Safety and Security Officer
Over 17 years in the field
Why would you want to be a security guard?
The hours are regular, you try to outsmart potential criminals, and you meet a lot of interesting people.
Learn about the skills it takes to succeed by reading about Kathryn Stall's experiences firsthand. If this profession sounds good to you, we can help you get the security guard training you'll need to find a job in security management.
How did you become a security guard?
When I got a job at Frederick and Nelson department store in 1980, I didn't even know they had security guards. I'd stand there and look up and see these guys wearing jeans and sneakers chasing people out the door who were carrying toasters. I thought, hey, I want that job. So I applied to get into retail theft. You basically wander around all day looking for people who are shoplifting.
I did that for a long time, until I was recruited by my current boss. I wanted to get out of retail. Even though I loved the work, the hours were tough. A campus job offered medical and dental benefits, and it was a whole different kind of security work.
What do you most enjoy about the work you do now?
I like working with the students. I like to be able to help with problems or facilitate getting outside help. We deal with a lot of things: assaults, domestic violence, theft, stalking, fights. We interact with the police department and the fire department. I've had people come back and thank me for calling the fire department, even though they didn't want me to at the time.
What other parts of the job make a difference?
I've dealt with women who are being assaulted by partners at home. We provide information and the support to help them get out of life-threatening situations. It's rewarding to find out when they can get out of that situation and continue with their education.
What is a perk of the job?
I don't have to sit at a desk. I get to walk around a lot. I also enjoy putting together reports because of the precision they require. Incidents are like puzzles, and I like putting them together in a cohesive way. The busier I am the happier I am, and the more I can help people the better it is.
What skills are most important to be a security guard?
Being able to spell correctly and articulate clearly. You must put down enough information on a curt report so you will be able to remember the incident—sometimes years later. I can't tell you some of the egregious reports I've seen.
I've also seen officers in court getting a hard time for misspelling or using a word they can't explain. The defense attorney will nail them in court, "What are you, stupid? Did you graduate from high school?"
Another important skill is patience, which is something I've had to learn. Things don't always happen quickly, or turn out the way you would like them to.
What's a typical day like for a security guard?
I issue parking tickets. We have medical calls. Some days we have a stolen car, or more often a car prowl. I take reports, and explain to people how to contact the police, and talk them through contacting their insurance. I walk around a lot, talk to people and give directions.
Sometimes someone will come up and say "I want to talk to you about this, I just want to run something by you," and they don't want to make a report, they just want to know how to handle something. It's not always a security issue, but I try to get them going in the right direction.
I do some first aid. We have a culinary department, and students are always cutting themselves and getting burned. Sometimes I just help them clean and bandage the wound. If they need stitches, we get them to emergency.
Any advice for people interested in becoming a security guard?
This is not a job to go into if you want people to like you. Sometimes you have to make decisions that are really unpopular. You deal with issues that are uncomfortable for the victim. Part of your job is to make it easy and comfortable for them to report what's going on.
If you take things personally, or the sight of blood makes you sick, or you have issues with confrontation, this is not the job for you. You need to think on your feet and make decisions quickly.
It can be really rewarding. I've developed a relationship with a lot of students, watched them grow up on campus. It's great to see people learn a skill, open up, and start engaging with the world around them.