If you’re looking for a job that has meaning and allows you to assist and protect others, you might consider becoming a Security Officer or security guard. Security Officers work in a wide range of sectors, from the government to education to retail. They have the essential role of protecting the people and property at a specific location.
Many Security Officers have a background in law enforcement or have military training, but not all do. If you’re interested in learning how to become a security guard, you’ll need to consider the characteristics that many Security Officers possess and the skills you should develop to succeed on the job.
How to Become a Security Officer
The requirements for a Security Officer vary slightly from state to state. They also differ based on whether a Security Officer will be armed or unarmed. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a security guard, consider the general requirements for most positions:
1. Basic Requirements
There are some basic requirements a person needs to meet before they can apply for a security guard position in the U.S. For the most part, you’ll need to be eligible to work in the U.S. That means you need to be a citizen or otherwise have the appropriate documentation stating that you are allowed to hold a job in the country.
Most jobs have a minimum age requirement, as well. To apply for a position as an unarmed Security Officer, you should be at least 18-years-old. Armed security guard positions require a person to be at least 21-years-old. You’ll also need to be able to write, read, and speak English fluently. Ideally, you’ll also have a reliable method of getting in contact with your employer, such as a mobile phone or email address.
While Security Officers do not generally require to have a college degree, most jobs require an applicant to have a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. The specific training requirements to become a Security Officer vary from state to state.
For example, in California, aspiring security guards need to take a skills training course before they earn certification. The course covers a variety of topics, from terrorism awareness to observing suspicious activity. Washington state also requires security guards to complete pre-assignment training before they can receive a license. The training covers the role of a security guard, observation techniques, terrorism awareness, and the proper way to take action and react in specific circumstances.
Although the exact length of your training will vary based on your location, you can generally expect to undergo eight hours of training before you start a job, up to 16 hours of training on-the-job, and an additional eight hours of continuing education each year.
If you’re interested in becoming an armed Security Officer, you will likely need to complete additional training. A weapons permit is also a requirement for armed Security Officers.
3. Physical Health
You don’t need to be in the best shape of your life to succeed as a Security Officer, but it is important that you be in good overall health and physically capable of performing the demands of the job. Many Security Officer positions require you to be on your feet for several hours at a time. For example, you might need to walk frequently to patrol different areas of a business. In some cases, you might need to run to catch a shoplifter.
A background check is part of the application process for becoming a security guard. Your employer will want to verify that you are who you claim to be. The background check will most likely include a criminal background check as well as a motor vehicle records check and a credit check. Many positions also require pre-employment drug screening.
If you are applying to be an armed Security Officer, you can expect an even more rigorous and thorough background check compared to if you were applying to be an unarmed Security Officer. You might need to agree to be fingerprinted for an armed guard position.
5. License and Certification
Whether you need to have a license or certificate to be a Security Officer depends on the state where you plan on working. In some states, you should have your certificate or license before you apply for a job. In others, you are granted a certificate after you receive a job offer, provided you meet the training and any other requirements.
Security Office Career Statistics
As of 2018, 1,154,300 individuals were employed as security guards in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the opportunities for Security Officers to grow by about 4% over the next 10 years, meaning there should be an additional 40,600 positions available by 2028. Job prospects for an aspiring security guard should be good, due to an increase in the number of positions and to people leaving the field.
Security Officers work in a wide range of sectors, but some of the industries that have the greatest demand for security guards include:
In 2019, the median salary of a security guard was $34,730. However, the amount you can earn as a Security Officer depends in large part on the sector you work in and your experience. Officers who work for the government tend to have the highest salaries, while salaries are often lower for guards who work in food service or for armored car services.
What Makes a Great Security Officer?
Not everyone is cut out to be a Security Officer. Some people are better suited for the career than others. You can learn many of the skills and develop the traits needed to excel as a security guard, though. Knowing what it takes to become a top-notch security guard can help you better prepare for the role or can help you decide if the career is a good fit for you.
Security Officer Traits
Some of the skills and traits a security guard should have include:
- Patience: Although there are occasional bursts of activity and excitement during the course of a Security Officer’s shift, much of the time on the job is spent quietly observing your surroundings. Being patient is also essential for managing your response to clients and customers while on the job. If someone becomes belligerent or rude, you should remain calm and collected.
- Alertness: Whether your job requires you to observe people coming into and exiting a building, keep watch on the exterior of a building, or monitor surveillance video, you need to be able to stay alert and to note anything out-of-the-ordinary or suspicious. If you get drowsy when sitting or standing still or tend to become distracted easily, the job of a Security Officer might be more challenging for you.
- Honesty: Honesty is the best policy to have as a Security Officer. That means you are willing to tell the truth in any situation, even if it makes you look irresponsible. Along with being honest, it’s essential that you be unbiased and able to treat everyone the same, no matter their perceived background or social standing.
- Quick reflexes: As a Security Officer, your workday might be slow and uneventful for the most part, with periods of rapid activity or bursts of action. When a situation comes up, you need to be able to think fast and react quickly and accurately. You should be able to quickly take stock of a situation and decide how to respond appropriately, rather than making rash decisions that could cause someone to get hurt.
- Communication skills: Great Security Officers are excellent communicators. A security guard should have a combination of excellent verbal and written communication skills. They are able to explain the details of a situation to their supervisors or the police when needed. If they are involved in a tense situation, they need to be able to communicate with the participants to help defuse the situation. Even when nothing significant happens on the job, a security guard will usually need to submit a written report at the end of each shift.
- Leadership skills: Even if a Security Officer is not working in a supervisory position, there might be times on the job when they are required to take charge or to lead other members of their team. A security guard should know when to tell their team what to do and how to be lead a team during a challenging situation. They should be able to motivate others to take the appropriate action and should be able to delegate tasks equitably.
- Good judgment: Good judgment is another must-have for a security guard to have, particularly if they are an armed Officer. They should be able to gauge when it is appropriate to draw or use their weapon and when other methods will be more effective.
- Physical fitness: A Security Officer doesn’t need to spend all of their off-duty time at the gym, but they should take their physical fitness seriously. Depending on the requirements of the job, they might need to be able to move quickly, lift heavy loads, or stand for hours on end.
- Team player: In addition to being able to step up and lead when needed, an excellent Security Officer should be a team player who knows when to step aside and let others lead. They should be willing to work with other guards on a shift to come up with the best plan for protecting the company or area they are securing.
- Timeliness: Many facilities need protection around-the-clock, so security guards often work in shifts. Being on time is a valuable trait in security guards, as they will most likely be relieving another team member from their shift. Timeliness also shows that a person takes their work seriously, that they respect others, and that they are willing to show up when needed.
How to Be a Great Security Officer
Along with having the traits and skills needed to be a Security Officer, knowing how to apply those skills on the job will help you excel. Here are some tips for how to be a security guard:
- Learn to listen and observe: Being observant doesn’t come naturally to all people, but it is something you can learn to do. Part of being observant includes minimizing distractions. For example, when you’re talking to another person, or are taking a walk in your neighborhood, put your smartphone away. Really pay attention to what’s around you. As you build up your observation skills, you can take notes on what you see. Eventually, noticing things that are unusual will become second nature.
- Think before you act: As a security guard, you’ll need to act quickly and respond appropriately in a variety of situations. Although time is of the essence, it’s still vital that you think before you take action to avoid causing harm to others or making a dangerous situation worse.
- Be ready to keep learning: You’ll complete training before you begin work as a Security Officer and will most likely be trained on the job. However, you’ll also want to keep learning throughout your career. That can involve completing additional training courses or continuing education programs in security and law enforcement. It might also mean finding a way to broaden your skills, such as by learning about data security or active shooter response.
- Stay in shape: Being in shape will help you perform your best on the job, both physically and mentally. When you’re in shape, you’ll be able to meet the physical demands of the role. You might also notice that you’re able to think more clearly and make decisions more readily when you’re in shape. In addition to exercising, staying in shape can mean eating a healthy diet and making sure you get enough sleep each night.
- Keep tabs on your community: Staying connected to your community and being aware of any concerns or potential situations in your local area will allow you to be more alert on the job. If you know what the risks are, you’ll be better prepared to respond to them, should they occur while you are on the job.
Start Your Security Career With Inter-Con
Inter-Con Security has become one of the world’s largest security companies and currently employs thousands of people in the U.S. and across four continents. If you’re interested in joining our team or learning more about a career as a Security Officer, visit our careers page to learn more about our openings. We are frequently hiring unarmed and armed Security Officers for security guard positions in multiple locations. Read more about our open positions and submit your application today.