Homeland Security: Career and Salary Information
Homeland security professionals protect the safety and freedoms of the U.S. and its people. The field of homeland security encompasses protective and law enforcement services across the country, including some of the largest federal organizations in the nation. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for example, oversees agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the U.S. Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Homeland security training can lead professionals to careers in administration, intelligence, and field work. It may also prepare candidates for careers in other agencies, like the FBI or CIA. Candidates can qualify for these careers with a bachelor's degree, an advanced degree, or a combination of education and experience.
Ideal for people seeking leadership and authoritative positions, homeland security careers allow professionals to contribute to making America a safer place to live. Some careers provide financial benefits, as well. Emergency management directors, for example, earn a median annual wage of approximately $75,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The following page explores this career path in more detail.
What Do Homeland Security Professionals Do?
Homeland security encompasses a variety of fields and professions, all committed to protecting the country and its people. Field training prepares participants for traditional law enforcement roles, but homeland security professionals also tend to work in specialized fields, such as government, border agencies, and air authorities. The following list highlights some possible homeland security careers.
Border Patrol Agent
Border patrol agents monitor and safeguard the passage of people and goods across state and national borders. They typically work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection handling immigration issues, terrorism, and pest and virus control. These agents may encounter dangerous and stressful situations, depending on their assignments.
As part of the CIA, analysts play an integral role in government security. They assess and evaluate intelligence to determine if, when, and where threats may arise. Analysts may deal with stress and professional challenges. They make connections and conclusions of great importance from seemingly disconnected events.
CIA officers collect and submit the information that analysts, law enforcement agencies, militaries, and governments use to inform decisions and actions. They use a variety of data-collecting methods and sources, such as human interviews, surveillance, and research. Tasked with collecting intelligence of national importance, officers may experience stressful and dangerous situations on the job.
FBI agents handle some of the highest-stakes cases among criminal justice agencies. They often take control of cases involving organized crime, terrorism, dangerous criminals, and national security. Depending on their position, agents may work in the field making arrests, running surveillance, gathering intelligence, or performing analysis. The profession can prove demanding, stressful, and dangerous for agents in certain fields, locations, and departments.
Federal Air Marshal
Federal air marshals work within the TSA to protect people and equipment on flights across the country. Marshals fly undercover to thwart detection. They observe the passengers and environment on their flights to identify any threats or suspicious activity. As a result of their job conditions, air marshals can experience danger, high stress, and mental fatigue.
ICE agents work with a variety of government agencies to surveil borders for illegal immigration and the trafficking of illegal goods. They may work in specific divisions, such as human trafficking, intelligence, or cybercrimes. Depending on their assignments, these agents may face dangerous and challenging situations.
Secret Service Agent
Secret service agents take responsibility for the protection and safety of high-ranking government officials and systems. They may investigate current or potential threats against the government, including financial crimes such as counterfeiting. Professionals may work in field offices, in fraud investigation units, or on protection assignments, each of which brings its own unique challenges.
TSA screeners work within the country's airports to screen domestic and international visitors for suspicious activities and dangerous equipment and materials. They use a variety of tools and techniques to observe and detect these threats, including surveillance equipment, scanners, and physical searches. These professionals may encounter risky and dangerous people and situations on the job.
Key Skills for Homeland Security Professionals
Homeland security professionals enjoy a range of employment options because they boast a diverse set of skills. However, the field does tend to rely on certain skills more than others. The following list looks at which skills contribute to these professionals' success.
Due to the importance of their positions and the necessity for authority in high stress situations, homeland security workers often lean on leadership skills. These skills enable them to take control of situations and give others a sense of security in emergency and dangerous circumstances.
In many DHS careers, perceptiveness is one of the most important skills. Analysts, air marshals, and airport screeners all rely on their perceptiveness to identify potential threats. This skill allows professionals to make accurate judgements based on their real-time observations, which can de-escalate situations and save lives.
Strong communication skills are important for DHS professionals when issuing commands in the field or submitting intelligence reports. This skill also helps homeland security professionals listen to and comprehend what others are saying, which is useful when gathering intelligence during interviews or surveillance.
Critical thinking skills give DHS professionals the ability to accurately assess situations and make reasonable decisions. The skill also helps when developing intelligence plans and evaluating results. Critical thinking skills can help professionals in every division and profession related to homeland security.
Empathy skills equip professionals to better understand the people they work with and for. This allows them to view exchanges from various perspectives, which leads to more constructive communication and effective de-escalation efforts. Professionals working with civilians may find empathy one of their more valuable, applicable skills.
Homeland Security Salary and Career Outlook
Aspiring homeland security professionals enter a field that employs more than 230,000 professionals from diverse backgrounds in a variety of careers. To replenish the pool of qualified candidates, the DHS hosts a steady stream of recruitment efforts, providing ample opportunity for new applicants.
Several factors influence DHS wages, but the average employee in the organization earns an annual median salary of approximately $75,000, according to PayScale.
DHS employment can give professionals a great sense of purpose as they manage situations of national importance and serve and protect people from all manners of threats and risks. The field also offers growth potential and new career opportunities for those with experience or advanced training.
In addition to strong salary expectations, discussed in more detail below, DHS professionals often enjoy flexible hours, health and insurance benefits, and competitive vacation and retirement plans. Interested candidates can find more information on the DHS website or current job openings at USAJOBS.
Salary Expectations for Homeland Security Professionals
As with most careers, several factors influence homeland security professionals' salaries. Federal professions, like those within the DHS, fall under the general schedule (GS) classification. This system provides a structured layout for various employment levels and respective salaries.
The GS system runs from 1-15, with GS-1 being the lowest and G-15 the highest. A professional's education, experience, job function, and location determine their GS level. For example, professionals with a bachelor's degree typically qualify for G-5 positions, while those with a master's degree may qualify for G-9 roles.
Though professionals can advance their position and pay grade through various means, experience plays a big role in the GS system and wage schedule. Within each grade, professionals progress through 10 steps, with each subsequent step providing a higher salary. It typically takes 18 years to progress from step 1-10. The following table outlines some DHS careers and their average annual salaries.
Average Annual Salary for DHS Careers, 2020
How to Become a Homeland Security Professional
The path to becoming a homeland security professional varies by individual and field, but the process can begin as early as high school. Interested candidates should seek out as many relevant courses, training programs, and practical experience opportunities as possible. While many positions require a bachelor's or master's degree for eligibility, some employers hire high school graduates with sufficient experience.
Due to the importance and sensitivity of these positions, the application process can take more than one year from start to finish. Applicants may need to go through several levels of interviews and inquiries, including a potentially lengthy security clearance check, before receiving an employment offer. The step-by-step process below examines how applicants typically find employment, though this may vary depending on DHS division.
Steps to Getting a DHS Job
- Complete a high school diploma or GED.
- Complete a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, homeland security, or a related field.
- Complete an internship or volunteer hours for practical experience.
- Locate and apply for a job opportunity on USAJOBS.
- Interview for the position, which may involve a test.
- Pass several rounds of review, including background, criminal, and security clearance checks.
- Complete an orientation and on-the-job training.
Homeland Security Requirements
While requirements for homeland security professionals vary by individual, position, and location, the following sections look at typical applicant expectations regarding education and experience. Interested candidates should research the specific requirements for their location and desired position.
Education Requirements for DHS Jobs
The DHS employs professionals from a variety of educational backgrounds. Candidates may gain a competitive advantage or qualify for more advanced positions and pay rates depending on their type of training. DHS salaries, as mentioned above, typically follow the GS system, which tends to increase pay for professionals with more advanced training.
In addition to education level, discipline and specialization can influence applicants' employment chances. Majoring in criminal justice at the associate, bachelor's, or master's level, for example, can provide students with a relevant knowledge base and skill set, which DHS employers value. Completing continuing education or advanced degrees can equip experienced professionals to pursue managerial or supervisory roles.
Required Experience for Homeland Security Professionals
Similar to education, experience requirements vary considerably within the DHS and its many divisions. In general, however, experience is an important factor in determining candidates' eligibility for initial employment, professional growth, and salary. Applicants may even qualify for positions with only a high school diploma and relevant experience, such as military or law enforcement service.
Within the GS system, experience helps determine how employees progress in their careers. Professionals typically spend designated amounts of time at each level. For example, they may spend one year each at steps 1-3, two years each for steps 4-6, and three years each for steps 7-9. Depending on the position, merit, education, demand, and other factors may influence professionals' progress.
Where Can I Work for the DHS?
The DHS offers a variety of professions within its many divisions and locations. This diverse collection of careers enables students to follow their interests and find positions that suit them. The availability of these positions depends on a variety of factors, including location and agency. The sections below explore how these factors come into play and highlight possible work opportunities within the DHS.
Location strongly influences career opportunities. DHS divisions typically hold locations in areas of relevance to their mission, such as near borders, airports, or coastlines. For obvious reasons, relevant locations have greater availability and demand of positions in certain fields. Interested DHS candidates may choose to focus their training in relevant fields based on a location of interest or where they live.
Places with higher population density tend to offer more opportunities. These typically urban areas usually host more DHS agencies and require more professionals to fill their ranks. A higher cost of living in urban city centers may impact wages, as well, since employers need to pay more to provide a decent quality of life to professionals in those areas.
The DHS maintains a variety of divisions, each dedicated to safeguarding and supporting the nation and its people in unique ways. These divisions cover the country's land, air, and water, and available careers within each vary considerably. To gain a clearer picture of potential opportunities, the following list details some DHS divisions and career options.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services This division mostly handles the administrative work involved with citizenship and immigration, including processing work visas, citizenships through naturalization, and asylum applications.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection Enlisting more than 58,000 agents, officers, agriculture specialists, and trade specialists, this division patrols and regulates activities across the country's borders. This may include international trade, immigration, and customs.
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement This division surveils and investigates activities related to illegal immigration and border crimes. The agency employs professionals in intelligence, administration, and removal.
- Transportation Security Administration Tasked with improving the safety of flights and airports, the TSA seeks to identify, prevent, and stop any illegal or suspicious activity. The division employs officers to screen travelers in airports and air marshals to fly undercover.
- U.S. Coast Guard This division controls the defenses, law enforcement, and security of the country's waterways and coasts. Agents and officers perform search and rescues, emergency operations, and drug interdiction.
- U.S. Secret Service This division of the DHS protects the country's leaders and financial infrastructure. Professionals protect government officials and their families and investigate financial crimes, such as fraud, counterfeiting, and identity theft.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency The nation's disaster response organization, FEMA prepares for emergencies and rolls out operations and plans in times of need. Professionals may work in administration and planning or on the ground in recovery and support positions.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How long does it take to become a homeland security professional?
- Depending on the position and applicant, how long it takes to become a homeland security professional can vary considerably. In general, applicants need a bachelor's degree, which takes approximately four years to complete. The hiring process alone can take more than a year, as well.
- What degree is needed for a homeland security job?
- Homeland security professionals can hold degrees at various levels, including associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees. A bachelor's degree is the most common minimum requirement, but experience may allow candidates with less education to qualify.
- How much do homeland security professionals make?
- Several factors influence DHS wages, but the average employee in the organization earns an annual median salary of approximately $75,000, according to PayScale.
- What requirements are there to work for the DHS?
- Job requirements vary by position, but candidates should boast relevant training or experience, a clean background check, American citizenship, and the desire to improve U.S. safety and operations.
Professional Resources for Homeland Security Professionals
Department of Homeland Security Official Site
Find information about the department, what it does, and available jobs.
Department of Homeland Security, Law Enforcement Resources
This page includes resources to assist law enforcement officials in their daily jobs.
Department of Homeland Security, Employee Resources
This site offers resources for employees, including an employee survey, career development information, and the balanced workforce strategy.