Becoming a Security Guard: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
A security guard's mean annual salary is around $28,000. Is it worth the employment requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the field's career outlook to find out if becoming a security guard is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Security Guard Career

As a security guard, you can help customers and employees stay safe by keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. Discover the pros and cons of becoming a security guard and see if it's a good job for you.

PROS of Being a Security Guard
Average expected employment growth (12% between 2012 and 2022)*
Good opportunities for advancement due to high turnover rates*
Advanced degree not required (many workers can just earn their high school diploma or GED)*
Can work in many industries, including sales, security, transportation, gaming and education*

CONS of Being a Security Guard
Relatively high rate of on-the-job fatalities (7.4 deaths per 100,000 security guards vs. 3.5 per 100,000 for all professions as of 2009)*
Higher rates of assaults and violence (in 2009, about 15% of security guard workplace injuries were due to violent acts vs. only 5% for all other professions)*
Usually requires working on your feet*
On call and rotating shifts are common*
Lower-than-average mean salary of $28,000 in 2014*

Source: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

While exact duties vary by location, security guards are generally responsible for ensuring the safety of people and property. As a security guard, you might keep an eye out for suspicious or illegal activity in stores, hospitals, office buildings or other places of work and business. If there is a security incident - such as an attempted theft, an illegal entry or a vandalism - you must detain the suspect and write a report detailing what happened. You might even testify to events in court.

Certain types of guards might receive training and gain experience in one type of security branch, such as gaming surveillance at casinos. Armed guards receive training on how to use and contain weapons. You might also need to operate specific equipment, such as X-ray machines or metal detectors, particularly if you work for airline security.

Salary and Career Prospects

Security guards earned a mean annual wage of $28,000, or $13 per hour, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). The top-paying industry for this profession was electric power generation, transmission, and distribution with these types of security guards making an annual mean wage of about $49,000. Natural gas distribution security guards also made high average wages of about $49,000 each year. Regions with the highest concentration of workers included Hawaii, Nevada, New York, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Employment of security guards was expected to grow by 12% between 2012 and 2022, partially because of continued concerns about terrorism and other security threats. More competition was predicted for higher-paying jobs, which were usually found in sectors that require a high level of security.

Education and Training Requirements

Many security guard positions are available to those with a high school diploma or GED, reported the BLS. If you're hoping to work for a high-security or high-profile company, a degree in police science or criminal justice might be preferred. Some schools offer postsecondary programs for future security guards, and a degree might be necessary for advancement or certification later on in your career. Other general qualifications include strong character, good health, physical fitness and quick reflexes.

Licensure

According to the BLS, most states require security guards to be licensed. You typically must be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, submit to drug testing and complete a training program. Requirements vary by state, but the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) International recommended that candidates pass a written exam and receive on-the-job training in safety, first aid, report writing and possibly firearms.

Job Postings from Real Employers

To work as a security guard, you typically need a valid driver's license and a good driving record. Your work could involve patrolling a given area and interacting with employees. Since you must assist customers in need, your employer might specify that you keep a clean and professional appearance. Read on for a few examples of what employers were looking for on Careerbuilder.com in March 2012.

  • A security staffing firm in Texas that is looking for a hospital security guard wants an applicant with at least one year of experience. Candidates must hold either a high school diploma or GED, or they must have at least 10 years of employment history. Other requirements include a neat appearance and a professional demeanor.
  • An amusement park in California advertised for a seasonal, temporary security officer for an entry-level position. Duties include inspecting bags and other items entering the park, surveying the grounds and assisting guests when needed. Applicants need to be at least 18 and must be willing to work weekend, holiday and graveyard shifts.
  • A car dealership in California advertised for a full-time security officer to protect dealership merchandise, workers and guests. Duties included patrolling the lot, investigating disturbances and writing reports. Applicants must have a good driving record and customer service skills.
  • A security guard service company advertised for armed and roving security guards in Denver, CO. The posting specifies that candidates must be 18 or older with no criminal history. Applicants must undergo a drug test and need to be on call 24 hours per day.
  • A chain technology retailer advertised for a security guard at a store in Maryland. A high school diploma or equivalent is required, and applicants must have either two years of previous security-related experience or a relevant associate's degree. The posting specifies that applicants should be certified in CPR and first aid and should have experience working with computers.

How Can I Stand out?

Training in CPR, first aid and other emergency-response skills can be a great addition to your security management abilities. A select number of employers require this training, but earning these safety certifications before applying for jobs can show employers that you're ready to handle a variety of medical emergencies. Receiving a bachelor's degree in the criminal justice or law enforcement field also goes beyond most employee requirements and can set you apart from other applicants.

Get Certified

Licensure is generally required of all security guards, but certification is an optional professional endorsement that could give you an edge in the job market. ASIS International offers a couple of certification programs that involve taking a standardized exam (www.asisonline.org). If you have multiple years of security experience or a bachelor's degree, you might be eligible to become certified as a Physical Security Professional or Certified Protection Professional.

Other Fields to Consider

Correctional Officer

If you know you want to work in security but would like a more challenging environment, consider a career as a prison correctional officer. As a correctional officer, you must help maintain safety and order within a prison institution. Your duties could likely include supervising inmates and settling disputes, and work can be physically dangerous. Employment growth was expected to be five percent between 2010 and 2020, which was slower than average. Considering you only need a high school diploma, salaries are higher, with professionals taking in an average of about $43,000 as of May 2011.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Maybe you know that you want to help protect others, but patrolling and stopping crimes isn't for you. Consider a career as an occupational health and safety specialist, where you must analyze workspaces to predict and prevent hazards to employees and the environment. You might need to obtain a bachelor's degree, and certification is recommended. Positions in this field were expected to grow nine percent from 2010-2020, which was a little slower than average. Workers made an average salary of about $67,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
      • B.A. - Homeland Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    2. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Cloud Technologies (Campus)
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
      • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
    Master's
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • PhD in Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Behavior Management Track
    Certificate
      • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
      • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Fraud Prevention and Detection
    Certificate
      • Monitoring, Surveillance, and Intelligence Operations Cert
      • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate
      • Cyber Network Defense Certificate
      • Financial Crimes Investigator Certificate
      • Financial Crime and Compliance Operations Cert
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Full Sail University

  • BS - Cloud Technologies (Campus)

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
  • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management

What is your highest level of education?