing how profilers reached the conclusions they have reached.
  • Physical fitness: Those working as FBI agents especially need to maintain a high level of physical fitness. Prospective agents must meet specific requirements, and fitness must be maintained.

Job Outlook

Criminal profiling is a highly specialized and competitive field. While demand for the expertise criminal profilers can provide is high, it takes several years for investigators to gain the necessary experience and skills. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not measure job growth for criminal profilers specifically, but it does project growth for forensic science technicians at 17 percent for the decade ending in 2026. This is more than twice the rate of growth projected for police and detectives in general, which suggests a greater potential for investigators with specialized skills.

Work Environment

Criminal profilers can serve either as the lead investigators in major crimes or as consultants to other law enforcement agencies who have sought out the assistance and expertise of profilers. The details and nature of many cases can be gruesome or otherwise troubling. Criminal profilers often are working on crimes that are violent in nature or the work of serial criminals. Some profilers consulting on cases may do so from a distance, analyzing evidence and providing insight to lead investigators.

Work Schedule

Schedules can be unpredictable. While criminal profilers often will work during normal business hours analyzing evidence and performing other investigative functions, major crimes demanding the work of profilers can happen at any time.

How to Get the Job


Becoming a criminal profiler often is the culmination of a long career as an investigator.


Prospective criminal profilers must be committed to spending years gaining the necessary skills and experience.


Competition for openings often is fierce and may require repeated efforts.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a career as a criminal profiler might also consider the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018