Here’s How To Break Into A Career In Private Security

Photo by Derek Union

Editor’s Note:The following article is written by an employee of Gavin de Becker & Associates. Committed to filling its ranks with talented members of the military community, Gavin de Becker is a Hirepurpose client. Learn more here.

In 2013, ASIS International, arguably the preeminent organization for security professionals, released a report estimating the American security market to be a $350 billion industry and growing. Over the past five years, I have experienced this growth first hand as my own employer, a global executive protection and threat assessment firm, has nearly tripled in size. To feed this growth, I have recruited and interviewed thousands of military veterans and hired hundreds for a career like no other.

The candidates I hire wear more tailored suits than 5.11 tactical trousers, and protect more clients on the busy sidewalks of Los Angeles and New York City than the battled roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, unlike many overseas contracting firms or government agencies, there is a growing domestic need for more service-oriented protectors who combine the refined manners of a Four Seasons concierge with the active persona of a U.S. Marine.

Close protection work is never an easy life. To exaggerate my point, I often consider Ernest Shackleton’s famous 1914 advertisement for his expedition to Antarctica:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.  

Yes, citing Shackleton is a tad melodramatic. Yet to find the right candidates, it’s necessary to amplify the challenges of this career in order to hire people who don’t quit one week into their first expedition. To paraphrase the old Marine recruiting poster, I don’t promise a rose garden.

Just as Shackleton warned his own bedeviled crew, there are plenty of downfalls to working in private security, including cramming a 12-hour shift, two-hour commute, five-hour nap, and all remaining shards of time with family, exercise, and errands into one busy day, then repeating that for 300-plus days a year. And don’t forget working holidays, weekends, and enough last-minute night shifts to kill your social life and anger your spouse. Additionally, there are no tax benefits, guaranteed pensions, housing allowances, automatic raises, or seniority-based promotions.

However, here’s the game-saving recovery: To exist, private security firms must make money, and to make money they must reward performance; after all, discerning clients with tons of options expect the highest quality of service. As a result, private firms have no choice but to bypass the politics, bureaucracies, and seniority-based promotions that often plague the public sector and government contractors in favor of associates who exhibit great customer service and superior protection. In private-sector security, performance matters most.

For veterans frustrated with the military’s seniority-first promotional systems and salaries, hearing about a merit-based system tends to bring a big smile to their face.

Because veterans are already proven warriors, I’m more interested in assessing how they express themselves as service-oriented protectors. After all, great customer service demands great attention to detail. How a protector looks, stands, smells, walks, and talks is a communication. If effective, a protector’s verbal and non-verbal communication can deter would-be attackers and reassure worried protectees.

During my company’s protection academies, I explain this reality to trainees: The first time you meet a protectee might be when you’re holding the limousine door. In ten seconds, they will decide whether or not you’re a pro. They are not going to read your resume or ask about your military experiences; instead, they’re going to see you, hear you, and immediately determine if you can save their life.

Because candidates are on their best behavior during an interview, I focus on the little things (verbal and non-verbal), assuming the way a candidate does anything is the way he or she does everything.

Picture this: You’re boarding a plane from Los Angeles to Chicago. As you walk onto the plane, the pilot greets you with a smile, he looks sharp in his uniform, and speaks clearly and professionally about the upcoming flight. On the flight back to Los Angeles, there’s a different pilot. He’s disgruntled, overweight, hasn’t shaved for days, and speaks with poor grammar and profanity. Which pilot do you want flying that plane?

To determine a candidate’s professional qualities during an interview, I ask myself these questions:

  1. Does she greet the receptionist? (manners, maturity)
  2. Does he appear professional in a suit? (preparation, attention to detail)
  3. Is he physically fit? (disciplined, work ethic)
  4. Is she five minutes early for the interview? (readiness, professionalism)
  5. Did she read our CEO’s book? (curiosity, self-improvement)
  6. Does he thank me for the opportunity? (humble, grateful)
  7. Does she answer my background questions directly, consistently, and without contradiction? (trustworthy, sincere)

Every security firm should conduct exhaustive background investigations; if they don’t, they’re not reputable. Throughout the selection process, I ask candidates numerous questions about their backgrounds. I then measure their answers with the information we discover through our own background investigations. If there are discrepancies, it’s likely the candidate was not truthful during his interview. And that’s all I need to know to end his or her candidacy.

Elite protectors must be trusted with secrets, as a protectee’s personal information and alarm codes can affect his or her very life. Consequently, a protector’s commitment to confidentiality can never ever be compromised.

Private security is a service industry and protectors are the product. Because of this, I seek protectors who exhibit professionalism through their verbal and non-verbal communications. Everyone says they’re disciplined, professional, and trustworthy; I encourage candidates to not just say it, but to show it.

After thousands of interviews, my last piece of advice for veterans interested in executive protection: Consider how the most discerning client (and potential attacker) would perceive you; be completely honest about your past; remain confidential about your mission; and keep a low profile as you will protect some of the highest profiles on earth.

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