How to Become a Security Officer

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When Courtney Klein was growing up in the Southwest, organizations weren't thinking much about counterterrorism or violent attacks. Now, she's dedicated her career to keeping people safe by working in physical security. Klein describes physical security as "making sure there are physical and psychological structures in place to keep people safe wherever they are." This can involve operational security — thinking about how you operationalize security members by deploying security officers,  training members of an organization, or taking similar measures. 
Klein, currently a security consultant at TNM Security Resources and previously the senior intelligence analyst at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, gave us special insights into the physical security industry and what it takes to keep people safe. She found her passion in intelligence and security consulting after getting her Bachelor's degree in criminal justice. However, there are countless roles in physical security to pursue. One of the most popular roles is security officer or security guard. We've included the most frequently asked questions about becoming a security officer, along with more information on physical security, below. 

What is a security guard?

Security guards patrol and survey buildings and other areas to guard against violations of the law, as well as incidents that could disrupt the operations of their client. They may also answer security alarms or apprehend individuals who pose a threat. 
Security guards are employed by a variety of organizations, such as banks, museums, offices, hospitals and stores. Most security guards work in the private sector. Security guards may specialize in retail loss prevention, armored car protection, gaming surveillance and bouncing.

Do you need a degree to be a security officer?

While there are technically no degree requirements for becoming a security guard, most employers require at least a high school diploma or GED. Some security guard positions, especially in more complex workspaces, require two or four-year college degrees in criminal justice or police work. 
To work in other capacities in physical security, such as physical security consulting, a four-year degree in criminal justice or a similar topic is preferred. 

What are the requirements to become a security guard?

Each employer has its own requirements for security guards. However, there are certain requirements most employers have:
  • Minimum age of 18 
  • High School diploma or GED (Associate’s or Bachelor's degree for some role) 
  • Can pass identity and criminal record checks
  • Completed relevant and approved licensing training 
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • The ability to think quickly and critically

Steps to becoming a security guard. 

To become a security guard, you will proceed through steps similar to the ones below: 
  1. Research the licensing and training required in your state. Research the position you are interested in and whether this licensing and training will be done on-site.
  2. Apply for a position based on your background and credentials. 
  3. Go through a formal interview for the position.
  4. Pass a background check.
  5. Be hired. 
  6. Receive job training once hired.

Security guard education and training. 

College coursework is not required for security officer roles. However, having a High School diploma or equivalent is usually a requirement, and having a college degree can help you break into roles at larger organizations. 
Role-specific training is often required. Some states have a formal licensing process, while most states have state-mandated trainings on what the security guard role, duties and legal limitations of power. 
To work in an armed capacity, additional training is usually required. In some states, an armed security guard license will be required, as will weapons permits. Beyond permit processes, armed guards often have to show proficiency using weapons like a gun with range-tests. 

Other helpful skills and experience. 

Like in many fields, on top of your required education and training, there are outside educational opportunities that will give you a leg up in entering the physical security industry or becoming a security officer. 
Klein suggests looking into the professional development opportunities offered by ASIS International, a professional organization for security professionals. She also suggests keeping up to date with ASIS's security management magazine and industry news offered in other news outlets. Lastly, Klein advocates for volunteering or asking to shadow members of the industry whose careers you admire. This is a great way to build rapport within an organization and to see which roles in physical security truly interest you. 

Security guard salary. 

In 2019, the average salary for a security guard is $27,430 across the United States, according to ZipRecruiter. However, this data shows highs around $40,000 a year. 

Is being a security guard boring? 

No. Physical security work is very dynamic and, according to Klein, requires a constant vigilance and the condensation of many technical skills at once. As a security guard, you are an integral part to how an organization functions and keeps its people safe.

Is being a security guard a good career?

Yes! Physical security is not only intensely interesting – Klein says one of her favorite parts of her job is seeing the buildings and examining the cultures of multiple organizations — it is also meaningful. You are helping others stay safe while assisting your clients in providing their services to the public. Additionally, after being a security guard, there is a lot of room for career movement and growth. 

Future opportunities. 

After being a security officer and expanding your knowledge of physical security and operational security, there is plenty of room to grow your career. Many security guards go on to become law enforcement officials. You may also advance to higher positions of authority within your organization, managing other security guards or training programs, or be asked to create policies and programs. 
If you have a higher education, you may also be able to transition into intelligence roles or consulting roles. Once there, career development is constant. Klein says technologies are always changing and, at her firm, continued industry education is always encouraged.  

To learn more about physical security, watch our webinar here. 

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