Can I have a real career as a security guard?

Can I have a real career as a security guard?

My son is applying for security jobs. He sees a long career. I see him working the door at Walmart.

Is there a career for him?

What about advancement?

I get this question a lot.

Sometimes from concerned parents. Other times from a spouse who’s worried their loved one is wasting time or talent.

We live in a time, culturally, where Americans think you have to go to college to get a great job. But there are some tremendous job opportunities that don’t require years of education or a mountain of debt. The security industry is not only creating a lot of those jobs, it’s a place where an entrepreneurial minded young guy or girl can flourish.

For so many years security guards have gotten a bad rap, with most people failing to understand what we do. They call us “wannabes” or “rent-a-cops." And movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop don’t do much to help the image.

In truth, the majority of the guards I know chose the profession because it’s a real career. There are plenty of chances to move up and make something of themselves.

With the right experience and qualifications it’s not too hard to even find a position with decent pay and good benefits. There will always be a small segment of the industry that wishes they were in a police uniform instead of a security uniform. I mean, to be honest, I’d rather be in a Yankees’ uniform than working security, but being a guard was a nice backup choice for me.

Five years ago this kid named Dave applied for a job with a retail company I worked for. I was the one doing the interviews, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with him. He scraped by through high school, then his parents forced him to take some classes at the local community college to get him ready for a four year degree. He flunked out his first semester, and when he showed up in my office he had this dejected and defeated look on his face.

It was clear that Dave wasn’t a genius, but he was honest about his shortcomings and the poor kid just needed someone to believe in him enough to give him a shot. After careful consideration I hired him and set him up with my most experienced guard, Roger, to be his mentor.

It wasn’t even a full twenty-four hours before Dave’s dad called, screaming at me for hiring his 19 year old son into a dangerous job. I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve ever had to deal with an angry parent (spouses are a different story). I calmed him down, reminded him that Dave was an adult now, and reassured Dave’s father that his son would be doing nothing more dangerous than guarding a diaper display.

The first few weeks I checked in on a regular basis, and Roger had nothing but good things to say about the kid. He was on time, completed all of the assigned paperwork, and was a positive influence on the site. It was then that I noticed Dave seemed to perk up. Gone was the downcast face that I saw on the day that I hired him, replaced now by strong youthful confidence.

I spent some time watching Dave work, and every time I observed him, my confidence in him grew. He was always observant, and seemed to have a supernatural ability to predict where there might be trouble on the floor.

Even more impressive was his ability to handle the public. He never raised his voice to an irate customer, and managed to defuse a couple of volatile situations with grace. He was an incredible asset to our company. While he was one of the youngest employees we had working in my department, I knew that we would have to find a way to give him more responsibility and a bit of a challenge, otherwise he’d get bored and want to move to another company.

When it came time for Dave’s evaluation at the end of the year we sat down to discuss his stellar performance. As part of the process I asked Dave if there was anything he’d want to do to improve the job or the quality of life for the other guards. He astounded me when he suggested a couple of changes to the patrol patterns that sounded like they’d work well. Suffice it to say, he got his raise and a little more.

At that point I went to my own boss and let him know that Dave was a special guy. The two of us decided it was time to look at a promotion. It was a bit of struggle to get approval from corporate to send such a new hire through the management training program, but they relented and Dave had a chance to prove himself. At the end of his second year Dave was our second shift lead. By the end of fourth, Dave moved off the floor and joined the Loss Prevention Department, where he trains employees and other security personnel in the best ways to prevent theft and secure property.

With his dedication and hard work Dave’s now earning more than his friends who all went to college and earned their degrees. His case isn’t necessarily the norm, but it demonstrates one of the many career paths available to your son when he enters the field. My last boss is another success story.

Tom started out as a night patrolman for an industrial compound. It was boring, repetitive work that no one wanted to do. But, during all of those lonely nights he took the time to do some studying and took courses to earn his security certification. While the rest of the crew spent their downtime goofing off, Tom was trying to find a path to a better life.

Eventually the company rewarded his efforts and Tom became a supervisor on the night shift, but he knew there was so much more he could do.

After several years doing the night patrol, Tom moved on to a larger, private security firm where he was put in charge of his own crew. Once again, he paid attention, learning everything he could about the bid process from his boss, searching for security problems on the site, and soaking up all of the information he could find about how to be a successful security guard.

Tom’s boss took him under his wing when he understood what Tom was trying to do. The man acted more like a teacher and mentor than just a boss, answering all of Tom’s questions and pointing him to resources where he could learn not just about security, but about business as well.

It took him ten years of preparation, but eventually Tom struck out on his own, with his boss’ blessing, and started a guard company. It was small at first, with only a single site and four guards, but by the time he hired me, Tom was juggling half a dozen sites and close to thirty employees. In 2015 he plans to expand the company to offer security consultation services, and security and loss assessments to small business owners who can’t afford a full-time security team.

Long gone are the days where Tom has to work overnights, and he relishes the freedom and security he has now that he took control of his own future. To this day Tom keeps trying to get me to start my own company, but that’s not the kind of stress I want in my own life.

In both cases, drive and commitment brought success and a path to advancement. These are the outliers that stick in mind because they’re the biggest success stories that I know, but even they illustrate an important point: the security industry takes care of those who work hard.

If your son is serious about becoming a guard there are two main paths he’ll want to consider, though there’s plenty of overlap between the two courses.

First is the corporate path, which is the one that Dave took. This is where you work directly for a large company or private entity. They handle all of the training, and the barrier to entry is fairly low. Most of them don’t require security certification to start the job, though a license and certification will be necessary at some point, depending on the state. This is Wal-Mart door guard that you were thinking about.

Jobs in this area often have a benefits package, though the size varies greatly from company to company. The problem is that moving up in the company can be a bit of struggle. Big corporations have strict rules about advancement, especially at the lower levels, and advancement can seem like it’s taking too long. On the bright side, there are dozens of different security positions within the corporate structure, so it’s possible to remain in security and not walk the floor.

Some of the best jobs in this field are with casinos. They have big money to attract and keep big talent, so they are a good first step if your son wants to work for a big company.

The second route is private security. This is where you work for a company that contracts with various sites to provide security guards. Low level positions in these firms are pretty easy to come by, and your son will want to look through sites like LinkedIn or one of the online recruitment sites to find the best openings. It’s my favorite type of position, and the kind of company that Tom runs.

Benefits here can be hit or miss, with some firms offering great packages, because they have high paying clients, and others offering few, if any. Competition for the best private security jobs is stiff, and your son will need to pick up his security certification for any state he might want to work. Though, unlike the corporate jobs, working for a small business has very few limits on pay or advancement. If your son proves himself capable of running a crew in six months, private contractor can give him that position, whereas in a corporate environment he’d have to follow their preset career path.

The best part about this type of set up is that your son can learn the ropes and get the experience he needs to one day start his own company. That’s where the real money and freedom lie.

Personally, I’ve worked in both environments and I can see the attraction of each of them. While I enjoyed the benefits when I worked for a large company, my daily frustration with corporate managers implementing changes without regard to the unique situations at each of the eight sites took some of the joy out of the job. I’m happier now working for a smaller company, where I know my work is appreciated.

To find the right career path, your son needs to sit down and think about what he wants out of his job, and what he’d honestly like to be doing in five years, then ten. It may take a couple of days to figure out, but when he does, he’ll be well on his way to choosing the right path. Some of the things he should consider are:

Does he want to be his own boss?—Not everyone dreams of owning their own company, and some people are most comfortable working with someone else calling the shots. If he does want to be on his own one day, private security is his best choice, otherwise he should lean towards a corporate position. That isn’t to say that there’s nothing to learn about business working in a corporate environment, but the ability to speak to someone who has direct experience running a business in the security industry is invaluable.

Is he comfortable working alone? Overnight?—A lot of the private security jobs, especially for people without experience, are working solitary shifts patrolling empty lots late at night. It can take a toll on a person, mentally, so if your son needs constant interaction with other people, he should look for a different working environment. The corporate jobs have their own unique problems, like dealing with policy changes dictated by people who are so far away from the situation they can’t see the impact their changes have on the people on the ground.

How does he feel about weapons?—In some states guards are licensed to carry any manner of weapon, from handcuffs and batons to firearms. If he has a problem with confrontation, or opposes the idea of carrying a weapon, his best bet is a corporate position where weapons aren’t allowed. However, guards with a license to carry a firearm are more attractive to employers, with more job openings and higher average salaries than non-armed guards.

These questions only form a basic framework for understanding your son’s decision, but they are an important first step in creating the foundation for his future career choices.

It’s clear from the fact that you asked this question that you care about your son, and only want what’s best for him. Understand that whatever he decides to do right now doesn’t mean he’s stuck in that position for the rest of his life. He might discover that security isn’t for him, and go back to school or pursue a career in plumbing or trucking instead.

Remember that your son is at a difficult time in his life, where he feels pressured to make a firm choice about his future, even though 99 percent of kids his age have no idea what they want to do. It’s the reason why college students change majors so many times, and why it takes them so long to graduate. Hell, my oldest daughter comes to me every other week with a new career plan, and as long as she doesn’t come to me and say that she wants to work for the Boston Red Sox, I’ll support her choices. I’m her father; that’s my job.

Working as a security guard is not the same as taking a dead end job at a fast food place, where they promise chances to advance, but put up so many obstacles that it’s impossible to move up. Security companies are impressed with performance, responsibility and good ideas, so if those things describe your son, he can be a success.

I’ll leave you with this piece of wisdom that my father gave me. “You get as much from a job as you put into it”. If your son is serious about the work, makes a good impression and does what he can to expand his skill set, there’s no reason to think that he’s going to get stuck in a dead end position. A wealth of opportunities are available to him in security; all he needs is a little motivation and support.

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