So you want to be a security guard?

Unlike many other career options, private security companies often hire job seekers with little to no experience in the field and then train them on the job.

The "Rent-a-Cop" has a greatly undeserved negative reputation in today's common culture. However, security personnel provide a worthwhile and necessary function in many aspects of modern business, from manufacturing and retail to personal safety. This security guard job description will shed some light on why you should look into donning that uniform with pride.

What can you expect from a security guard job?

Entry level opportunities

Unlike many other career options, private security companies often hire job seekers with little to no experience in the field and then train them on the job. Instead of saddling yourself with tons of student loan debt, jump straight into the job pool with an entry-level security position.

How much does a security guard make? The average starting wage is about $12 per hour. While this may seem a bit low on the pay scale, many security companies offer decent benefits packages that can include medical, dental, paid vacations, profit sharing, and 401k retirement plans. Some may even help you pay for that college career you continue to pursue.

Potential for advancement

Once hired, there are steps you can take to immediately raise your value as an employee and earn higher wages. One option is to obtain a PC (permit to carry a firearm). An armed security guard salary is, on average, 30 percent more than their unarmed counterparts. In addition, some companies will not hire you unless you have a permit. No armored car company wants a guard equipped with only a baton and pepper spray.

Opportunity for physical activity

Why become corralled in a cubicle, sitting at a desk all day? Studies show that sedentary jobs greatly contribute to health problems. Most security guards are on their feet most of the day, performing a variety of tasks. This will keep you in shape and focused throughout your shift.

For example, baton sensors are sometimes scattered throughout a guard's patrol area. They need to be tapped by the guard at certain times during their shift. This ensures that the patrol areas are walked on a regular basis and helps keep track of the exact time a guard is in a certain area, in case an incident needs to be reported. For the security guard, an upshot of this is the chance to get moving and avoid being nailed to a chair all day.

Something for Everyone

Security careers, unlike many other employment pursuits, offer a variety of specialties and niches. Companies often try to match their officers' preferences with their assignments, as it's mutually beneficial to be engaged in your work.

For example, if you're a people person, you can be assigned guard duty in the lobby of an office building. Your responsibilities may be to screen those entering the building, perhaps running a metal detector or scanning office badges. You greet employees and guests and ensure that everyone entering the building is supposed to be there. Some areas of the building may require security clearance, and your job may include restricting access to those areas.

If you're more of an introvert, perhaps a nighttime job in an industrial setting is a better fit for you. You may guard against threats to the property such as theft, fire, and vandalism. A bank of security camera screens could be one tool at your disposal, and regular patrols of the property could be another. Tasks may also include checking up on fire control and other security equipment.

Are you the sneaky and wily type? How about inventory control at a retail outlet? Working closely with retail sales associates, you might go undercover and bust shoplifters. You may also be assigned to watch for employee theft, which actually outstrips shoplifting as the number one cause of retail asset loss in the United States.

Some niches even include higher pay. For example, officers that drive a patrol vehicle are usually compensated more generously than ones that walk a beat. Of course, you'd better keep that driving record clean since your employer's insurance rates go up with every point you accumulate. A bad driving record can make you ineligible for a patrol vehicle promotion.

Security positions can also serve as a jumping-off point for other pursuits. If you're a student, a quiet night job can be the perfect opportunity to get in some studying. Many employers respect their employees' desires to move on to greater things and encourage their guards to use any downtime constructively, as long as it doesn't interfere with job performance.

Ability to branch out into other careers

Basic experience as a security guard can open many doors to intriguing new career options. Unlike entry-level security positions, you can't just walk in and plop down an application. However, with a few years under your belt as a security guard or armed patrol officer, you will be taken more seriously. Here are a few options available to the seasoned job seeker:

  • Personal bodyguard - One of the most exciting and well-paying careers, personal bodyguards earn an average of close to $70,000 per year. They are responsible for protecting individuals such as celebrities, politicians, and wealthy family members. Becoming a bodyguard is no easy task and definitely requires experience. A few years as a security officer, learning the basics such as observation, threat assessment, and documentation, could be the foot in the door you need.
  • Private investigator - A fascinating career in and of itself, a private investigator career can go just about anywhere. Work for a company, or go indie and get your own license. Assignments can range from theft protection to infidelity to child custody cases and beyond. While PI license requirements vary from state to state, it's likely that a sponsoring company in a similar industry would be required to vouch for a potential private investigator's experience. In California, for example, someone with 6,000 hours (approximately three years) of experience working as a security guard can apply.
  • Police officer - One of the most revered careers in the United States, becoming a police officer doesn't necessarily require experience. One can often enroll in a police academy from right off the street, so long as they have a high school diploma and pass a background check. However, a career as a police officer isn't for everyone. Starting off as a security guard can give you a good idea of what it's like to defend people and private property. You would also gain valuable knowledge of the tools of the trade, such as pepper spray, handcuffs, batons, and on-officer camera. The camera is becoming even more important than the trusty notepad or ticket book, as it protects both the liability of the police officer and the safety of the citizens.

What skills are required to become a successful security guard?

Perhaps most important is the ability to accurately observe and document situations. Often, a security guard's main purpose is not to prevent an incident. Most of the time, such incidents are inevitable and unpreventable. Instead, a security guard is expected to be alert and observant and exact in their documentation of any problems.

Good judgment and common sense are also critical to success. Sometimes it's beneficial to intervene, and sometimes it's smarter to hang back and observe instead. If things get serious, you may need to use physical force or contact the police. Good split-second decision making is key when undertaking a security career.

Physical fitness is also a plus. Often a patrol assignment requires a lot of walking, and there may come a time when you must chase someone down or run to get help. It's important to remember that anyone can take care of the weapon that you wear. It takes a lot more work to take care of the weapon that you are.

Job outlook for the security industry

While other industries are shrinking in this wintry economy, security companies continue to hire. There are well over a million security officers currently at work in the United States, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the industry is about 5 percent (which matches the national average). Average job growth for this industry is one of the most stable of all careers – this country will not stop needing security officers anytime soon.

Once you pick up enough experience at one company, you become more of an asset in general and you can consider moving to other companies that offer more generous employment packages. Wages can greatly vary depending on geographic location, so you can consider a move up the pay ladder while simultaneously relocating to an exciting new place such as Las Vegas. Security guard wages can increase over 20 percent depending on where you choose to work and live.

A job as a security guard can be anything you want it to be: a reliable career choice, an exciting opportunity to help people, or a stepping stone to other pursuits. Whichever you choose, becoming a security officer can put you on the road to success.