Security guards face serious responsibilities on a daily basis: They protect people against fire, theft, vandalism, terrorism and other illegal and dangerous threats. Security guards ensure safety by actively patrolling or using security systems to keep a watchful eye over a facility. Like police officers, many security guards are armed with weapons. Specific tasks vary by setting: Transportation guards use detectors to screen passengers, while security guards at casinos look out for cheating and underage gamblers. Although movies give security guards a bad rap by depicting frequent snoozing on the job, in reality there’s little down time in this line of work, as guards must remain alert to watch for any suspicious activity.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a steady job growth of 12.1 percent for the profession between 2012 and 2022, as concern about crime, vandalism and terrorism continue to increase the need for security. During that time period, the BLS expects that 129,600 new jobs will be added.
According to the BLS, security guards earned a median average salary of $24,070 in 2013. The best-paid earned about $43,150, while the lowest-paid made approximately $17,510. The industries that pay the best include natural gas distribution and electric power generation, transmission and distribution. The highest earners worked in the metropolitan areas of Amarillo, Texas, San Luis Obispo, California, and Ithaca, New York.
Many employers prefer to hire individuals with a high school diploma, although it’s not necessarily required. Previous law enforcement or military experience is a definite plus. Employers frequently run background checks on potential candidates, so a clean criminal record is essential. Some employers also conduct drug tests before hiring a candidate. New employees typically receive an on-site orientation from their employer about their role and responsibilities. Armed security guards must have the proper certification for carrying a weapon and undergo more thorough on-the-job training. Specific policies vary by state, and some state governments have also started registering security guards. This licensing procedure usually involves a background check and some classroom training on top of what’s required by employers.
“Someone aspiring to a career as a security officer should demonstrate a commitment to values such as integrity, vigilance and helpfulness; a willingness for professional development; a focus on customer service; a desire to work as a team and an ability to utilize technology,” says Rocco DeFelice, executive vice president of Securitas Security Services USA, a firm that provides specialized, remote and mobile guarding, as well as corporate risk management for a variety of businesses and industries. A candidate will have ample opportunity to exhibit these qualities during the application process. As DeFelice explains, applicants face a relatively extensive application process that includes a background check, drug screen, in-depth interview and pre-assignment training. Employers also like to see tenure of at least two years in prior jobs as a sign of stability.