TSA Screener: Career Guide

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employs thousands of individuals, known as TSA screeners, who maintain security at airports across the United States. The TSA also hires security guards, inspectors, directors, air marshals, and managers. TSA screeners may enjoy such advancement opportunities as TSA trainer, bomb appraisal officer, and transportation security manager. Advancement depends on a screener’s job performance and “professional and educational credentials,” according to the TSA.

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Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

TSA screeners provide security for persons traveling into and through the United States. They screen passengers at primarily at airports, but may also be posted at railways, subways, and other transportation hubs to help prevent attacks. Screeners use a variety of techniques and equipment, including x-ray machines, standing and handheld metal detectors, physical searches of persons and luggage, and canines and other security devices, such as cameras and surveillance equipment. TSA agents also search for weapons, drugs, and other contraband that can make travel unsafe.

TSA screeners are federal government employees with the Department of Homeland Security. Their primary duties include:

  • Discover and stop emerging transportation security threats by using state-of-the-art technology
  • Educate and provide friendly customer service to travelers
  • Screen passengers and gather intelligence
  • Coordinate security involving aviation, rail, and other surface and maritime transportation
  • Coordinate heightened security for transportation during national emergencies

Steps for Becoming a TSA Screener

Prospective TSA screeners must be US citizens or US nationals at least 18 years old at the time of application. Prospective TSA screeners usually possess a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree in criminal justice, but some jobs only require a high school diploma to be hired. Check with the specific job to learn about the exact requirements. Following are the steps you can expect to follow when applying to become a TSA screener.

  • Acquire the necessary education and/or experience.

  • Apply for an open position on the USAJOBS website.

  • Take and pass a background investigation.

  • Pass a medical examination.

  • Take and pass a drug test.

  • Successfully pass an image interpretation test.

  • Be hired as a TSA screener.

  • Receive on-the-job training once hired.

  • TSA Screener Job Training

    Training is an ongoing part of a screener’s job. New hires must go through 120 hours of training before being assigned to screen their first passengers. TSA screeners must also pass written examinations and image interpretation tests annually to maintain agency certification. TSA screeners must always remain alert while on the job. As such, they will face unannounced tests – such as an undercover TSA agent trying to pass through security with illegal contraband – to determine if the screener is effectively doing his or her job.

    Other Helpful Skills and Experience

    Prospective TSA screeners should be able to work and to communicate with diverse individuals and to thrive while working independently, especially when screening passengers. Transportation security officers with law enforcement experience may have a hiring advantage. Applicants should be proficient in English and have excellent customer service skills. They should also be dependable and able to operate with integrity, able to repeatedly lift and/or carry up to 70 pounds, and able to maintain focus and awareness in a stressful environment.

    Possible Job Titles for This Career

    • TSA Agent
    • Transportation Security Officer (TSO)
    • Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Screeners
    • Transportation Security Screeners

    TSA Screener Salary and Job Outlook

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports there are about 45,250 TSA screeners in the US, earning an average annual wage of $41,490.1 Populous states like Florida, New York, Texas, Illinois, and Virginia employ the largest number of TSA screeners.1 The vast majority of these screeners work for the federal government.1 The US government’s ongoing effort to combat terrorist activity at home and abroad influences the opportunities for employment with the Transportation Security Administration.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    • Where are the best opportunities for securing employment as a TSA screener?

      States that have the highest concentration of TSA screening jobs tend to be home to one or more international airports or ports and a large population. According to the BLS, as of 2018 the five states with the most TSA screeners were Florida, New York, Texas, Illinois, and Virginia.1

    • What kind of schedule do TSA screeners usually work?

      Screeners may be employed either full-time or part-time. Since most transportation hubs receive passengers and cargo around the clock, TSA screeners may work day or night shifts. Weekend shifts are usually required.

    • Are TSO officers required to travel?

      While TSA screeners may be assigned to a particular airport, they may be required to work at other airports or mass transportation facilities if there is a shortage of screeners at a particular time.

    • Are there any career development opportunities within the TSA?

      The TSA provides career development assistance to all screeners and other employees by offering a career coaching service. A career coach may help employees refine their interviewing skills, critique their resumes, and help them prepare applications for federal positions.

    • What kind of benefits does the TSA offer?

      Employees with the TSA may be eligible for health insurance, paid leave, retirement savings, life insurance, and long-term care insurance. All employees generally receive paid training and 10 paid holidays each year.

    Additional Resources

    • The Department of Homeland Security: Preparation manual for the Transportation Security Administration’s writing skills assessment.
    • Security Today: A publication dedicated to security, including airport and airline security, worldwide.
    • The TSA Blog: The official blog of the Transportation Security Administration that is designed to keep the general public informed about what’s going on at the TSA.
    • Transportation Security Administration: The official website of the Department of Homeland Security.

    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages May 2018, Transportation Security Screeners: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339093.htm

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