Even at the corporate level, most private security departments are relatively small, and there is a high degree of movement between organizations. This is a highly-specialized field with a very specific skillset, and demonstrated private security experience and expertise is a valuable commodity.
When it comes to new hires, it should come as no surprise that a significant percentage of private security professionals come to the industry with a background in law enforcement, the military, or a career with one of the government’s “three-letter agencies.”
But while the skills and demands placed on personnel in those occupations have some overlap with the requirements of a career in private security, the transition is not always an easy one.
There are significant differences between what is required of a soldier and a Chief Information Security Officer, between the actions and attitude demanded of a police officer and a protective services agent, and between the perspectives and priorities of a risk analyst and an FBI agent.
Which is a big reason why the failure rate for individuals making that transition is relatively high. And also why it’s so important for HR professionals, hiring managers, and decision-makers at private security organizations to understand the nuances of that transition: what it looks like, how and why it’s so difficult, what skills and perspectives do and do not translate, and what they need to be looking for when hiring, training and evaluating prospective and current security professionals.
You do what you’ve done
One common issue new private security professionals need to address is a tendency to fall back on established patterns and past experiences: to “do what they know.” They (understandably) tend to default to the mindset and strategic approach to the work that they utilized in their previous career in law enforcement, the military, or a government agency.
A former FBI agent will generally feel like the right approach is to set up a central investigations unit, a Secret Service professional will tend to emphasize physical security and investigations, etc. The best and most successful private security professionals are those that can break those habits and mindsets quickly, and can demonstrate an ability to work with a mentor or more established professional to help that process along.
Adapting to ambiguity
For those making the transition to private security, the ambiguity and comparative chaos of the corporate world can be a difficult context in which to operate. Experienced private security experts understand that the job is less about enforcement and more about the ability to identify and mitigate risk.
Private security is largely about crisis management, investigative capacity, sophisticated strategic planning, and the ability to manage and analyze the flow of information into and across the organization and its clients. In many cases, there are new shades of gray that must be accounted for. In the world of private security, the best approach isn’t always the strongest show of force or the most robust response—it often requires the ability to collaborate and confer with legal and HR.
In some cases, that might mean refraining from pursuing an aggressive course of action or prosecuting a bad actor, if it is in the best interests of the client or company.
Authority vs. Influence
One of the critical differences between public law enforcement or military service and private security is that the latter is less an exercise in raw power or establishing authority, and much more about influence. There is a clear hierarchy in the military or in law enforcement that is often absent in the private sector. In a corporation, power can be slippery.
The most effective private security professionals are those that are most adept at finding ways to influence decision-making at the highest levels. It’s not so much about exercising traditional command and control—it requires positive political skills, explanation, and persuasion.
Traits vs. tactics
For the most part, private-sector security tactical and strategic specifics can be taught or acquired. But HR professionals, hiring managers, and decision-makers within public or private organizations should be looking beyond the resume to identify those candidates who display the right combination of traits and personal attributes that will increase their chances of success in this space. Those include:
- Strong analytical skills and the ability to offer keen insights.
- Demonstrated negotiating ability.
- Sensitivity to different professional cultures and workplace dynamics.
- Relationship-builders who are collaborative and easy to work with.
- Strong communication skills.
- Tolerance for nuance and ambiguity.
- Curiosity and passion for understanding the subtleties and complexities of different businesses and industries.
- A willingness to see other views, embrace operational flexibility, and recognize that one size doesn’t fit all.
Many former military and law enforcement professionals possess strong skills and training that can be extremely relevant in a corporate environment.
If hiring managers take care during the interview and selection process and are mindful of the differences that exist between public service and private security, they can not only identify the best candidates, they can actively assist in their successful transition to the private sector.