Getting that better job, an introduction by Michael O’Sullivan

There are some very good positions available in the security industry. Why can they be so hard to find?

This is a very good question, considering a perennial problem for employers continues to be the availability of high-quality candidates for the positions available. I’m talking here about the common-sense side of the job market, not that fantasy football side where ‘security managers’ jobs are being advertised for a ridiculous hourly rate for a 60 hour week!

One challenge with the better jobs is that they are not always advertised! There are lots of ways that the better jobs get filled.

A lot of employers have ‘a refer someone you know schemes’. Although no guarantee that your recommendation will get the job the assumption is that you wouldn’t refer someone who might end up reflecting badly on you. Provided your recommended person gets the job, you would usually receive a fee after a set period. This should start to give you some idea how difficult employers can find the recruitment process.

There are numerous other ways that employers find candidates of which more below. However right away you should already be considering how you can position yourself so that, opportunity presenting itself, you become an attractive option for employment.

I got my first job in the UK Security Industry within 48 hours of answering an ad in the London Evening Standard newspaper. I started the day after my interview, it was well before the SIA and licensing. Things are a bit different today.

My first job was with a very good contract firm for 8 years in various roles. That company was in the process of management buyouts etc when I was invited to send my CV in to the security manager for a Merchant Bank in the City of London. They were recruiting and were impressed by the quality of security services that were provided by the team I was working with at the time. How did they know? Because they sublet space in the building I worked in and were in daily contact with us.

I went on to work at the bank for 14 years, 10 of them managing their access control. My position was eventually made redundant. This coincided with a change in my personal circumstances. I returned to contract security and a flexible shift pattern. That was 8 years ago and still going strong!

That’s 3 good employers in 30 years. There are plenty of good people out there with long track records with the same employer. How many do you think will have developed good job seeking skills in that time with that kind of employment history? Why develop a skill that you don’t really expect to need or have to use more than once a decade, if that?

Tip one – you don’t have to be an expert job seeker, but you can use expert job seekers to help you find that better job! Employment agencies, career consultants, CV writers all exist, and are there to help you…

You’ll also see from my employment history that there was an element of being in the right place at the right time! But also, a bit more than that, and this is important! There are plenty of people going in to work doing just enough to do what they are paid to do, and that’s it.

The main reason that I, and several colleagues (and not others, we were a large team) were asked to send our CVs in to that Bank was because we went above and beyond.

We did our jobs to a high standard, showed professionalism, with excellent role awareness. Where we could help or solve problems for people, we did. Well, why wouldn’t we? If you’ve been in the security industry for any length of time you will have met your share of, shall we say, less than helpful individuals? Don’t be one! If the situation arises you will be one of those being asked to send in a copy of your CV!

So, your own attitude is important! You will always be you! Every job interview, every social media post, every interaction with an employer, job agency, customer, visitor, colleague or anyone else – there you’ll be! Not to beat around the bush, the real you will out. Most people are savvy enough to know that people should more honestly be judged by what they do rather than what they say. Anyone can talk a good talk. The example you set consistently by your actions, the way you behave, will be what you are judged on.

Employers will have had their share of bad employs, where someone shone at interview, and then fell flat on their faces when it came to do the job. If you can demonstrate a consistent track record, possibly with some milestone accomplishments, all the better.

Finding an employer – the basics

Start with the basics – find employers that view security as an investment, rather than an expense. This can be demanding, and if you are not used to doing that kind of research it can be difficult to know where to start. I’ll state early that I’ve learned the value of registering with an employment agency, and having my CV professionally reviewed, on those rare occasions that I’ve found myself on the job market. Whether or not you end up getting a position via the agency, my experience has been that I’ve learned about some very good positions that I wouldn’t have found out about by any other means.

When I was made redundant and decided to return to contract security I started speaking with people I found on duty in the kind of environment I wanted to secure a position in. I explained that I was looking for a job. The people I spoke with all worked for various companies. I confirmed that it didn’t matter what company I worked for, what was important was the site that I worked on. Numerous people with long employment histories had worked for several security companies, but had remained at their site, being TUPED across every time a new company tendered and won the contract away.

Which brings us back to the kinds of companies that invest in their security teams. Of these, there are a lot!

There are high profile companies that attract a lot of attention and need a security detail to match. There are also more discreet employers who want high quality, low profile security. There are a lot of opportunities in between!

You’ll probably start to see why I highly recommend employment agencies. They have already done the research and have the connections. Do however make sure that you meet the agency half way. Present a good CV, make sure you have a good idea what kind of position you are looking for. Show up at the interview in business attire, not a pair of sneakers and a T-Shirt. That’s an actual true story! The interviewer called that candidate in first and he left within 2 minutes. You can only guess how that went. I assume it was something along the lines of ‘not putting you in front of one of our clients’!

What do you want from a job?

There is a lot of flexibility in the security industry. There are all sorts of questions that you should be asking yourself.

What kind of commitment you are looking for in hours per week. It can be a wish list as there may not be a job that matches your ‘hoping for’ criteria, but you may be pleasantly surprised!

Is this a career or is the job a stepping stone to something else? In that case what kind of impact do you need to create to ensure that second step?

The importance of being prepared

A common challenge for job seekers is that the better positions do tend to be filled quickly!

Employers use a lot of different methods for filling posts. This overview will help you to understand the obstacles faced by job seekers.

Employment agencies – despite the range of other methods we will be discussing below employment agencies can be very helpful provided you understand how they work and approach them properly. More on this later. Suffice to say a good relationship with at least one agency is highly recommended. If looking for work is a new situation for you it shouldn’t be a surprise that you find that you don’t have some of the skills needed. Not many people actually are skilled job seekers. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get some experts on your side.

Its no good being the best candidate for a job if you can’t get the interview! I’ve read a lot of very bad CVs prepared by some very good candidates. Although it’s true that you can’t tell everything about someone from a CV, it’s also true that you can tell a lot!

Poor spelling and grammar on a CV, for a role that involves a lot of report writing, will not get you the interview for example!

You don’t think the odd spelling and grammatical error makes a difference? You may be rite! If you spotted that rite should have been ‘right’ then how obvious do you think these kinds of ‘small’ mistakes will be to someone who reads as part of their job?

Imagine a scenario where there are 30 people on a CV shortlist for a position. The employer has time to really go to town and interview 15 people! Now 27 of the CVs have been properly spell checked and read by friends and family, 3 have some errors. Realistically, considering the time commitment involved in interviewing 15 potential candidates, do you think any of the other 3 will make it to interview stage?

Given that a CV is something that you work on and have an opportunity to develop BEFORE you send it out, it will be judged against other CVs being sent it.

If an employer’s security detail is provided by a contract company then positions tend to be advertised internally. Some of the larger companies invite external candidates to search vacancies and register with them. A shortage of suitable candidates can be a serious issue and works in your favour.

Some employers will ‘poach’ security officers that they’ve encountered and been impressed by. You never know who is walking into your building or passing you while you are on duty. I’ve been ‘poached’ and ended up with a very good position as a result.

Reputation – be known as someone an employer would be happy to have on their team! Have you written articles, contributed to debates, carried out research, written a book? Do you have an authority website or social media presence, or both? Are you well connected and known within a network of your peers?

Reputation cuts both ways, its always worth doing a check to see what a potential employer might find if they did a google search or checked your social media platforms? There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that employers and recruiters are increasingly carrying out these checks.

Being part of a security detail generally brings with it a lot of responsibility, and access! It’s hardly surprising that vetting may be above and beyond that for other employees.

Can I trust this person with the safety of my staff and premises is a hard question that all employers must ask? If you’ve been in the industry for some time you will no doubt have encountered some people, whose employment may have caused a moment of puzzlement. This is evidence of one thing that works in your favour, a perpetual shortage of high calibre candidates!

To conclude, prepare, get organised, get help! The only place that success comes before work is in a dictionary!

Mike O’Sullivan – Features Editor TPSO Magazine