How to become a security guard

Written by Kate Lopaze

Being a security guard can be a great option if you want a flexible job, or you happen to be a night owl. But it can also be a career path for you, if you’re looking for something outside the 9-to-5 cubicle grind.

What does a security guard do?

Security guards are responsible for monitoring and maintaining security (and often safety and peace) in public or private areas. They may be responsible for preventing theft in stores, keeping track of who’s coming and going from buildings, or making sure that people are where they’re supposed to be in any given area. We all likely have a movie-fied version in our heads of large men wearing suits and walkie talkies, but in reality security guards can be anybody, depending on the job and the location. Some security guards are armed and obvious, while others work behind the scenes watching video feeds or patrolling an area. Most security guards work in the private sector (for a particular company), but others may work in government buildings or facilities.

A security guard’s duties may include:

  • Monitoring a building or area during business hours or overnight
  • Tracking people who come and go from a building or a business
  • Acting as a gatekeeper (like in a nightclub or bar)
  • Keeping detailed logs or records of visitors or incidents
  • Preventing theft
  • Guarding armored cars or other financial transactions (like in a casino)
  • Apprehending people who are trespassing, become violent, commit a crime, or otherwise violate security protocols
  • Patrolling on foot or in a vehicle to protect
  • Communicating with law enforcement or emergency personnel if there is an incident
  • Enforcing a company’s security protocols and best practices
  • Ensuring the soundness and security of alarms, entrances, and exits
  • Monitoring video or audio security footage

Because security guards may be on call for a number of different duties, there’s no set 40-hour work week pattern for this career path. Security guards may work during standard business hours, but given the 24-hour nature of security it’s just as likely that the job will require nights, weekends, holidays, or odd shifts. The unusual scheduling is one of the things that can make this a good choice if you’re looking for a second career or balancing the job with other obligations like family or school.

What skills does a security guard have?

A good security guard has a very special skillset, given that this can be a very demanding role.

Problem solving skills: Security guards are there to make sure things don’t go wrong—but if they do go wrong, to step in and resolve or minimize the damage. That means a security guard needs to have good problem solving skills, because dealing with problems is the main part of the gig.

Independent work skills: In many cases, being a security guard can be a solitary job—one person monitoring video, or patrolling the premises. Security guards should be self-starters, able to be proactive about investigating or resolving issues that come up. This is especially true if the security job is at a relatively quiet place, or a nighttime job somewhere that’s typically closed for business.

Teamwork skills: But even when the day-to-day work may be solitary, security guards are usually members of a team, especially when resolving problems. A security guard needs to be able to communicate with stakeholders of all kinds, from other company employees to law enforcement or other emergency personnel.

Calm under pressure: This is not a great gig if you have a volatile temperament or if you don’t deal well with crises. In an ideal scenario, a security guard is just maintaining the peace—but given the nature of the job (trying to identify and prevent threats), you’ll have to be ready to deal with threats and incidents in a strong and productive way.

Weapons skills: Not all security guards are armed, but others are. Depending on the job, you may need to be fully trained and certified to handle guns or other self-defense weapons.

Attention to detail: Security guards are there to stop bad things from happening, which isn’t going to happen if a threat or a shoplifter skates right by a guard who’s not really paying attention. Security guards need to be able to appraise a situation fairly quickly and spot threats or violations before they become bigger issues.

What do you need to become a security guard?

Most security guard positions provide on-the-job training based on the needs of the job, and don’t typically require a specific degree. However, most security guard jobs do require the following:

  • Must be at least age 18
  • A clean record, confirmed by a background check
  • Weapons certification, if applicable

Some states, like California and New York, require short security training programs and certification for new security guards, particularly for entry-level ones. (These may be anywhere from 8 hours to 40 hours.) Be sure to check your own state’s requirements before you start down this path.

How much do security guards get paid?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, security guards make a median annual salary of $25,840. Security guard salaries can vary based on level of experience, and the complexity of the job. For example, an armed security guard in a busy Las Vegas casino may require more specialized training and higher on-the-job demands than a security guard monitoring an empty office building overnight. Because there are so many different kinds of security guards, the pay and benefits vary as well.

What’s the outlook for security guards?

The demand for qualified security guards of all kinds will continue to grow. Private sector security guards in particular are in high demand, as security needs grow more complex. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field will grow at about the average pace for all jobs, approximately 5% by 2024.

If you’re thinking about a job that requires nerves of steel and an unorthodox schedule, definitely consider becoming a security guard. If high drama and tackling bad guys isn’t your scene, there are lots of security jobs out there that will let you work on a quieter front, or even behind the scenes. And again, it can be a strong professional option for those who want a career that falls outside of the traditional work week. These public safety professionals are essential to keeping everything running as it should, and if this is the right path for you, good luck!

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About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.

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