It's cliché but true: One bad apple gives the whole bunch a bad name. When hiring new officers for private security, one untrained security officer can ruin both your company's brand and the reputation of the industry as a whole. Given that the private security industry isn't as regulated by government powers as other industries, the responsibility falls on you as the owner, security director or hiring manager to check and check again that you're hiring the best and most truthful candidates possible. Here are some things to keep in mind when interviewing candidates:
Perform a criminal background check on all candidates. They might be pricey and time-consuming, but nothing is more worthwhile when it comes to choosing private security officers. Most states require that security officers have a license to be able to perform the job, which include a background check performed by the state. However, relying on one source could be your downfall. In 2014, Springdale Job Corps, a school in Troutdale, Oregon, found itself on the receiving end of a $7.5 million lawsuit when a privately employed security officer working on campus hurt a student. The guard in question had a criminal history including charges of prostitution and fraud, yet the company that hired him missed it. Conducting an investigation of your own is the safest way to make sure your new hire is who you expect him to be.
Establish your own standards, and stick to them. Do you require that candidates hold legal residency or U.S. citizenship? Believe it or not, that's optional in 10 states. Do you have a minimum age or experience level you require before hiring? What are your training standards? Whether you require previous law enforcement or military experience, or choose to develop your own training curriculum, be sure you clearly spell out the standards expected.
Conduct in-depth interviews. Do your positions often require your guards to operate in crowds effectively? Try conducting one of your interviews at a crowded location, such as a busy shopping center, and see how the candidates respond. Are they uncomfortable with people constantly walking by them? Can they still focus on the task at hand? Are they easily distracted? The security profession requires honed observation skills and the ability to notice when something's out of the ordinary.
False security officer licenses do exist, so trust your instinct. Recently, hundreds of people went under investigation in Florida for carrying fake licenses that allowed them to carry a gun at work. Many states require that security officers add hours of firearm training and pass a test before they can carry a weapon. The forged training certificates were just the first clue many of the security officers arrested had no training. Spotting a falsified license is extremely hard; asking the right questions, checking their resume and background for suspicious activity, and trusting your instincts will help you rule out potential threats.
Evaluate their people skills. Do your candidates smile, greet people, and generally pick up on social cues? Are they clean cut and professional-looking? While their primary task and purpose is security, every guard simultaneously represents your brand and the brand of whatever client they're guarding. No company wants a guard that gets grouchy or rude to a customer who stops to ask them for directions to the restroom or the nearest coffee shop, so look for candidates with genuinely good manners.
Get technical. Does the position require extensive use of electronic surveillance, video recording, or radio equipment? Then observe how the candidate performs with each or all. Do they get a wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights kind of look when you hand them an electronic device? Can they write shift reports or event summaries quickly and clearly? If required to use a radio, do they have good radio etiquette? Depending on the candidate's background, these should be easy tasks (especially for prior military or law enforcement), but an untrained novice will likely stumble and reveal their lack of training quickly.
This might seem like a lot of work, but it's important to take a long-term perspective of the whole process and industry. The public perception of private security is often quite poor; this perception is only reinforced when clients have negative experiences with a security company that took shortcuts rather than do the due diligence when it came to hiring its guards. Above all, an untrained security officer can put lives at risk.
As owners and hiring managers, you are the first and last line of defense for the industry's reputation, and your choices will directly impact the credibility of both your brand and the industry as a whole.