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How to Become a Security Guard or Gaming Surveillance Officer

Most security guard jobs require an applicant to have a high school diploma or GED. Gaming surveillance officers sometimes need additional coursework beyond a high school diploma. Most states require guards to be licensed.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Security guards must be able to speak with members of the public, suspected offenders, and law enforcement officers. 

Decision-making skills. Guards must be able to quickly determine the best course of action when a dangerous situation arises.  

Honesty. Guards must be honest because they are trusted to protect confidential information or expensive equipment.

Observation skills. Guards must be alert and aware of their surroundings, able to quickly recognize anything out of the ordinary.

Physical strength. Guards must be strong enough to deal with offenders and to handle emergency situations.

Education and Training

Unarmed guards generally need to have a high school diploma or GED, although some jobs may not have any specific educational requirement. For armed guards, employers usually prefer people who are high school graduates or who have some coursework in criminal justice.

Some employers prefer to hire security guards with some higher education, such as a police science or criminal justice degree. Programs and courses that focus specifically on security guards also are available at some postsecondary schools.

Many employers give newly hired guards instruction before they start the job and provide on-the-job training. The amount of training guards receive varies. Training covers numerous topics, such as emergency procedures, detention of suspected criminals, and communication skills.

ASIS International has written voluntary guidelines that recommend minimum criteria for selecting and training private security officers. The guidelines recommend that security guards receive preassignment training in accordance with all applicable legal requirements, 8–16 hours of on-the-job training, and 8 hours of annual training. This may include training in protection, public relations, report writing, deterring crises, first aid, and specialized training related to the guard's assignment. The guidelines also recommend that security guards be required to pass one or more written or performance exams.

In addition, the guidelines recommend annual firearms training for armed officers as required by the state in which they work. Training is more rigorous for armed guards because their employers are legally responsible for any use of force. Armed guards may be periodically tested in the use of firearms.

Transportation security screeners who work for the TSA must have a high school diploma, a GED, or 1 year of related work experience. They must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. TSA screeners must pass a background check, drug testing, and a physical exam. Candidates who meet these requirements must complete both classroom and on-the-job training before passing a certification exam. Ongoing training is usually required.

Gaming surveillance officers and investigators usually need some training beyond high school, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Several educational institutions offer certification programs. Classroom training generally is conducted in a casino like atmosphere and includes the use of surveillance camera equipment. Employers may prefer individuals with casino experience or investigation experience. Technical skills and experience with computers also is a plus.


Most states require that guards be licensed. To be licensed as a guard, individuals must usually be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, and complete classroom training. However, licensing requirements vary from state to state.

Drug testing is often required and may be ongoing and random. Many jobs also require a driver's license. An increasing number of states are making ongoing training a legal requirement for keeping a license.

Guards who carry weapons must be licensed by the appropriate government authority. Armed guard positions also have more stringent background checks and entry requirements than those of unarmed guards. Rigorous hiring and screening programs, including background, criminal record, and fingerprint checks, are typical for armed guards.


In addition to being licensed, some security guards may choose to become certified. ASIS International offers the Certified Protection Professional certification for security workers who want a transferable validation of their knowledge and skills.


Because many people do not stay long in this occupation, opportunities for advancement are good for those who make a career in security.   

Some guards may advance to positions of supervisor or security manager. Guards with postsecondary education or with related certifications may be preferred. Armed security guards have a greater potential for advancement and enjoy higher earnings.

Guards with management skills may open their own contract security guard agencies. Guards also can move to an organization that needs higher levels of security, which may result in more prestige or higher pay.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition