How to Become a Security Guard in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a security guard. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Criminal Justice & Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Security Guard Do?

Security guards inspect entries and exits to a facility, patrol, monitor security systems and screen personnel. They must enforce laws, prevent criminal activity, keep reports and detain any violators. They sometimes have to serve as witnesses in court cases. Some are stationary while using surveillance equipment, while others are assigned to patrol a certain area. The table below can give you some of the details of a career as a security guard.

Degree RequiredHigh school diploma or equivalent; some employers prefer a postsecondary certificate or degree
Education Field of StudyCriminal justice, police science
Training RequiredOn-the-job training plus annual training period (Armed guards require more rigorous training and periodic weapons qualification)
Licensure RequiredVaries by job and state, but most states require registration
Job Growth (2014-2024)5%*
Median Salary (2015)$24,630*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Security Guard?

If you work as a security guard, you'll ensure the safety of stores, hospitals, banks and other establishments, protecting them from criminal activities such as break-ins and vandalism. Your duties as a security professional include deterring unauthorized entry into restricted areas, investigating suspicious activity, responding to emergency alarms and contacting the appropriate authorities when necessary. When help is needed, you may use radio equipment to summon the police or fire departments.

Step One: Obtain the Proper Education

You don't need a college degree to work as a security guard, although you can increase your advancement opportunities with post-secondary education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some employers prefer to hire security guard applicants who have a degree in criminal justice or a similar major (www.bls.gov). As an alternative, you may find certificate-granting training courses for security guards at some community colleges.

Step Two: Obtain a Security Guard License

Security guards must obtain a license to work in most states. Typical requirements are that you be at least 18 years of age, submit to a drug screening and undergo a background investigation. You must also have received training in areas such as detainment of suspects, property rights and emergency procedures. If you plan to become an armed security guard, you'll need additional government licensing and further background checks. In some states, continuing education may be required to renew your license.

Step Three: Obtain Work Experience

Once you're hired as a security guard, your employer will provide instruction in areas such as crisis deterrence, public relations, emergency response techniques, crime prevention and evidence handling. Your training will be more intensive if you are authorized to carry a weapon, which will likely include lessons in the proper use of firearms and first aid. ASIS International, an industry organization which is comprised of security professionals, recommends that security professionals receive at least 48 hours of training and instruction during the first 100 days on the job.

Security guards have a variety of duties based on the security needs for that business. Your job may involve routinely checking gates, windows and doors to ensure they are locked, as well as looking for signs of tampering or forced entry. You may be responsible for building entry, visitor screening and access approval.

As a security guard, you may be assigned to patrol areas by car or on foot. If assigned to a security office, you may have to monitor the results of metal detector scans, electronic security cameras and other surveillance equipment. In some instances, you may be required to obtain statements from witnesses or victims of illegal activities, and testify in court, if required.

Step Four: Become Certified

You can enhance your marketability with professional certification after you have gained work experience as a security guard. The Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International offers a professional certification after passing an examination that covers eight subject areas. To qualify for this examination, you must either possess a bachelor's degree or several years of security experience in positions of responsibility.

Step Five: Advance Your Career

As you gain experience, you may be promoted to managerial or supervisory positions, especially if you have a bachelor's degree or other significant post-secondary education. You may consider becoming an armed guard, which usually offers more pay and benefits. Starting your own security agency may also be an option if you possess managerial and business skills.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related careers include those of gaming services workers, correctional officers and private detectives. Gaming services workers protect gaming establishments from criminal activity, such as theft. Correctional officers monitor inmates in jails and prisons; they must enforce rules and sanitary conditions, and prevent disturbances and escapes. Private detectives and investigators work for individuals or entities to gather sensitive information, such as in computer crime cases. All of these fields require a high school diploma for entry. However, correctional officers typically undergo extensive on-the-job training through specialized academies, and private detectives and investigators often have many years of experience, sometimes in law enforcement.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Kaplan University

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  • Eastern Kentucky University

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    • Virginia: Richmond