You've probably seen them. They're the guys in the blue suits with
radios in their ears. They scan the crowds at political rallies. They stay
close to big stars. They are personal protection specialists.
It's their job to keep their clients safe from terrorists, angry ex-spouses,
stalkers, kidnappers or political enemies. And their services are in demand.
Corporations are among the biggest users of protection services. They hire
these specialists to protect their top executives and CEOs. That's because
if something happens to the executive of a big company, the whole company
is threatened and that could be worth millions of dollars.
Other clients are celebrities who need protection from overeager or crazed
fans. Women escaping domestic abuse also need protection. So do super-rich
people, who may be targets for kidnappers.
"It certainly is a growth field," says Doug Hill, a certified personal
"People have a sense, whether it's real or imagined, that our cities and
countries are more dangerous places to be," says Bob Duggan. He is with a
protection training program in Colorado.
No one, not even people in the industry, are sure how big this field really
is. That's because there is no one single license these professionals must
have. Rules vary widely. For example, those in California must have a bodyguard
license. In some areas, they must have a security guard license. Many of those
in this field have no license at all!
Another reason it's hard to get a number on these professionals is because
of the debate over who really is a protection specialist. There's a split
between the old-style knuckle-dragging bodyguards and new-style protection
specialists. The first type relies on pure size.
"If you're a high-profile celebrity trying to get through a crowd at a
rock concert, then size is an issue," says Duggan. The rest of the time, being
big isn't enough to qualify you as a bodyguard.
Martial arts skills or a skill with guns aren't the keys to this career,
either. "If you have to resort to firearms, then you've already lost it,"
So what does make a great bodyguard? Karl Kindervater is president of a
personal protection specialists company. "The best bodyguard is a smart bodyguard.
When someone comes to me looking for a job, I don't care what kind of martial
arts skills they have or how much they weigh. I want to know what's in their
A protection specialist is someone who can plan ahead. Someone who can
research all possible situations. And someone who can keep track of a million
More and more women are entering the field. In fact, some protection agencies
are recruiting women protection specialists.
That's because they can provide better "cover" in certain situations. Most
people think bodyguards will be big men, so women are less conspicuous. "If
a CEO in his 60s is accompanied by a young man in perfect shape, people think
'bodyguard,'" says Duggan. "If he's accompanied by a young woman, they think
Women guards can also blend in during other situations. Kindervater says
women who need protection can pass off their woman bodyguard as just a friend.
This is easier than explaining a male escort, especially if the client is
For this reason, women who want to get into personal protection right now
are at an advantage. "A good woman protection specialist could set her own
pay scale and have unlimited work," says Kindervater. "I have two right now,
and I'd give anything to have two more just like them."
The best way to become a protection specialist is to already be working
in a related field. Members of the Secret Service or any of the various government
intelligence agencies have a leg up in getting hired.
While a police or military background may be a help, it may be a mixed
blessing. On the helping side, a military or police background gives you training
in weapons, surveillance techniques and legal issues. On the not-so-helpful
side is the whole focus of the job, says Duggan.
"The military and police are trained to solve problems," he says. This
means reacting to danger -- disarming a criminal or shooting at the enemy.
Protection specialists react to danger in the opposite way. "Our job is
to protect the client, which often means running away or total avoidance,"
says Duggan. "It's hard for people in the military or police to change that
The real key to getting work in this field is contacts. "It's a small community
-- everyone knows everybody," says Hill. It's through networking that you'll
get work. This is why it helps to have worked in a related field already.
Today's corporate executives prefer their bodyguards to blend in with the
crowd. They also want "experts in logistical planning." (Logistical planning
usually refers to planning around movements. In this case, it means detailed
planning around any operation.)
For example, say an executive is traveling. An "advance team" of specialists
travel to the destination first, scouting the area, meeting with police, and
planning escape routes. Then there's a separate team that travels with the
A professional protection specialist needs a range of skills. For example,
they have to:
- evaluate and plan home security systems
- plan safe travel routes
- be up to date on kidnapping and terrorist tactics
- know evasive driving maneuvers
- be able to "read" suspicious behavior in crowds
- plan escape routes should danger occur
- know self-defense and firearms
- have basic emergency medical skills
- recognize bomb threats and explosive devices
- be able to coordinate teams of specialists
- know the laws in the area they're working in
- have "executive protocol" skills (like which fork to use in fancy restaurants)
There are private training schools available that teach these skills, but
they're not cheap. A year-long course can run as high as $18,000.
Security specialists also need licenses or certification to carry firearms.
Often, specialists are required to get these on their own.
The pay for bodyguards varies, depending on experience and the risk involved
in each job. Hill says the range is from $550 to $1,000 a day.
The higher the risk, the higher the price. Those working on an advance team
or patrolling hallways outside a hotel room earn $250 to $300 a day.
Kindervater says the very best protection specialists can get as much as
$1,000 an hour in the U.S.
Be Prepared to Work Hard
Executive protection is a difficult field to get into, says Kindervater.
"You usually have to know someone in the field in order to break in." His
advice is to get as much training as you can by working at a government agency
that specializes in protection first.
Many people don't realize that much of the work involves staying alert
for hours on end when absolutely nothing is happening, says Duggan. "It's
filled with boredom and monotony, so anyone thinking about it as a career
needs to think about it very, very carefully. It's not for everyone."
Of course, anyone interested in personal protection should remember that
this can be a very dangerous job. This is one of the reasons pay can be so
high -- you're not only getting paid for protecting someone's life, but for
putting yourself in danger. Even the best specialist, with all the best planning,
is at risk every day they go to work.
Executive Security International
Offers a degree in criminal justice or certification with a major
in dignitary and executive protection
This agency is a complete personal protection resource
International Association of Personal Protection Agents
Involved in standards, training, networking, marketing promotion
and public education