Private security is no joking matter for people who might be targeted by criminals or overzealous fans. But it's not just celebrities who need security protection; high-ranking corporate business people can face threats too, as well as wealthy individuals regardless of their fame. Photo via Getty Images.
But I'm oversimplifying the role by referring to them as security or body guards. Proper security requires research, preparation and effective communication between teams and individuals that has nothing to do with brute force. An 'executive protection specialist' reached out to us to share his career and explain what it's like to work in the security industry.
Tell us about your current position, and how long you've been at it.
Currently, I work as an Executive Protection Specialist (EPS), for a high-net-worth businessman in Southern California. EP Specialist would be the technical name for what most people would call a "body guard". Although, most of us know that this particular phrase does not do justice to what our job entails. As most professional books about protective security will tell you, your mind is your most important resource, not your muscle.
There are different types of EP. The field ranges from high-threat protection overseas with well-armed teams, to corporate EP where a medium size team works to protect the "principal" [the client being protected], to celebrity security where only one EP specialist is enlisted to protect a principal. The flavour of EP I'm describing here could be characterised as corporate EP.
I've been in my current position for two years. When I was hired, my security experience was somewhat limited (military, emergency medical training, political science degree and so on), so for my first position, I worked in the "command centre". As with most EP jobs, the least experienced people start by working in an operations centre that supports the protective team 24-hours a day. Only after someone becomes competent in this area do they move on to working in the field.
In my two years in my current position, I've conducted security for our principals at concerts, sporting events, speaking engagements, domestic travel and minimal foreign travel. I've also conducted risk assessments relating to travel intelligence and threat case management. Online investigations are a significant part of this job too.
What drove you to choose your career path?
There were two primary factors that influenced my decision to take this path. First, there was a "push" factor. As a 21 year old political science major, Marine Corps Reservist and OCS Candidate, I had a crisis. In political science, we call the presentation of information that conflicts with your pre-existing beliefs, cognitive dissonance. And that was the at the centre of my crisis.
After I had completed my first session of Platoon Leader's Class (USMC Officer Candidate School), I had started to ask myself tough questions about US foreign policy. There was one statement at PLC Juniors that stuck in my head: A 20-something year old 1st Lieutenant stood in front of my PLC Company and gave a lecture in which he asked, "What purpose do wars serve?" He went on to explain that "wars are fought over political objectives". And in this obvious and simple statement, I began losing my interest in a military career. When I returned to OCS for PLC Seniors a year later, I was kicked out in week five (of six). The Commanding Officer of OCS, Colonel Whatever, told me that he had no doubt that I would successfully complete my training at OCS, but I did not have the right "character" that they were looking for.
Once I had burned that bridge so to speak, I narrowed my prospects to (A) working for a research institution/think tank or (B) corporate security/executive protection. Then comes the pull factor. I will be completely honest: Executive protection just sounded cool, and I knew the money would be decent. So, I reached out to an old Marine coworker that did EP, and he got me started in the right direction with readings and training courses.
How did you go about getting your job as an Executive Protection Specialist? What kind of education and experience did you need?
I asked [my old Marine coworker] what I could do to become a good candidate for an EP position. He gave me a list of books to read along with a series of courses to consider taking. After reading about five of the books he recommended and dropping $US2000 ($2785) on an EMT Certification course, I had my first interview for an EP related position. I interviewed for an opportunity to work in the EP team's operations centre (command centre), and I got the job.
My education at the time looked like this: military police in the USMCR (six years), BA political science, EMT certified, junior martial arts instructor and minimal private security experience (and I had a guard card -- more on that below -- as well as an exposed firearm permit and a CPR card).
One more thing: After working in the command centre for about nine months, and mastering that aspect of our work, I shelled out about $US4000 ($5570) to pay my own way though a reputable seven-day EP course. Then I was given the opportunity to work in the field, and eventually act as detail leader for some events.
Did you need any licences or certifications?
It will vary from state to state. In California, anyone employed in a security guard role is required to have a "Guard Card". This is a licence issued by California giving you permission to work as a security guard (or similar role). For this licence you pay a couple hundred dollars and sit through a three-hour course, followed by a short exam. That is the only legal requirement; the rest is up to your hiring manager's discretion.
It's not required, but I earned my Emergency Medical Technician certification and I recommend others do the same. This is the required certification to work in the US as an EMT. Having this training helps you assess patients and provide emergency medical care. This is one of those certifications that can make you stand out from the pack. At a minimum, most EP positions will require a CPR/AED certification from AHA (the American Heart Association).
Another licence that can be important is a CCW (concealed carry) permit. Having one may impress some employers, but others won't care because they can always help you get one in the future if you need it. The hiring manager cares more about hiring someone with good judgement than someone who thinks he's or she is a cowboy.
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
The popular misconceptions about EP specialists is that they are big, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. That's not the case.
Celebrity EP might be the exception, but celebrities have their own tastes and preferences. There is a place/role in EP for protectors that are physically large and intimidating (google 50 Cent and his bodyguards, for example). However, this is not the same in corporate EP, which is my focus. Celebrities preference for a particular looking body guard could be compared to their preference for one style of handbag to show off. It's part of the show.
There is much more to EP than just a goon with a pulse looking over your shoulder (but I am not downplaying the importance of the celebrity EP role). I would like to point out that no one sees the behind the scenes physical and emotional labour that it takes to support a protective team. This includes travel intelligence, threat assessment, managing threat cases and coordinating logistics for the principal. In the future, the best EP specialists will have backgrounds in computer science, open source intelligence and psychology.
What are your average work hours?
Generally, I work 50 hours per week. I am off for two non-consecutive days, but I could get asked to come in on my day off or to come in early on other days. Hours are generally some combination of day shifts or night shifts. There are occasional 70-80 hour weeks, but these are rare with a fully staffed team.
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
First, invest some of your time in reading and learning about interpersonal communication theory/techniques. This will come in handy when you have to inevitably work with strong personalities (on your team or outside your team). I have found How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 48 Laws of Power to be helpful in navigating these waters.
Second, the best way to avoid questions about your security team/practices from those outside of the program is to play dumb. When you're approached and asked questions, the easiest route is to act ignorant. If some schmuck thinks your an idiot, that's not going to hurt you. What's going to hurt you is playing the role of the cool-guy body guard and giving out sensitive information that an adversary can use.
Third, the simplest, yet most insightful tip I have ever received is this: "Remember, the principals are just normal people… they just have a lot of money." Many EP specialists (and their managers) have an attitude that slightest thing will upset the principals, or that if the principals even see you (patrolling their property and so on), you will alarm them. I [think] it's OK to do your job without a guilty conscience of offending the principals in some fractional way.
What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?
I take a page out of Seth Godin's book, Linchpin. In this book, Seth tells us that we need to become the "linchpin" of our organisation -- that person, whom if they vanished, the organisation would cease to be the same. I throw all of my energy into becoming the most valuable member of our team. When employee X quit and I took over their responsibilities, and then set the standard several times higher, my manager knew I was worth hanging on to. And after I've continued to collect more and more responsibility like a snowball rolling down a mountain, I've become indispensable. Note that becoming this valuable to your team gives you a lot of power when it comes to bargaining with your manager over higher pay, training courses and so on.
What's the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
The worst part of my job is the lack of a social life. The situation looks like this: work at lot of hours and make a lot of money and have decaying relationships or be less available for work and hence miss promotions, but have healthy relationships. This is a zero-sum game. And I am not convinced that the principals even know that we pour our souls into their protection.
Recently, I have found a solution, after wresting with the idea for the last nine months: to work independently as a security consultant, or find a niche area of security to specialise in where the dynamics are different (greater pay; less over time; more cerebral tasks). I am pursuing the former. It is my goal to work independently as a security consultant in the near future. And my website is the platform that will help me reach this goal.
What's the most enjoyable part of the job?
The most enjoyable part is travelling to areas that I might not otherwise go to. In addition, I enjoy reading and conducting research. Open source intelligence collection and analysis is a big part of my job, and also what most intrigue me. I have a knack for writing, so when I get the opportunity to present my findings -- whether travel intelligence, or the conclusions of an investigation -- I enjoy putting original ideas on paper and giving meaning to the jumble of data. I have my inner political science student to thank for this.
Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
My best advice is to speak with a reputable organisation the provides protective services and consulting. You should get a through assessment of your specific situation before moving ahead with any kind of protective scheme. There may not even be justification for protective security in your particular case, or maybe security is not the best way to mitigate your risks. Big players in the industry are Gavin De Becker and Associates and AS Solution.
How do you "move up" in your field?
First, you need to put your job before your social life. This is a controversial statement, but in my experience it is completely true. Whether you're the most senior or the most junior EP specialist, you will be asked to come in early (and stay late) on the days you're scheduled to work, and then asked to come in on the days you're not scheduled to work. Even the EP manager has to answer phone calls from the principals and the command centre in their "off time".
Second, you must continue pursuing professional development, even if you are working long hours. If you are not learning something new, you are falling behind the rest of the pack. Professional development might be reading security literature, learning a new skill or teaching a skill. You must be eager to learn. This holds true for those advancing from working in the command centre to working as an EPS in the field, and for the EPS in the field that wants to move up to managing the EP team.
What do people under or over value about what you do?
People undervalue the extensive research required to support a protective security program. At whatever event the principals attend with (or without) the security staff, there is a team member in the command centre viewing all of the public social media posts at the event, in real-time. Plus, before the security team ever attends the event with the principals, they gather research about the event (including past events), attendees, aggregate crime and so on, in order to assess the level of threat at the event. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?
Starting out, working in the command centre, one can expect to make roughly $US40,000-$US50,000 ($55,671-$69,589)/year (with overtime). With a couple years experience working in the field, an EP Specialist can expect to make $US60,000-$US90,000 ($83,507-$125,260). And after significant experience, the manager of an EP program can expect to make $US100,000-$US200,000 ($139,178-$278,357).
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
I advise that aspiring EP professionals find someone that does it for a living, then go out for coffee with them, asking every question you can think of. If you find that you are still interested, then start building up your security IQ: read, take courses, join the military, join law enforcement (will boost resume, but law enforcement is not the same as EP) and get an education.
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