Faculty Advisor: Is Transitioning to Private-Sector Security a Good Option for Me?

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Q. As a retired law enforcement officer who would like to continue working for 15 more years, I am considering whether a career in corporate security would be a good option.  What steps do I need take to determine if there are enough opportunities in security to make this a good decision? Can you offer some advice on a career path for me?

This is a common question asked by law enforcement, military, intelligence and other public sector leaders. The opportunities for hard-working and dedicated public sector professionals to excel in corporate security are everywhere. 

If you want to know whether the private sector would be a good fit for you, here are four key questions you can ask yourself.

1. Are you flexible enough for such a career?

Many businesses today hesitate to hire someone right out of law enforcement or the military to be their senior security leader. They will be looking for individuals with proven corporate security skills and business acumen. Are you willing to start off as a supervisor or manager on a corporate security team, rather than jumping straight to the top?  

2. Do you want to manage or do you want to lead?

Although strong management skills are necessary to be an effective public sector leader, this does not necessarily translate to success in corporate security. Most private businesses say they want leadership over management. Security leadership takes a lot of creativity and thinking outside of traditional roles in today’s business environment. Are you prepared to help deliver positive bottom-line business results? 

3. Do you have the stamina to meet the needs of a large or global corporation?

If you are coming from a big department or agency where you have lots of manpower and resources to attack a problem, you are likely in for a surprise. Be prepared to work 10- to 14-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. You will likely be dealing with lots of tactical issues, and almost always without the manpower and resources you have come to expect. This is very wearing if you do not anticipate it and prepare.

4. Are you a life-long learner? What is your personal work ethic, and are you smart enough to know what you don't know?

Highly successful leaders in today's businesses are constantly learning, because business is constantly changing. Security leaders have to be learning new material at about 20 to 25% each year or they will find themselves obsolete in four to five years.  As a senior security manager or leader, are you willing to meet that learning expectation? Are you a self-starter, willing to push yourself intellectually and creatively to anticipate the legitimate security needs of the business? 

The business world offers wonderful opportunities for those seeking a second career from the public sector. This will require a lot of flexibility on your part as you transform your knowledge, skills and abilities into the marketplace of the entrepreneur. 

Answer provided by J. David, Quilter, Security Executive Council Faculty Emeritus.

Editor’s Note: For an excerpt of Mr. Quilter’s book on this topic,  click here.

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