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Security Guard Career Guide

What is a security guard?

A security guard is a professional responsible for maintaining the safety and security of people, property, or organizations. They deter criminal activity, monitor authorized and unauthorized access to properties, patrol designated premises, and respond to alarms or emergencies. Their primary goal is to prevent crime and provide a sense of safety and stability in the area they are tasked to protect.

These guards play a critical role in our society by being part of the first line of defense. They serve in various settings—including office buildings, retail stores, and public spaces—and often operate when these premises are closed to the public. Their presence ensures that people and property are safe, creating a secure environment for everyone in their vicinity.

Duties and responsibilities

A security guard is responsible for patrolling and monitoring activities on a property to discourage illegal behavior and ensure compliance with rules and regulations. They may check identification and admit visitors, inspect bags and packages, and observe surveillance footage.

These professionals often respond to alarms and emergencies, providing initial response until law enforcement or other appropriate assistance arrives. They also generate reports detailing any disturbances or suspicious activities they encounter during their shift. Additionally, they often receive special training to handle and mitigate hazards like fire, flooding, or theft.

Work environment

Security guards can work in a variety of environments depending on the nature of the business or organization they serve. They could be stationed at a desk where they monitor electronic security devices, check visitors’ credentials, and direct foot traffic. In other cases, they could spend the majority of their shift on foot, patrolling the property and strenuously inspecting potential points of security weakness.

Additionally, they can operate both indoors and outdoors. For instance, a guard working at a mall may stay inside the building, while one working for a construction site or at a gated community may spend most of their time outdoors. The job entails some physical risk, especially when dealing with disturbances or emergencies, but protective gear and training are provided in preparation for these events.

Typical work hours

The work hours for security guards can be quite varied. Since businesses and properties require protection round-the-clock, they often work in shifts that cover all hours of the day and night, including weekends and holidays. These shifts can be during the day, overnight, or rotational.

Full-time guards often work 40 hours per week, but overtime is not uncommon, particularly when covering for absent colleagues or during periods of heightened security risk. Some may also be on call and expected to respond in the event of an emergency outside of their regular work hours.

How to become a security guard

This career guide section outlines how to become a security guard. The following steps, which include education requirements, skills acquisition, licensing, and job search strategies, will provide you with a clear path toward achieving your career goal.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or its equivalent

While some security jobs do not require a high school education, most employers prefer security guards with a high school diploma or GED certificate. Basic education equips you with essential skills such as effective communication, problem-solving, and knowledge of basic law enforcement.

Step 2: Gain experience in related fields

Prior experience in law enforcement, the military, or a public safety officer role can increase your chances of securing a security guard position. Employers often value the discipline, real-world experience, and tactical skills gained from these roles.

Step 3: Complete training

Many states require the completion of specific training courses before starting work. This training often covers topics like emergency response procedures, detention of suspects, and information about the powers of a security guard.

Step 4: Get a security guard license

Mandatory licensing requirements vary significantly from one state to another. However, most states require some form of licensing, which often includes background checks, completion of a training course, and sometimes passing an exam.

Step 5: Maintain physical fitness

Working in security often requires physical stamina. Requirements can include standing for long periods, patrolling large areas, and occasionally dealing with confrontations. Regular physical fitness activities and a healthy lifestyle can help you maintain the necessary fitness level.

Step 6: Develop excellent communication and observation skills

Security guards must be able to express themselves clearly, as they often interact with various individuals, including law enforcement officials, management, and the general public. Observation skills are also vital. Guards must be vigilant and aware of their surroundings to recognize potential security threats.

Step 7: Apply for jobs

After obtaining the necessary qualifications, skill set, and license, start applying for security guard positions. Increase your chances of getting hired by crafting a professional resume highlighting your education, skills, experience, and any specialized training you’ve completed.

Step 8: Pass the employer’s screening process

When you receive a job offer, you will typically undergo a screening process that might include drug testing, confirmation of your training and licensing, a detailed background check, and potentially a rigorous physical examination. Passing all these steps is the final condition for securing the job.

How much do security guards make?

Security guard salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Factors that specifically impact their compensation include the risk level of the environment, events guarded, time of shifts, and whether the role requires advanced security training or weapon handling.

Highest paying industries

  • Natural Gas Distribution – $64,240
  • Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution – $60,370
  • Scientific Research and Development Services – $50,740
  • Federal Executive Branch – $50,030
  • Promoters of Performing Arts and Sports – $48,760

Highest paying states

  • Washington – $48,290
  • Alaska – $47,600
  • District of Columbia – $46,540
  • California – $45,450
  • Maryland – $41,210

Browse security guard salary data by market

Types of security guards

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for security guards. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

Retail security guard

Posted within a retail setting, these guards are responsible for protecting the goods and staff within the store. Maintaining a visible presence to deter theft, observing customer behaviors, and using security systems are all part of their day-to-day routine.

Surveillance operator

Unlike regular on-foot guards, the realm of a surveillance operator is mostly in front of monitors and control systems. Their main tasks revolve around watching and reacting to suspicious activities detected by security cameras, alarms, and other surveillance systems in large facilities or complexes.

Armored car guard

Tasked with transporting valuable items or large sums of money, armored car guards have one of the high-risk types of jobs in this field. It’s their job to protect and deliver valuable goods safely between locations, understanding that any mistake could cost a fortune.

Corporate security guard

Often serving in high-rises and large corporate offices, these guards ensure the safety of employees, clients, and property from threats such as burglary, vandalism, and even corporate espionage. Their familiarity with fire safety, evacuation drills, and emergency response protocols is essential in addition to regular duties.

Residential security guard

Residential security guards work in housing complexes, gated communities, and other residential settings. Their priority is to provide safety to the residents and their properties, oversee visitors’ entries, and respond quickly to any potential issues.

Top skills for security guards

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a security guard. From sharp observation skills to high physical fitness, a variety of skills and traits enhance their performance.

Observation skills

Excellent observation skills are vital for a security guard. They are responsible for monitoring their surroundings, noticing any irregularities, and avoiding dangerous situations. Good observation skills also involve constantly tracking the activities of people and events to prevent mishaps.

Physical fitness

Being physically fit is crucial in this profession. These guards must often be on their feet for extended periods or react quickly to emergencies. They may also need to apprehend people or move quickly to attend to incidents. Physical stamina, strength, and agility are key elements of physical fitness for this role.

Interpersonal skills

Security guards regularly interact with others, making interpersonal skills vital. They must be able to build rapport with people quickly, diffuse confrontations, and provide information or direction where necessary. The ability to communicate effectively with diverse individuals can also help maintain a safe and secure environment.

Problem-solving skills

These professionals often face situations requiring quick thinking and effective problem-solving. They have to solve problems to prevent potential harm or damage. They might need to devise immediate plans to handle emergencies, manage unexpected incidents, or address complaints and queries.


A strong sense of responsibility and integrity is pivotal for this role. As these guards are entrusted to protect property and individuals, they need to show honesty, dependability, and commitment to their duties. They should also respect the confidential nature of their work.

Security guard career path options

If you’re already working as a security guard, you’re probably curious about the future regarding career progression. The security industry can provide many opportunities for growth, both linear and lateral. Patience, dedication, and willingness to continually learn and adapt are significant factors that can guide your future journey.

A common pathway is moving up the ranks within security officer positions. You can progress from a standard guard to a senior security officer, shift supervisor, and then to a site supervisor. Each step involves managing greater levels of responsibility and, in some cases, overseeing other security personnel. Corporate security management is a possible next step for those who excel in supervisory roles, providing a more strategic view on security matters.

In other scenarios, you might consider branching out into specialized roles. This could include positions in personal protection, where you provide security services for individuals often known as bodyguards. Other niche roles in the security industry can involve working in settings like casinos or museums or specializing in areas such as cybersecurity. These roles demand a more specialized set of skills and knowledge, often requiring additional training and certification.

Lastly, many guards choose to leverage their years of experience providing security services to enter into law enforcement or private investigation. Both career pathways can offer the advantage of a more dynamic work environment and the satisfaction of a higher level of societal contribution or influence. However, the entry barriers can be high, often involving rigorous academic requirements, strict physical fitness standards, and multifaceted training programs.

The security industry is continuously evolving, with technology playing a significant role in how security professionals work. As cyber threats grow, participants in security practices increasingly leverage modern technologies to deter criminal activities. This phenomenon not only affects cybersecurity professionals but also impacts the duties of security guards. For instance, the use of surveillance cameras, sensors, and access control systems significantly changed the landscape. These added responsibilities require guards to have problem-solving skills, computer proficiency, and the ability to adapt to sophisticated tools swiftly.

Demands for private security services are also rising, primarily due to the perceived high crime rates and increasing awareness of these professionals’ services. This market growth aligns with a trend toward contracting security services instead of maintaining proprietary security forces. As businesses become more concerned about crime, they are exploring all avenues to increase safety protocols, including the hiring of security guards.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for security guards through 2032 is -1%, with little or no change. Although this job demand stems from concern about crime, vandalism, and terrorism, the increasing use of technology and the automation of surveillance may limit the hiring of more guards. However, new positions are continually emerging in industries such as healthcare, as the aging population requires more care, including security services.n

Security guard career tips

Understand your post orders

The instructions and information provided by clients or management about managing a specific location are called post orders. These may include rules about building access, areas of special attention, and other specific requirements.

Physical fitness

Working in this profession often requires long hours on your feet and quick responses to potentially dangerous situations. Regular exercise aids in maintaining your physical health and stamina necessary for this demanding job.

Knowledge of laws and regulations

Being familiar with the laws and regulations related to security work is essential. This knowledge helps navigate delicate situations effectively and professionally while avoiding unauthorized actions that could lead to legal consequences.

Build a professional network

Connecting with other professionals in your industry is significant. It can present opportunities to learn from their experiences. Professional security associations provide these networking opportunities. Some of these associations include:

  • National Association of Professional Security Guards (NAPS)
  • ASIS International
  • International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO)

Continuous learning

The field of security is ever-evolving, with new security strategies and technologies emerging regularly. Therefore, it’s essential to never stop learning. Here are some suggestions:

  • Take courses: Many institutions and online platforms offer courses in security management and law enforcement.
  • Stay up-to-date with security tech: Modern security systems utilize technology ranging from CCTV cameras to advanced alarm systems. Familiarity with these systems will enhance your competence as a security guard.
  • Obtain certifications: Certifications can help set you apart from other professionals. Consider earning certifications such as Certified Protection Professional (CPP) offered by ASIS International or Certified Security Supervision and Management (CSSM) program offered by the IFPO.

Where the security guard jobs are

Top employers

  • Securitas
  • Allied Universal
  • G4S
  • ADT
  • US Security Associates

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder


What skills are necessary to be a successful security guard?

Being a successful security guard requires a diverse mix of skills. You need to be observant and alert to detect irregularities, as your primary function is to ensure the safety and security of people and property. Effective communication skills are just as important, whether talking to individuals on property or writing reports. Honesty, integrity, and physical fitness are also key attributes for this role. Additionally, a basic understanding of operating security equipment, such as CCTV systems, is beneficial.

Do security guards need self-defense training?

Yes, self-defense training is often necessary for security guards. While this job does not typically involve engaging in physical altercations, the ability to protect oneself and others can be important in certain situations. Each state has its own regulations about the level of training required, and many employers provide this training to ensure their guards can handle various scenarios.

What are the physical demands for a security guard?

Security guards often have to be on their feet for extended periods, monitoring their environment. Some positions may require guards to patrol large areas on foot, climb stairs, or run in response to emergencies. Thus, a good level of physical fitness can be beneficial. Additionally, guards may need to respond to physical threats, requiring strength and agility. However, the physical demands largely depend on the nature of the specific security job.

What kind of work environment can a security guard expect?

Security guards can work in various environments, with the specifics varying greatly depending on the employer and location. This could range from indoor settings like office buildings, schools, and retail stores to outdoor locations like construction sites. They may work in bright, well-lit conditions or less well-lit situations, such as nighttime patrols. Regardless of the setting, a major part of their job is often to adapt quickly to their environment to ensure safety and security.

Is experience required to become a security guard?

Not always. Entry-level positions in security may not require any prior experience, just a willingness to learn and a high school diploma. However, some positions, particularly those with higher levels of responsibility, may require prior experience in security or related fields. Many employers offer on-the-job training to new hires, teaching them necessary skills, emergency response procedures, and the correct use of security tools and technology.

Are there certain personality traits that make a person a good security guard?

Certain personality traits lend themselves to success in the role of a security guard. Detail-oriented individuals who are vigilant and observant can effectively detect and prevent security threats. Patience and self-discipline are also important traits, as security work often involves maintaining the same post for extended periods. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are useful, as interacting with people is a regular part of most security jobs. Honesty and integrity are crucial as well, given the trust placed in security personnel.

What are the common challenges a security guard faces?

Security guards may face a variety of challenges. They are often placed in situations with a high level of responsibility and very little supervision. They can encounter dangerous or emergent situations where they must respond quickly and effectively. Being on their feet for long hours and working in a variety of conditions, including poor weather, can also be challenging. Guards may also have to handle people who are difficult or in distress, requiring good judgment and communication skills.

What kind of hours does a security guard typically work?

As a security guard, your schedule can vary greatly depending on your employer’s needs. Security is needed around the clock, so guards can work day shifts, night shifts, or irregular hours. Many security positions require guards to be available for shift work, including weekends and holidays. Some positions may require on-call services to respond to emergencies outside normal working hours. These factors can lead to guards working a full-time schedule, part-time, or irregular hours.

What are the primary responsibilities of a security guard?

A security guard’s main responsibility is to protect people, property, and information. They monitor premises to prevent theft, violence, or infractions of rules and respond appropriately when incidents occur. Other duties may include controlling property access, conducting security checks, and reporting irregularities. Some positions may also require using surveillance equipment or preparing detailed reports of any security incidents or breaches.