If it's excitement and financial reward you're after, think about joining the police

Jayme Johnson, 24, a history graduate working the beat in inner London, is one of those who was attracted. "I looked at a lot of different careers, from finance to marketing to HR but this was the only one that looked really challenging," says Johnson, who contacted his local police station for information.

Johnson filled in the application form and got through to the assessment centre stage, which involves maths and written English tests plus an interview. This is followed by fitness and medical tests, described by one police officer as "ridiculously easy". Even so, it's worth getting into training before joining up: as PC Johnson points out, it is a physical job. There are also, of course, background security checks. This whole process can take time, although the bottlenecks at the training schools, which have seen some candidates wait a year or more, are now easing.

New recruits enter a standard two-year training programme (except the Met, which has its own system). In general, the first 30 weeks on the job involve formal training at a special training centre, studying the law and the core skills required of a police officer, plus time out on patrol with a trained tutor constable, who advises on how to put the theory into practice.

One London-based PC, who asked to remain anonymous because of promotion to a specialist squad, says it's important that recruits commit themselves to the training process. "The training at Hendon was very tough because there's no let up," she recalls. "They warned us at the beginning that one third of us would be gone by the end of the course - they were right."

For those who stick with it, it's the start of a challenging but rewarding career. Salaries start at £19,800 (there's a generous London allowance of around £6,000) and rise to more than £22,000 on completion of the training period, with annual increments thereafter. There are also plenty of promotion opportunities, particularly as many senior officers are now approaching retirement age.

High flyers can apply to join the High Potential Development Scheme and there are opportunities to join specialist squads, such as firearms units, fraud squad or special branch, which combats terrorism. And then there's detection work: around one in eight of all police staff is a member of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which investigates serious crime.

Not all police jobs are frontline, however. There are opportunities to work as a Station Enquiry Officer, manning the front desk, or as a communications controller, taking 999 calls and mobilizing resources. There are also opportunities to work as a Police Community Support Officer, patrolling local communities and focusing on low-level crime.

The job isn't for everybody, however. Valerie King, recruitment manager for Hampshire Constabulary, recommends that potential recruits contact their local police and arrange to shadow a shift as an observer.

"It gives you a feel for what police officers do," says King. "But it's also important to remember that after the excitement of being on the beat, police officers have to deal with a large amount of paperwork."

She also suggests considering the impact a demanding job and shift work - 12-hour night shifts can take some getting used to - may have on your family and social life. "It can be very fulfilling and worthwhile, but it's important to go into it with your eyes open," says King.

Even so, recruits were full of enthusiasm for the job. PC Jayme Johnson, coming to the end of his first year as a probationer, says it's a very busy but rewarding job. "It's really surpassed my expectations," he says.