Security Guard: Career Guide
A security guard patrols and monitors buildings and other areas to prevent or stop incidents, such as theft or violence. Security guards also answer alarms and may apprehend individuals who pose a security threat. Many large organizations hire security guards and security directors, the latter of whom manages the guards and the security system overall. A security guard provides safety for the employer by guarding against violations of the law as well as disturbances that could result in a loss to the client. Most security officers work in the private sector. Many businesses employ security guards, including banks, museums, hospitals, office buildings, nightclubs, and stores. Security guard specialties include retail loss prevention, armored car guards (who protect money and valuables transported from one location to another), gaming surveillance officers, and bouncers. Some security guards go on to become police or law enforcement officers and study while working full-time to earn an online associate's or bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Depending on the setting, a security guard's duties may vary significantly. In some instances, a security guard remains “static,” e.g. stays in the same location, monitoring closed-circuit security feeds. A security guard may also monitor employees as they enter and exit the building or perform certain activities, such as cash handling. In mobile security positions, the security guards may patrol and monitor on foot or in cars.
- Communicate closely with law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical personnel
- Document, usually daily, the activities, including disturbances, that occurred. Clients then use the reports to assess potential damage from the disturbance.
- Ensure alarm systems, doors, and windows are all secure and properly working
- May interview witnesses and/or testify in court
- Patrol and inspect property to protect it from fire, theft, vandalism, or other criminal activities
Steps for Becoming a Security Guard
Most security guard jobs are entry level and typically require a high school diploma. Individuals seeking an edge in hiring can pursue additional education such as an associate's degree in criminal justice. Security guards must also:
- Be able to communicate effectively orally and in writing
- Be able to think quickly and critically
- Be mindful of customer and public service
- Be legally allowed to carry a handgun, if the position requires use of a firearm
- Exercise good judgment in potentially dangerous situations
- Have knowledge of public safety and security
- Possess knowledge of the laws and regulations that govern the security field
- Work well independently and with others
To become a security guard, you will proceed through steps similar to the ones below.
- Apply for an open position of security guard.
- Be interviewed for the position.
- Pass a background check.
- Get hired as a security guard.
- Receive on-the-job training once hired.
Security Guard Job Training
Security guards generally must complete training upon hire. Training varies depending on state regulations and the position. Armed security guards usually require more extensive training due to firearms use; armed security guards may also have to pass a firearms exam. Ongoing training in best practices, the use of force, and updates to state and local laws is common for security guards.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Candidates with an associate's degree or higher and/or who have a knowledge of a second language may have a hiring advantage. Previous law enforcement or military experience may also be advantageous.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Protection Officer
- Security Guard
- Security Officer
Security Guard Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that security guards earn a median annual wage of $28,530 per year.1 As a security guard gains experience, he or she may earn a promotion to a supervisory position such as security director. Those seeking such advancement often have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. The BLS projects jobs for security guards will grow 6% from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as average for all occupations.1
Research more private-sector criminal justice careers:
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What kind of schedule does a security guard typically work?
Answer: Security guards often work in shifts of eight hours or more and should be prepared to work a rotating schedule.
Question: Are there any risks in working as a security guard?
Answer: Prospective security guards should be prepared for the possibility of injury as they may deal with unpredictable, emotionally charged individuals. The BLS reports that security guards have a higher rate of injury and illness than is typical for other occupations.
Question: In what industries do security guards most often work?
Answer: According to the BLS, the majority (58%) of security guards work for companies that specialize in armored car services, investigations, and security guard services.
Question: Is drug testing required as a condition of employment as a security guard?
Answer: It depends on the hiring organization. Most organizations do require drug testing as a condition of employment.
- International Foundation for Protection Officers: A professional organization that provides security officers with educational and training opportunities, resources, and an online library of the latest articles and reports on the security industry.
- Security Magazine: A professional publication for the security industry, including security officers, that provides the latest news and information.
- The National Council of Investigation and Security Services: A professional organization dedicated to lobbying for legislation that protects security companies and associations and their employees.
- The United Federation of Special Police and Security Officers, Inc.: A nonprofit labor organization founded to protect the rights of security officers.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Security Guards and Gaming Service Officers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/security-guards.htm