Be a Security Specialist: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a security specialist. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a management-level career in security.

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Requirements for Security Specialists

Security specialists are often management-level security professionals who might work for government agencies, like the armed forces branches or the Department of Homeland Security, or private industries interested in protecting their intellectual or physical property. Employers prefer to hire applicants who have specialized experience in the security field and who hold advanced graduate degrees in fields such as criminal justice or sociology. Voluntary certification is also available, even to security personnel with less education but more specialized experience. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a security specialist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and December 2012 job listings:

Common Requirements
Degree LevelPostsecondary degree, preferably a Ph.D., required to work in management positions**
Degree FieldPolice science, criminal justice*, sociology or a related field**
CertificationVoluntary*
ExperienceAt least one year of specialized experience**
Key SkillsCommunication, decision-making, observation, honesty*
Additional RequirementsPhysical strength*, ability to pass a drug test and possibly obtain security clearance**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **job postings (December 2012)

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice prepares graduates for a wide range of careers and provides preparation for students wishing to pursue the more advanced degrees required for management-level careers in security. A bachelor's degree in criminal justice can be completed in four years, and some courses may include ethics, criminal law, punishment and rehabilitation in America, criminal procedure and criminal investigation.

Step 2: Gain Experience in the Security Field

Before moving on to an advanced degree, criminal justice students may want to obtain specialized field experience. This experience could include protecting proprietary information or property, assessing security systems or protocols, or training other security personnel. Qualifying for these positions might require passing background checks and random drug testing. If carrying a firearm is ever necessary, additional licensure will likely also be required.

Step 3: Earn an Advanced Degree

Security specialists are closely linked to management positions such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Typically, a graduate degree is preferred by employers. Ph.D. programs in criminal justice are available from many different universities. They offer students the ability to combine research and theory with practical application of law. Additionally, students may be able to specialize in areas such as national security or emergency management.

Step 4: Complete a Certification Program

Certification for security specialists is available through ASIS International, which was founded in 1955 to address issues concerning the security industry. The Certified Protection Professional (CPP) credential is available to candidates who hold bachelor's degrees and have seven or more years of security experience, three of these in supervisory roles.

Candidates lacking formal education must have nine years of experience, and at least three of these years must have been in an administrative capacity. The certification exam has 200 multiple-choice questions covering eight major areas of security management. Some of these subject areas include physical security, personnel security, practices and principles of security, investigations and emergency practices.

Success Tip:

  • Continue education. Recertification requires continuing education credits, so standing CPPs should ensure that they are participating in education, training, teaching and volunteer work in security to be approved for recertification.
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