The beginners guide to becoming a CPO
Great guest post this week from Adam green, a Professional Security consultant, Social media manager and friend of CPM, he works between Marbella and Dubai providing high profile clients with advice on all aspects of their busy lives, we're happy to post one of his articles here on our news blog and happily work with Adam on various projects in the Marbella region. You can see more of Adams work here! Understanding the work The first steps towards a career as a CPO (Close Protection Operative/Officer) is to truly understand the work that it entails. Many people have misconceptions about the work from thoughts of James Bond to Kevin Costner’s The Bodyguard. In reality the day to day aspects of the role are far removed from those romanticized ideals and also there is a VERY large responsibility to the work unlike its Hollywood counterparts who rarely seem to be accountable for their actions.
Before anything else the first question you should ask yourself is why do you want to do this type of work and does it fit in with your character. A strong desire to help another, even if it means you put yourself in danger is a prerequisite and patience as not all principals will share your ideas of what is safe and sane or are willing to pay the costs of what would be truly needed to make a situation safe.
Unlike the stereotype that most people believe, an aggressive personality is not a desired attribute; after all you are supposed to be avoiding conflict when you can. Also you will probably be considered a “necessary evil” in the eyes of the client / principal after all even if it is a real threat or their own paranoia, their life is already intruded upon and you are just another reminder of that intrusion, so sometimes it can be a thankless task.
You are there solely to facilitate a normal a life as possible given the circumstances and to take care of their safety and well-being. If a situation happens and you ultimately save their life it is quite possible that instead of being thanked you will be looked at as having failed in your job to protect and avoid a situation which in some respects it true. Even in the normal world saving a life can be met with little gratitude, sometimes even indignation from the rescued. So you can see the desire to help another is a very important attribute to see you through those situations.
Another myth that is often heard is the phenomenal pay that you will receive and a glamorous life while mixing with the rich and famous at parties. While it is true you will be attending some lavish parties with your principal (Client dependent), what they don’t tell you is that mostly you will be standing outside waiting for the principal and watching everyone else enjoy themselves. Still you will have to work up to this role as most likely you will be assigned to a RST (Residential Security Team) primarily, looking after the security of a home of the principal for 100 - 150 euros per day, a day being 10-14 hours possibly.
Finding work is another question that is frequently asked and for some presents the major hurdle in becoming established in this career. You will be working as self employed and face considerable competition from your peers. Jobs are rarely advertised, there is little need because many people will be fielding CV’s to many companies for work. Some contracts can be as short as a day, most being a few days to a few weeks. If you are lucky you may get a longer contract but still may face unpaid stand down periods where the principal may not need you while travelling abroad as he has another CP team in another country perhaps or you are replaced with another team member.
If you are also lucky you will be able to secure a private contract where the team is small and this becomes a permanent role, these are rare and those who have secured these roles usually have a huge rapport with the client and are hardly ever replaced, I have one client who I have done on-off work for the past 13 years, friends of mine have been with their client for 18 years and work 11 months of the year, and yes, they get paid and looked after very well.
The majority of work is through networking, a mysterious method to some and often hard to quantify. Marketing is in fact the first step in networking, when you do get your first assignment further networking can be done with your team as each may have other work lined up and if you work well with them, they may indeed give you a call. Don’t be tempted to “elaborate” on your past or experience to gain work.
You will be find out sooner than you think and you will find it almost impossible to gain further work in that case as the industry is very small and well connected. Everyone has to start somewhere and most people will help a new person to the job if they are honest about their skill base. It will also be worth you obtaining a professional domain name so you can create an email address and personal website. I would suggest WIX.com for this service as they provide cheap yearly plans and the site offers an in depth informative platform for beginners and a huge array of options to choose (Read more below).
Choosing A Course Type – Where Do I Want To Work & in what area? Now the basics of the work have been covered, let’s look at choosing a course. There are two main aspects to consider first, high risk or low risk work. In either case you will need an SIA licence if you are considering to work in the UK so chose an accredited course that suits your preferred location to work. There is little point in having a firearms course if you are working in the UK as you are not allowed to carry weapons, so that is something to bare in mind. High risk work is almost only available to those who have served in the Military or Police Force, so if you are thinking you can attend a course and find work in Western Asia and carry a firearm with no previous services experience then think again! (see below).
Another thing to consider is if you are working within a private household or estate as a CPO or Security Consultant you do not require a SIA license as you are employed privately within a private house/estate.
High Risk (Hostile Environment) These are areas like Iraq, Afghanistan, some eastern European and south American countries to name but a few. Normally without any previous military experience you will not be able to work these contracts and for good reason. The skills required can not be taught in a 2-4 week course, even with a basic firearms course included.
There are exceptions to this rule as some civilians do show great skill during a course, some even excelling their ex military course mates but this is by no means usual. Another aspect is the people that are in charge of hiring are often ex military and feel more at ease with knowing what training and standard the potential employee has reached. Often the minimum is 6-8 years service with at least one or two tours in places like Iraq. Some non UK companies may employ someone without that experience if they show a good degree of skill but to gain work from them would require you to be known to them either by networking or recommendation.
Low Risk Although mainly low risk, there can be some contracts that are in the medium to high risk category depending where the principal may need to travel for business and if he wants to take his team to that destination. More so with EP is the need to understand protocol which is essentially good manners and the ability to blend in with the people around you as it often is more covert by nature than your high risk counterpart. If you are doing your job well, people will hardly realize you are there and will assume you are part of the delegation.
Selecting A Course This can be tricky at first as every training provider will naturally say they are the best in their field, some have great training locations and glossy brochures, some offering guaranteed work after the course. Don’t be fooled by the promise of work, although there are some providers that will get you the first few jobs there is no guarantee and if a training provider tells you he can guarantee work with high pay then it may be wise to question their intentions. There is a list of accredited training companies available on the SIA website and you should select from these as at least you can be sure it will be accepted for an SIA licence which you will need to be able to work in the UK. Although these are accredited, it does not mean that they have the same training standards and will vary considerably, even within the same training company over time.
A course is only as good as its trainers and they do move around between training companies. Ask people who have just completed a course to find how well their course went. Probably by private message on this site is best as no one really wants people to know they have just trained with a company that did not do their job well.
Find out if there is a good content of practical exercises as the theory is actually not too difficult and the exam is relatively straight forward. You will learn far more from the practical assignments than any bookwork. Also look at what area of CP work you think would interest you most. Some prefer Surveillance work and it would be wise to select a training company that also specialises in that area just as if you intend on working high risk then a company that specialises in that would be best.
The costs of courses vary as does the duration. A simple rule is that a short cheap course will probably be a false economy as you really only want to do this once as it is a considerable investment in your future and to gain a chance of recouping that cost through paid employment in the industry can be put at risk through cutting corners in training. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” is quite often true. Talk with the short listed training companies to get a feel of what they are about; it will tell you far more than any marketing brochure will. Pay particular attention to what is not said or is glossed over as it is there that you will find what is being hidden.
Remember you also need a HSE first aid course, some training companies provide this as part of the course or you can do this separately. If it is done with the course it may be a better option as they tend to teach you in addition to the basics, some relevant injuries like gunshot wounds which a college course will not cover.
Courses that I would suggest are provided by the following companies;
Ronin Concepts UK - www.roninconcepts.co.uk By far one of the best and most professionally run courses in Europe.
Blue Mountain - www.bluemountaingroup.co.uk/course/security-cp
CPM Ltd Ed. Suggestions - Excellentia - Contego Officium - Horizon
Preparation prior to a course
Personally I find this an important aspect. I was quite surprised when I was involved in running a course the amount of people that did no prior reading before joining a course. Some even had fanciful notions about the work which is why I have outlined some of the work above. A good training company will give you some pre-reading before attending but you can also get books on the subject as well as research either via the internet or from people that you may have connected with that work in the industry. You are lucky in this respect as if you are reading this then you have come to a site that has a wealth of information which was not around when I first started to research into the industry with people that are willing to help each other with their experiences.
The theory itself is based on logical systems and common sense. It is possible to learn what you need for the exam prior to the course with the right material. I think this is the best piece of advice I could give as it allows you to concentrate on the practical aspects of the course and really enjoy it without the worry of being bogged down with theory. Another factor is that peoples long term memory is normally more efficient than their short term memory, so learning theory a while before will actually increase your ability to get excellent marks in the exam. Also spend a bit of time on your fitness prior to attending as it will help.
The Course It is natural to be apprehensive on joining but keeping a positive attitude will keep you in good stead. You most likely will be given a list of things you should bring to the course, for example a suit, shirts gym gear etc. Plan ahead and pack what you will need as you don’t want to be concerned with laundry chores unnecessarily. Some of the course will be quite physical so you will need to accommodate that and bring with you any medication you need and advise the course that for example you may be asthmatic.
You would be surprised the amount of people that have asthma that do not bring their inhaler with them! You will probably be asked if you have any medical conditions prior to joining in any case.
Arrive in plenty of time and get to know your team mates as you will be working closely with them for the next 2-4 weeks. Once the course starts you will have very long days ahead, not a great deal of sleep and it can start to fray tempers so try and avoid that if you can. Be punctual in fact if you are asked to assemble at 0630hrs then plan to be there and ready by 0615hrs. If you are instructed to do something by the team leader or trainer then do it without question. There is little point in arguing about a task when it still has to be done.
Above all have fun but also maintain a professional attitude to the tasks set and you will get the most out of the course. If you do not understand something, ask the trainer. That is what he is there for to assist your learning and his experience and expertise is what you have paid for. DO NOT go in with a pre-conceived idea of your strengths as you may be surprised what you find you are good at. A good trainer will tell you where he sees your strengths and weaknesses are during the course. Take that advice, digest it and use it in your future to work with.
Applying for your licence Once you have done your course and received your certificate from the awarding body, fill in your SIA licence application as instructed in black ink and print. Make sure all details are correct. If you have lived abroad or are currently living overseas, make sure you have a police record check completed for each country you have lived. You can never supply too much information but omissions can lead to delays and rejections leading to frustration for all concerned. It will not be quick with the minimum processing time being six weeks but in practice a lot longer and sometimes up to six months, so be patient. At the end of it you will be a proud owner of a CPO licence and legally ready to work in the UK. If you find any difficulty with your application, emailing the SIA proves to be the most effective as the phone lines are busy and you may find you are on hold for a considerable amount of time. Try to keep composure even if being delayed as your case worker will be more compliant to your needs.
Finding work Probably the biggest challenge facing newly licensed CPO’s. Hopefully you have already been networking and now attention turns to writing your CV. This is the first impression an employer has about you so you need to make it count. I have recruited quite a few people over the years and reading CV's unfortunately is often a hurried affair when there are many applicants. You were probably thinking that a snazzy design would catch someone's eye which it does, but it also overshadows the actual content (which is good) of the CV. After all if it is too much "look at me" then it comes across more as desperate, rather than confident of your own abilities.
Normally rule of thumb is trying to keep it down to two pages with key skills and experience and qualifications first. Try and use a typeface that is easy on the eye, You have to remember there will be many CV's to sift through and even the slightest reason to reduce the pile down to a more manageable size will be used. Spell check everything twice as there is little excuse for bad spelling with a word processor package. It doesn't have to be a literary masterpiece but good grammar is a requisite. Do not include your home address on your CV but you can be accurate with a town and country. Just keep it simple and clear with a consistent format. Use a bit of design to brighten it up but make sure that it does subtly.
Something I do (although this is dependent on the type of work I am going for) is to include a photo of myself in the document. You will be amazed how the psychological impact of "humanizing" your CV can increase your chances of selection. Seeing a face will actually draw you to that CV compared with a mountain of white A4 with plain type and template borders.
Avoid at all costs the cover page with fancy border and just your name and Curriculum Vitae. Don't lie, you will be found out, maybe not in CV selection but certainly by the time an interview takes place. I would take a person on that may not be everything I am looking for but is honest; if they are lying they will be shown the door. I can normally spot one within the first minute of meeting and one of the reasons I get the job of selecting people in the companies I have worked for.
Contact details should be correct and professional. If you have to use a hotmail account please try to avoid addresses like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org as you are applying for a professional post. Addresses like that do not look professional and again can show a flippant disregard to etiquette. If you can, get a personal domain name email address with just a simple first name and initial account. They are less likely to be blocked by corporate spam blockers as well (see above).
Some companies use electronic scanning of word documents to pick out keywords. I have heard people using white text and putting these keywords in even if it is not relevant to your experience but is to the job you are applying for. It will fool the selection process but if found out will amount to cheating and I would question the persons integrity. Also if they get printed out on non white paper stock they show up. Lastly, your experience gained in each job. Keep it brief; bullet points are good as you can quickly see relevant experience even in an unrelated job. Stress responsibilities rather than the obvious duties the job would entail and don't flower up a responsibility like Catering Coordinator when in actual fact you were the one that got everyone their coffees!
Now you have done all that it is time to network like you never have before, all that means is talking to people in the industry and getting known, networking tools like this website are superior and you will be surprised how many connections are made. Some of mine have come from the most random of events, so always be receptive to a situation.
You cannot beat real life networking and talking to people face to face, so get yourself out their and present yourself like a true professional, be passionate and determined and focus on the end result.