The executive protection industry is growing. Every year, more people are working in protective security, serving more clients than ever before. Multi-client providers like AS Solution add significant numbers of new employees annually. Corporations, family offices, and individuals are hiring, too.
So, with all this growth and the resultant competition for the best protective talent, you’d think the executive protection industry’s focus on career planning would be laser-sharp, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, career path planning in the executive protection industry is still pretty immature. The situation is improving, but not fast enough to make a difference in your career here and now. The upshot is, this one’s on you.
Although specialist providers like us are getting better at it, we still have a long way to go. Corporations that hire protective security personnel as full-time employees rarely, if ever, provide these niche staff anything like the career advancement opportunities that they routinely offer other employees such as engineers and MBAs. EP schools sell courses that might help newcomers to the industry land their first job, but not much that supports moving up the managerial ladder.
If you want a path through the EP career jungle, bring your own machete
This blog is not meant to absolve any of the above from responsibility. Specialist EP providers, corporations, and other organizations with EP programs, and EP schools must all play their role in professionalizing the EP industry – including the implementation of more clearly defined career path planning. And we know for a fact that we and others are working on it. Still, all the good intentions in the world are not going to write your career path plan.
It would be nice to be able to tell aspiring executive protection stars that all they have to do is get on the career treadmill, start walking, and they’ll get where they want to go. But it’s good to be honest, too: If you want a path through the executive protection career path jungle, remember to bring your own machete to clear the way. And don’t forget to keep your machete and all your other tools as sharp as they can be.
For EP colleagues who enter the industry from the military or law enforcement, this might be something new. Large public sector organizations have well-established career development programs and long experience in identifying talent and nurturing it through the ranks. Of course, your personal interests and initiative still matter, and nothing come from nothing. Still, military and LEO vets transitioning into EP will have to take much more responsibility for their career development than they were used to in their previous careers.
The 3 most important things in your EP career planning toolbox: Realistic goals, strong relationships – and a dedication to lifelong learning
So, what are the tools you need to plan your EP career successfully? Do you actually need a machete? Spoiler alert: No, the machete thing is a metaphor. But you will need to keep some other tools sharp – especially the big three – goals, relationship building and learning. Let’s take a closer look at each.
1. Set realistic goals: Like everything else that matters, career planning starts with intent. What are your goals for an EP career? Do you want to make a lot of money without working very hard and never leave your hometown or comfort zone? Then maybe you should think about a different career – or have been born into a different family.
Your goals are personal, and no one can set them for you but you. They can be ultra-ambitious or extremely low-key. But before you take too many steps on the career path, it really helps to know where you want to go. Maybe you want to move into a supervisory role and management. You might want lots of travel or as little as possible. Tech could turn you on or off, as could report writing, admin work and meetings.
Self-assessment is part of realistic goal setting. Beyond what interests you, you also need to think about what makes you attractive to others on the team and to employers. Everyone has their own mix of knowledge, skills, experience, and accomplishments. Where you’re at in your life – in terms of significant others, mobility, and expenses-vs-income – among many other things – also plays a role.
We’re all for ambition, but make sure it’s tempered with realism. You don’t need to be a super-star to have a good career or to be happy. Consider American football teams. Everyone knows the coach’s and quarterback’s names, but name recognition for the offensive or defensive line members is much lower. Maybe that’s because there’s just one QB and head coach on the field at a time, but there are plenty of linemen. The thing is, they all do their jobs, they all make money, and no team can win without them all. And if all the other teams’ linemen get better and we don’t, our team is going to lose.
2. Build strong relationships: Networking is the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people when the topic moves to career development, and there is no doubt that a good network opens the door to many career opportunities. We’ve written about the importance of networking for EP professionals before. But networking is only the beginning. What we’re really interested in – or should be – is building strong professional relationships.
To take an example from the world of executive protection, the IPSB’s Close Protection Conference is a fantastic networking experience. The conference draws all kinds of stakeholders from all five “slices” of the protection industry, all in one place, for several intense days. But simply showing up, sitting in your chair, and standing in line at the lunch buffet is not going to help your career much. Sure, you’ll learn something and maybe even a lot from the presentations, but you won’t get the full benefit unless you use it as an opportunity to build relationships. And you do that by being valuable – not just by trying to get face time with someone you thin can help you.
You can add value to the protective industry, to others working in it, and to your own career in all kinds of ways. You can get involved in your own company’s efforts to provide clients with ever more professional services. You can help out the new folks who just joined the industry, in formal or informal mentor relationships. You can participate in organizations like the IPSB and AIRIP.
3. Keep learning: No matter which skillsets you already possess, your career depends on both keeping existing skills sharp and on adding new ones.
So, if you are serious about a career as a protective agent, please continue to maintain perishable skills such as CPR and emergency medicine, tactical driving, and defensive tactics. See our previous blog on sustainment training to learn more.
But don’t stop there. Instead of taking even more courses in what you’re already good at, you should consider spending the scarce resource of time on picking up new skills – also the ones that take you out of your comfort zone. Going from a seventh-degree black belt to a coral belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a big achievement but taking an introductory course in project management or report writing might do your career more good.
Seek out new learning opportunities as if your career depended on it. Because it does.
Learning comes in the form of formal training, of course, but learning is also an attitude. If you want to move up, ask your manager which skills would be necessary to get to the next level, then figure out how to get these skills. Beyond the occasional performance review, ask your peers for feedback, too: How do they perceive your work? What do they see as areas of potential improvement?
A good career path in EP can have many directions. Straight up is only one of them.
Understanding what you’re good and bad at is a great starting point for career path development. So are lateral career moves.
Instead of moving up, move sideways. Doing similar things for other clients, in different teams or in different parts of the organization, accelerates learning by doing. What worked in one set of circumstances might or might not work in another. Knowing the difference is key. Experience in different contexts is how you get the experience.
Larger specialist EP providers have more opportunities for vertical and lateral career shifts than smaller ones. But that doesn’t mean that we always win the battle for the best talent. As an employer, one of AS Solution’s most significant competitors for talent is our clients – not other specialist providers. Although we don’t have any solid statistics on the matter, we’re quite sure that we lose more staff to the organizations for whom we provide embedded programs than we do to other EP companies with whom we compete to get those programs.
Some people (or their significant others) are enticed by the promise of stock options, dental plans, and perceived job security. Others think it’s cooler to tell their friends that they work for a company whose name everyone recognizes rather than something like “AS Solution”.
We used to moan and groan about this, but not anymore. Now, we accept this as a fact of life and move on. We’ve learned that good career paths in executive protection can have many directions, and that what goes around, comes around.