There are a lot of people who are very interested in getting into the professional field of Close Protection, Executive Protection or who want to be a Bodyguard. When they go down this path they soon realize that it is not super easy to get started or even find out where to start. In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult careers to get into for a variety of reasons.
I think the two biggest reasons why one cannot easily find a path to a career in professional Close Protection is because the industry itself is rather elusive in its messaging (due in part to the confidentiality aspect of the work). The other reason is because of the extensive and diverse ranges of applicable industry entry standards. This article will focus on demystifying the latter and hope to provide a bit of a guided career path and checklist for those wanting to get into one of the greatest careers out there; VIP Close Protection.
#1 Get a Feeder Job Going
The First thing you must do is enter a feeder industry. Well, what is a feeder industry you may ask? A feeder industry is an occupation that provides access to knowledge, training and experience that will give you a baseline for VIP Close Protection work. You see the industry of being a professional bodyguard requires so much diversity in skills and abilities that you cannot just walk off the street, with nothing to your name and get a job protecting the most wealthy, powerful and/or influential people in society. Anyone that tells you otherwise is giving you a load of BS and more than likely trying to serve their own interests.
Careers in the Military, Law Enforcement or Private Security are probably the 3 most popular individual or combined methods of getting started. However, in my experience, there is no single feeder industry that can get you a direct path to a successful career in VIP Close Protection. As I’ve been employed in all three, I’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of both as they relate to career progression in VIP Protection. As well, in all three I have seen individuals develop amazing and successful careers in Close Protection. Bottom line, get your foot in the door with a job in a Warrior field and you are well on your way to your goal.
Update: Another excellent feeder path is the medical industry. There are some very successful Executive Protection and Close Protection professionals who have started out as civilian or military medics.
#2 Get Some Experience
Once you have entered into the field of being a professional Warrior or Guardian through one of the above-mentioned feeder jobs, the next step is to gain some experience in what your employer is paying you to do. You may want to eventually become a professional VIP CP Operator, but I’ll be honest, your current employer doesn’t give a damn about that. In fact, they may even hinder your aspirations if you let it be known what your long term goals are. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cop, a soldier or mall security; your employer is paying you to do that job and that’s what you need to do. However, while you’re doing that job strive to do the best you can at whatever tasks you’re assigned. This will give you some great and diverse experience, help develop professional references and likely open up some other opportunities. All of those pieces will help you towards your goal of a career in VIP Close Protection.
#3 Get Some Hard Skills
So now you have a job that will help you gain some experience and are working towards your future career goal. That’s great but you’re going to need more. You will need to have something to offer and more importantly, you need to be able to handle yourself in an emergency. This is where getting some hard skills in your professional toolbox is a must. Examples of hard skills you must have include: Unarmed Fighting Skills (Defensive tactics, Combatives, Martial arts, etc.), advanced driving skills, advanced tactical emergency medical skills and tactical firearms (if you work in an area that authorizes/requires firearms). I would also like to include in this category a high level of fitness, nutrition and overall good health. Because if you’re not fit and healthy it doesn’t matter how well you’re straight armbar is or how tight your grouping; you will not be effective.
A word of caution here. Do your homework when it comes to seeking out training in any form. Just because someone is selling a lot of courses, has a nice web site or has cool T-Shirts (and patches, everyone has a patch now), doesn’t mean what they have to offer is of quality or applicable to your needs. It just means they have a good business sense and marketing program. Don’t just ask people that have trained there if they like them or if they vouch for its quality because, of course, they will say it is. This is because they don’t want to look bad and unless they’ve been trained elsewhere a lot, they probably won’t know the difference between good, great and garbage. Best to ask some professional and open-minded experts in that related field, but use your own judgement. Trust me, this ability will also help you later in your career (and life in general).
Don’t stop here, at least read the next point before moving on if you don’t like what I have to say, or if you have to go make dinner.
#4 Get Some Soft Skills
You are going to need some soft skills.
Let me say that again;
You are going to need some soft skills.
OK, why am I putting such an emphasis on this point? Here’s why, most people when they start out they focus only on the hard skills because they are fun, look cool and have wicked awesome patches (used to be T-Shirts right?). And yes, you absolutely have to have those hard skills because ultimately that is what you’re there for. You are the VIP’s “In Case of Emergency Break Glass” person. However, emergencies do not happen every minute, or every hour or even every day. In fact, my friends and colleagues that have worked High-Risk Close Protection in Afghanistan and Iraq talk about the importance of Soft skills, because they are not getting into gunfights every day or constantly in battle. In fact, the better you are at the soft skills the less often you’re likely to need the hard skills.
Now, what are the soft skills you may ask? Well, that’s a much harder item to identify than the previously isolated hard skills. Ultimately it breaks down to how you use your brain and how you speak words out of your mouth. To me, soft skills are things like problem-solving, planning, administration, logistics, teamwork and communication. But they can also be other skills like navigation, commitment to personal/professional growth, computer skills and other technical or specialty abilities. You may even be able to make an argument for going further into the personal characteristics of discipline, good judgement, dress, demeanour and deportment. I’ll also add the immensely important social skills, cultural awareness and good character. Anyone in Close Protection has to be able to fit into the sub-culture of their VIPs and navigate their internal social minefields. They will also have to blend into external cultures while maintaining the highest standards of ethics and integrity. I often tell people:
“In Close Protection, you will get hired for your hard skills and fired for your lack of Soft Skills.”
The bottom line here, there is so much more to being a Professional VIP Close Protection Operator than fighting, shooting and driving fast. Recognize that and take steps towards acquiring soft skills and you will be ahead of the curve.
#5 Get some Formal and Specific Training in Close Protection
Here’s another point that a lot of people get, but also a lot of people don’t. Close Protection is a specialty sub-set of protection and security. Every specialty requires specific and focused training. So just because you walked a VIP from their office to their car, helped them through the back door of a nightclub or kept the crowd at bay at a concert, doesn’t make you a Close Protection Professional.
OK, that was a lot of Private security examples, my bad; as the same can be said about Cops. Just because you were the Police escort for a motorcade or stood post at Buckingham Palace (that’s for my UK buddies, since every UK Cop says they’ve done CP for the Queen because they had one static post assignment), doesn’t mean you’re a Close Protection Professional.
Alright, I guess I need to do it for the Military as well. Just because you drive the General for a week or your Commanding Officer to a meeting, doesn’t mean you’re a Close Protection Professional.
The bottom line here is that everyone gets exposed to VIPs in the world of Protection, regardless of their occupation. But if you truly want to be a professional you must get some formal training and that definitely has to be from a professional organization. Just like I mentioned before, do your homework when it comes to selecting an organization to train with. To me, the most important aspects of any training organization are instructor experience, program quality and professional execution. If their instructors have never worked on a regular VIP Close Protection Detail for a significant period of time, then run far away. You’ll get more from the run than from their instructors. If their program is poorly put together then you will waste more time waiting than training. You might get some great stories but you won’t be learning anything you can use. And finally, if they don’t show you respect and they treat you like crap, then they aren’t professional and no one in the industry takes them seriously. So get some formal and specific training, but be careful who you train with.
Pro Tip: The Training element can be a huge undertaking. We wrote an entire 3 part series of articles just on that topic. Check them out after your done reading this article and use them as a guide (or blueprint) for your success path.
- Executive Protection Training: Blueprint for Success Part 1
- Executive Protection Training: Blueprint for Success Part 2
- Executive Protection Training: Blueprint for Success Part 3
Extra Pro Tip: Scale your career path a little bit at a time. Don’t try and do it all at once. Do what you can within your available time and budget. Check out our Close Protection Site Liaison Online Course info at the bottom of the article for a great start or career transition; with a low time/cost investment. Can’t wait, click this link.
#6 Gain Some Industry Knowledge
Once you have your foot in the door and have started to focus your development through a variety of training, now it’s time to expand your knowledge on the topic of VIP Close Protection. So start reading books, joining associations, watching documentaries and looking for any and every source of information possible. Your experience and training thus far have helped you lay a foundation of capability, but enhancing your skills with knowledge is what will develop you towards a true professional. Expand your horizons as much as possible on the topic and you will start to see the bigger picture.
Pro Tip: Get yourself a Pro Level account on the VIP Local Asset Network. It’s called Pro for a reason. If nothing else, people will immediately associate you as a professional. After that, the title is yours to lose or live up to. But the vast amount of info in the VIP LAN portal will help you scale your knowledge at whatever pace you can handle.
#7 Develop your Network of Mentors & Industry Contacts
It is easy in our industry to get pigeon-holed and isolated down a certain path. If you work for the same organization or train with the same people you will begin to put yourself on an island and limit your range of focus. By getting out there and expanding your network of industry mentors and contacts you can ensure you keep your eyes open and remain grounded in reality. You can do this by diversifying who you train with, going to conferences or meetups, working for different people or even going online. LinkedIn and Facebook have some great places to network and develop via online communities, but to truly take it to a higher level; the VIP Local Asset Network is where you need to be active.
Regardless of the platform, put yourself out there, ask for help and seek other’s opinions. You don’t have to agree with them, but don’t completely discount everything either. Not one single person has the answer to everything and neither do you. There is more than one way to do most things and diversifying all aspects of your professional portfolio will help you achieve greatness in this field (or any field for that matter).
#8 Seek Out VIP Protection Experience
If you haven’t already done so you need to seek out opportunities to get some specific VIP Protection Experience. Earlier I made light of some common industry examples of supportive VIP Close Protection (Point #5 for reference). The funny thing is that although these aren’t necessarily Close Protection, they are a great way to get some exposure to the VIP Close Protection world. Every time you do one of these tasks you add to your diverse knowledge and experience, gaining you more understanding of the industry, the sub-culture, the mindset and the terminology. All of which will help your growth and depth of capabilities.
So look for opportunities to be the guy or gal that brings the VIP in through the back door, or escorts the entourage/motorcade. The closer you can get to the detail and the more you can be a part of those operations the better off you will be. The mere fact that you begin getting and continue to get those tasks the more that means someone else sees something in you. Consider that as validation you are doing something right and likely have some of what it takes to work in the industry of VIP Close Protection.
Small Caveat but Big Tip: Don’t overdo your assistance if you’re assigned to support a VIP operation. You can be a big help and a force multiplier to any Close Protection team, provided you act appropriately and limit your involvement to what’s required or asked for. I have seen too many overzealous helpers over the years that have created interference instead of assistance. Be realistic and hesitant until asked for assistance, unless the “stuff” is truly hitting the fan.
#9 Professional Resume
OK, so far you’ve done a lot of work towards developing your professional capabilities towards a specific goal. The next thing you need to do is put it all on paper in a format that speaks to what you’ve done and what you have to offer. You need a well-written resume that highlights all the great things you’ve done in pursuit of this goal. You have to make people want to hire you.
Personally, I receive a lot of resumes from a lot of people and the one thing I see a lot of is people not focusing on the employer. The employer is the one that will see your resume and hire you. They are not looking for the toughest, most bad-ass door kicking MMA fighter out there. They want a professional that can protect a VIP and blend into a variety of settings. So take some time to write a resume and do it properly. If you’re having trouble I strongly recommend hiring the services of a professional resume writing company. These organizations are great at using the right mix of information, tailored to the specific needs of the client.
If nothing else, when you think you are done, get the opinions of several experienced people in the industry that will give you honest feedback; not someone that will try and avoid hurting your feelings. Just be prepared for some honest feedback that may hurt your feelings.
So you’ve been working for some time and have done everything else I’ve mentioned thus far. Great, you are well on your way to that dream job in Close Protection. Unfortunately, your resume and everything you’ve done will not get you what you’re looking for, as that piece will be up to someone else. You see this industry is very small and closely connected; with a lot of trust required and very high stakes.
Most of the great opportunities will not be posted on some job board and if they are you will not get it without someone else vouching for your capabilities. So starting now everyone you meet, work for or come into contact with (offline & online) is a potential reference. You need to develop a network of people that will stand up and say “I would trust this person with my life or that of a loved one and am comfortable having them next to me every waking minute of the day”. If you can’t do that then you need to reflect internally or refocus your efforts on something else. This doesn’t mean kissing everyone’s ass, it just means striving for excellence in everything you do and maintaining a commitment to professionalism.
If you focus on being awesome then the references will be there when you need them. If you focus on being mediocre, half-assed and generally uninspiring then you will get a similar return on your investment in yourself.
Bottom line: Be excellent and people will vouch for you.
Pro Tip: Stay excellent so you don’t ruin the rep of those who vouched for you.
#11 Repeat – Diversify Your KTE
OK, so you got your dream job or at least have your foot in the door of your dream industry. Bet you thought you could just stop and coast through life. Wrong! You need to keep doing what you’ve done so far to get where you are, but you need more. You need to diversify your knowledge, training and experience (KTE). The world we live in and operate in is constantly evolving along with our enemies. Even if you stay with the same VIP for the same employer, you must stay ahead of those that would do your VIP harm. This means staying current and keeping your eye on the big picture. The only way to do that is to learn, train and grow. The other reason you need to do that is for your own self-preservation as there may come a time when you need to make a change or are forced to make a change. If you continue to apply everything I’ve mentioned here on an ongoing basis then you will stay ahead of the enemy on many fronts, including the unemployment one.
#12 Stay Grounded in Reality
As an almost final point, I will say this, you need to stay grounded in reality as you grow. I see the opposite of this all too often, from YouTube warriors, google surfers and training addicts. People can end up getting wrapped up too much in the worst-case scenarios preached by marketing aficionados, Dojo kings and other theoretical operators.
If you focus solely on those “worst-case scenarios” then your VIP might as well be locked in a prison cell, deep in the basement of a fortified castle. Yes, the world is dangerous, yes we MUST prepare for it, but we MUST also ensure we have a healthy understanding of the real world. You will never be able to completely protect a VIP from every possible threat (even with that basement, prison cell, castle technique…patent pending), but you can do the best job possible based on your abilities and the reality of the situation. (Before you make negative comments, did you read the rest of the article?)
#13 Application to everything
The final point here. Pretty much everything I’ve said here can be applied as a road map to success in just about any industry. So if you’ve found yourself getting into your career in VIP Protection and realize it’s not for you or you’re not working out, simply pivot. If you’ve read this really long article to this point then you must have some level of commitment and achievement. Not everyone is cut out for this line of work so use the underlying principles behind what I’ve written and go on to be successful in something else.
If you’re interested in getting a career in the field of Close Protection, it may seem like a daunting task. It may seem even more unattainable after reading what I have outlined here. But the fact is, that people enter this industry every day from a variety of different backgrounds. Most of them, however, did not get immediately into the high levels or this unique sub-field of protection right out of high school or college (or immediately after leaving the Military or retiring from Policing). It is, however, more easily attainable if you move forward with a specific goal in mind and take small, focused steps every day towards achieving it (like the ones I’ve mentioned here).
I hope that helps, please reach out to me if you have a question or if I can be of assistance in any way. Also, if I missed something in this article then please go all over the internet and tell people I have no idea what I’m talking about. Just kidding, but please feel free to add to the article through the comments section of this post or via your favourite social media platform. Stay safe out there and keep developing.
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Feature Image Credits: The public celebration of Queen Magrethe 2nd of Denmark – 40 years on the throne https://www.flickr.com/photos/56380734@N05/
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