The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

How to Become a Security Officer | A Complete Guide

iStock-1287740301.v2

Protecting others, keeping a close watch on patrons or customers, and maintaining a strict daily routine are elements of an ideal profession. If doing the same thing each day and serving as a deterring force against theft and vandalism sounds attractive to you, you might consider becoming a security officer.

Security officers are guards posted in banks, shopping centers, hotels, parks, and other places. While only some are armed, all security officers make their places of employment safer by keeping a close eye on people and property alike.

But how do you become a security officer, and is it worthwhile? Let’s break down how to become a security officer step-by-step. We’ll also go over a security officer’s expected salary, general lifestyle, and other factors. By the end, you’ll have a better grasp of what security officers do and whether you want to become one yourself.

What is a Security Officer?

Security officers or guards are security professionals trained to protect individuals and primarily property from illegal activities, including theft, assault, loitering, vandalism, and more.

However, security officers are not the same as police officers. Security officers are not authorized or deputized individuals and cannot perform arrests. They also can’t use lethal force except under particular circumstances. The majority of security guards do not hold firearms. Instead, they may carry defensive tools like pepper spray, mace, batons, or tasers.

Security guards can range from retail store guards to the more professional, collaborative guards at casinos, high-class hotels, and corporate facilities. Security guards may wear official uniforms or suits/other clothing depending on their job placement.

The Responsibilities of Security Officers

The exact responsibilities of a security officer will vary from position to position. However, most security officers carry out the following duties:

  • Observe individuals or patrons in-person or using cameras/surveillance systems
  • Watch cameras for illegal activity, especially after dark
  • Perform routine checks or patrols of assigned areas
  • Contact law enforcement officers when necessary

Security officers are responsible for contacting the police if any event or person becomes hazardous to the public. Once more, security officers cannot arrest individuals, nor can they use lethal force except in self-defense. Security guards may not use deadly force to protect property under most circumstances.

That said, security officers perform vital roles by providing civilian-level security for:

  • Companies
  • Casinos
  • Retail stores
  • Apartment complexes
  • Hotels
  • Public transit stations

Why Become a Security Officer?

Security officers are essential professionals who help keep public areas, especially places of business, safe from vandalism, theft, and other criminal activities. Additionally, many security officer jobs are not nearly as dangerous as police officer positions. Police officers more frequently come into contact with truly dangerous or unstable individuals.

Still, security officers protect people and property. Individuals who wish to provide protective service to others may find a security officer career path rewarding personally and professionally.

Furthermore, individuals with the following traits may find security officer attractive as a career:

  • Attention to detail
  • Patient
  • Disciplined
  • Decisive
  • Cooperative

Many security officers work on teams with other guards and collaborate or communicate frequently, especially when responding to potential property breaches, antagonistic individuals, or other problems.

Daily Routine of a Security Officer

The life of a security officer tends to be very disciplined and routine. Therefore, individuals looking for a career where each day is roughly the same and has a firm schedule may find security officer jobs to be great fits.

Note, however, that some security officers are required to work at night or on “off-schedules.” Where most jobs take place between 9 AM to 5 PM, some security officers will work midnight shifts. For example, they may work from 10 PM to 6 AM.

Therefore, you should only pursue a security officer career if you are okay with handling these shifts from time to time. Generally, security officers with more experience or seniority have a greater ability to pick the shifts they prefer. But nighttime or less desirable shifts may also come with increased pay for those willing to take them.

The majority of security guards/officers work for shifts that last around eight hours. Shifts don’t typically last longer than this because attention tends to drop, and energy levels decrease with time. Companies or casinos that hire security officers want their attention to be top-tier. Therefore, security officers will rotate their shifts to give each other time to rest and recuperate.

You should only consider being a security officer if you are okay on your feet for many hours at a time. Some security officer positions may allow you to sit in front of security cameras for all or most of your shift. But others may require you to patrol or stand without a break until you’re relieved.

How to Become a Security Officer

Becoming a security officer is a very straightforward process. However, you can improve your chances of being hired as a security officer and getting more money by getting a degree.

Graduate from High School

All security officers need to have a high school diploma or GED. Very few locations will hire a candidate without one of these two credentials.

While proceeding through high school, getting top grades is imperative. Your school marks will affect your chances of college admission. As you’ll see below, a college degree can increase your chances of getting a desirable security officer job.

Acquire a Degree (Optional but Recommended)

Very few, if any, security officer jobs outright require a degree. That said, having a college degree will help you stand out from other candidates. Any college degree shows that you can stick with a long educational program. It also indicates that you have the intellectual ability to handle complex problems, which sometimes crop up in this field.

Since security officer jobs don’t usually require degrees, you may acquire a job and get a degree while employed. Online degree programs are often excellent choices for working adults. Many of them can be pursued part-time or asynchronously, enabling you to complete any class material on your schedule.

Generally, either an associate or bachelor’s degree will be suitable when applying for a security officer job.

Acquire Licensure

Whether you get a degree or not, you’ll need to acquire one of two licenses before being employed as a security officer for most locations. While these licenses are not strictly necessary, most high-quality employers require industry-specific certification. These licenses are:

  • Class D Security Licenses are for unarmed security officers. It includes 40 hours of in-person training seminars and computer work. This type of license is usually desirable for security officers who work in malls, schools, hospitals, or other business settings.
  • Class G Security Licenses are for armed security officers. Armed in this sense means firearms. Security officers with Class D licenses may still carry mace, pepper spray, or other defensive tools. A Class G license requires completing a firearms training module and extra security officer training.

Both licenses will train future security officers in a variety of topics, such as:

  • Careful observation
  • Incident negotiation
  • Aggression reduction tactics (i.e., how to defuse a tense situation)
  • Camera management
  • Patrol protocols

Any young professional looking to become a security officer should acquire at least a Class D security license if possible. Depending on the position you apply for, your future employer may foot the bill for the licenses they require. You may also be able to attend a licensure class on your own time before applying for a position.

Acquire Experience

Next, you need to acquire some experience as a security officer. Generally, you’ll get your initial experience from your first security officer position. Most employers will pair you with a senior security officer who will show you the ropes.

As you gather experience, you’ll be able to push for promotions, higher pay, and additional response abilities. Furthermore, your increased expertise will enable you to teach new security officers as they join your organization.

Continuing Education for Security Officers

Some places of employment require their security officers to take continuing education modules. This continuous learning method is similar to the continuing education credits required for police officers, nurses, and other professionals that serve the public.

Depending on your employer’s requirements, continuing education could mean:

  • Online classes
  • In-person training
  • Seminar attendance

Future Career Options for Security Officers

Security officers may gather enough skills and experience to progress to new positions and enhance their careers depending on their preferences. Security officers can eventually become:

  • Police officers or detectives
  • Dispatchers, who work with emergency services to answer 911 calls
  • Security managers, who are essentially higher-paid security officers who manage several underlings
  • Security directors, who earn a higher salary and may oversee an organization’s complete security operations
  • Loss prevention managers, who focus on keeping products in stores and away from shoplifters/internal thieves

As a result, security officers can earn more money or gain new professional opportunities if they do well enough in their current positions. Becoming a security officer is not a dead-end job at all. In many cases, it can lead to a more prosperous future.

Related Resource: How to Become a Police Officer: 4 Steps to the Best Job Outlook

Choosing a Degree for a Security Officer Career

In general, any bachelor’s degree will look excellent on your security guard application/resume. That said, some degrees will look better than others and may provide you with the starting knowledge to thrive in your new position.

Degrees related to criminal justice, law, and other police work-adjacent topics are ideal if you want to get a degree and become a security officer. For instance, a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice is an excellent degree to target. A criminal justice degree provides knowledge on:

  • Criminal trials
  • Public law
  • Police work
  • Public responsibilities
  • Legal punishments
  • Legal restrictions (particularly about gun ownership)

All of this information is valuable if you plan to be a security guard, especially if you will be armed.

 

You might also consider pursuing a degree in a subject like fraud or financial crime investigation. Fraud and financial crime investigation are both subjects that could be relevant to your position if you are a security guard for a bank, credit union, or other financial firms.

While you won’t carry out investigations in the event of a robbery, you may investigate potential fraud or theft from inside your employing company. For instance, if you ever become a loss prevention specialist or security guard manager, you may need to identify who is stealing funds or where security breaches are.

If you have a mind for digital matters, a degree in cybersecurity could also be appropriate. Cybersecurity is of vital importance across industries these days. You may also shore up your organization’s security from a digital perspective. For instance, your employing bank may wish you to ensure that hackers are not infiltrating their security cameras remotely.

Online Degrees for Security Officers

No matter the degree you decide to pursue, an online degree could be a great fit. Many online degree programs are compatible with a part-time schedule. Meaning you don’t have to complete the degree in the standard two-year or four-year timeframe. You can work your job and maintain your other responsibilities while completing your education.

Furthermore, many of the best online degrees have asynchronous coursework completion schedules. That means you don’t have to attend online classes simultaneously with your fellow students. Once more, this provides additional schedule flexibility. It’s ideal for working adults who have to juggle a career and school.

Even better, many online degrees are just as legitimate and rigorous as their in-person counterparts. When you get a bachelor’s degree from an online school, it’ll look excellent on your resume.

Some of the best schools to check out for online degrees include:

You can check out more about each of these schools at GetEducated.com today!

Salaries for Security Officers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s mean wage for security guards is about $35,300. However, the lowest-paid 10% of security officers only earn about $25,400 per year. The highest-paid 10% of security officers earn more than $62,450 per year.

That’s quite a range of salaries! Generally, security officers earn more money the longer they stick with an organization. Furthermore, their paycheck might be higher if they take undesirable shifts or acquire additional licenses and certifications.

Security officers who acquire a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field may start at a higher pay rate than those hired with just a high school diploma or equivalent.

Where to Find Security Guard Jobs

Security guard jobs are most common in major metropolitan areas, with a higher rate of petty crimes like vandalism and shoplifting. As a result, companies, hotels, public transit stations, and other sites require more security presence than similar organizations in more rural areas.

Cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, and others may provide plenty of security guard opportunities. When you’re looking for employment, you can contact:

  • Hospitality organizations
  • Public transit organizations for cities/metro areas
  • Banks
  • Retail shops
  • Schools

All of these places may employ security guards occasionally or regularly. Malls are also excellent areas to find security guard jobs.

Luckily, the BLS indicates that the employment for security officers is increasing over time. The Bureau predicts that the security officer industry will grow by about 15% over the next ten years. This faster-than-average growth rate should open up over 165,000 jobs.

Conclusion

Security officers are critical employees for the operations and property safety of banks, retail stores, public transit platforms, and many other places. Without them, public areas would undoubtedly be much less safe and stretch the tasks of police even thinner than they already are.

Fortunately, the path to becoming a security officer is straightforward and open to almost everyone. Security officers make reasonable salaries, rely on routine schedules, and may have an easier time entering a police academy later down the road.

Remember that your odds of being hired as a security officer will be higher with a college degree. Luckily, you can get a criminal justice credential or another degree online and on your schedule. GetEducated.com has a collection of the best online schools for security guards and other professional pathways. Check out our list of online college programs today!

Browse Now

Search Over 1,600+ Schools with 30,000+ Degrees

Security Officer Career FAQs

Are police officers more likely to become security guards?

Yes. Because of police officers’ professional background and presumed training, police officers make excellent security guards. Those hiring security guards are more likely to pick a police officer ahead of other candidates, regardless of the other candidates’ experience.

Police officers possess many complementary or similar skills as security guards. They are attentive to detail; they can be patient and know how to handle an aggressive person causing trouble. For this reason, many retiring police officers become security guards after leaving their primary profession for extra income.

Does being a security guard make you more likely to be hired as a police officer?

All police officers are specially trained employees of the state or federal government. While they only demand a high school diploma, many police officer positions are competitive beyond this foundational requirement.

If you have security guard experience, you may find it easier to enter a police academy and train to become an officer. If you already have weapons training, you may also find that your police training goes more smoothly. Your previous work experience and education could affect where you are assigned or your starting rank in your police department.

Does military experience make you more likely to be hired as a security guard?

Yes. Similar to how a police officer makes you more likely to be hired as a security officer, so does having military experience. All current and former military personnel know how to handle a firearm and work well under pressure. These skills alone make them excellent choices for security personnel in any industry.

If you’re a veteran looking for a new employment opportunity, a security guard could be an excellent fit for your needs and skillset. Additionally, many military veterans prefer the strict routine and repetitive job cycles inherent in security officer positions.

Are night or day security guards paid more?

Generally, security guards who volunteer for undesirable shifts or positions receive a little more money than others. For many employers, nighttime security guards are paid an extra dollar or two above the standard rate for daytime security guards.

That’s because nighttime security guards sacrifice a typical daily routine for their jobs. However, this payment system is not universal across positions. Each employer may have a different wage philosophy. For example, some may pay their security officers the same rate no matter what shifts they take.

Is being a security officer dangerous?

Sometimes, but not usually. Although security officers work to keep people and property safe, their mere presence is enough to deter bad activity most of the time. For example, a would-be shoplifter may see a security guard at a retail store. Since they see the security officer, they decide not to attempt shoplifting, and no incident occurs.

Furthermore, security officers don’t work at locations where actual violence might occur in most cases. There are a few potential exceptions in certain cities or for certain companies. Ultimately, whether a security officer’s job is dangerous or not is highly dependent on the job’s specifics.