How to become a bodyguard?

Updated: 3 hours ago

If you intend to embark on a bodyguard career, take a look at the following article providing you with all the subtleties and insights about close protection.


This article takes realistic and modern views of close protection, and it is aimed at those of you looking for some useful open-source information about how to become a professional bodyguard. After going through the provided information, you will get a better understanding of what steps you should take towards a successful career.


Modern bodyguards


Many associate bodyguards with men of great physical stature, who are skilled at arms and martial arts only, and who are nothing more than bullet catchers waiting for attacks on their clients, then reacting in a Rambo style (the reactive approach and overreacting response). However, that is a completely misleading picture of professional bodyguards and a too simplistic interpretation of their role. Namely, providing personal security for high-ranking individuals has undergone considerable changes due to the ever-evolving dangers and emerging trends. The threat environment has become dynamic and unpredictable, and threat actors have got more capable of carrying out a wide range of conventional and unconventional threats. This has led to the creation of modern close protection embracing a wide range of state-of-the-art tools, sophisticated and advanced techniques, and highly-skilled protection specialists to look after clients efficiently and professionally. Further, close protection doesn't protect clients' life only (surely, it's the major goal), but it also guards clients' most valuable assets at the same time (e.g., well-being, reputation, information, privacy, identity, finance, business, operations, affairs, property, etc.). For achieving this all-around protection, close protection requires uniquely qualified and extraordinary individuals.


Private security and private military industries


For centuries, bodyguards have been hired across the world to protect prominent individuals under the increased security risk. Bodyguards have been mostly engaged in the government sector (the military and police), looking after diplomats and politicians. However, with the growth of the corporate sector, bodyguards are now engaged in the private security industry (Executive Protection) and the private military sector (PSD protection). Conducting close protection in the private sector is a horse of a different color (e.g., limited resources and authorization).


As for the private security industry, various wordings are in use for bodyguards engaged in commercial close protection (aka executive protection), depending on what part of the world you are. For example, a Close Protection Officer/Operative (CPO) is a more predominant expression in the UK. In the US, the Executive Protection Agent/Specialist is a more common term. As for the rest of the world, the word Bodyguard dominates. Also, bodyguards are engaged in the private military industry. Namely, with situation developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, similarities between close protection in private security and private military sectors have become obvious. PSD (Protective Security Detail) is a US term for Private Military Contractors (PMC) providing close protection. For example, a PSD team looking after a US diplomat in Afghanistan has much in common with an executive protection team looking after a corporate CEO in the US. Of course, the aspect of protection, methods, approach, level of security, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will differ here, but the goal is the same – protect a client.


Profile


As for the corporate sector, the vast majority of successful protective specialists are former military and police personnel (in particular, those engaged in PSD protection operations). The most favored operatives are those with distinctive skills (i.e., favored backgrounds by employers and clients) – e.g., experience in special forces of the military/police, governmental units specialized in close protection, and intelligence agencies. However, those without such experience aren't excluded from the industry, and there are examples of true professionals with a civilian background who operate successfully in commercial close protection (executive protection ops).


Roles and responsibilities


Bodyguard's work varies and involves lots of different tasks, depending on three major factors – your client's profile, the threat type/risk level, and the operational environment. These three factors refer to operational requirements that will determine the SOPs and level of security measures implemented, including your roles and responsibilities assigned. For example, protecting a movie star who can face the hysteric crowd differs a lot from looking after a private individual traveling to Mexico and facing a potential threat of kidnapping. As for the former, you may work solo and perform dual duties (driving and protecting), including safeguarding a client's residence (e.g., managing CCTV operations). Regarding the latter, you may work in a close protection team, and each team member will get different tasks. Also, other teams can be assigned here to enhance security (reconnaissance, counter-surveillance, and counter-assault teams); you can work armed, applying low-profile protection to blend into the operational environment, prevent risks associated with the operational environment (i.e., Mexico), and mitigate threats more effectively. Regardless of the task, at the end of the day, the main objective of every protection specialist is to enable normal functioning for their clients (business and living) by ensuring and maintaining secure environments for them. To achieve this, two main responsibilities are in common for all protection specialists – protecting and investigations.

Clients


The clients are diverse, varying in profiles, threat types, risk level, and their needs for close protection services. The client is an entity – e.g., person, group, corporation, government – hiring and paying for the bodyguard service – while the Principal (not a principle!) or VIP is a person receiving the service. Also, the client and the Principal can be the same subject. You may have more than one Principal at a time. Client industries can include oil and gas, government, media, NGOs, mining, IT, finance, etc. Principals can be high-net-worth families, CEOs, celebrities, royal families, diplomats, and politicians, among others.


The reasons for close protection are many (e.g., prevention, compliance, necessity, and luxury), depending on a Principal's profile (threats and risks). For example, some clients hire bodyguards to prevent some indirect threats. Namely, they face non-specific threats due to their high-profile status or unsafe operational environment (e.g., traveling to a crime-affected country), so they are vulnerable and can become a target of an opportunistic crime (assault, robbery, or kidnapping, etc.). Other clients engage the close protection service to protect them against some direct threats. That is to say, they face directly some specific threats (blackmails, extortion, death threatening, etc.) carried out by criminals, terrorists, and other threat actors (a person or entity who intends to compromise the security and safety of your Principal). Anyway, regardless of the client's profile, your job as a professional is to identify and assess all threats (no matter the type of threat) then to mitigate all of them before they occur by assigning security measures that are in line with threats.


Women in close protection


Contrary to the common belief, the bodyguard profession isn't just for men. Although close protection is a predominantly male occupation, a woman can be successful in this industry, too. In fact, there are many examples of excellent female bodyguards. Further, women can better blend into some operational environments due to their low profile, not attracting too much attention, which gives them many strategic advantages. For instance, some female clients prefer being protected by same-sex operatives, therefore, a female CPO fits the bill. As a result, there is a growing demand for female protection specialists globally.


Why become a professional bodyguard?


Alike any other job, there are some advantages and disadvantages of being a protection specialist. Anyway, before entering close protection, you must first ask yourself why you would like to become a bodyguard. If it is due to money or fame, you will get disappointed very soon. If it's because you want to see some action, you'll be disappointed again. If it's since you are a person enjoying helping others by risking your own safety and not getting credits for it (at least not in public), and you perform well under pressure, then this career might suit you.

The demand


Private close protection and private military industries alike any other industries depend on the current market demand impacted by many factors. As a result of recent economic crises, there are fewer employment opportunities with a six-figure salary nowadays. However, numerous political turmoils around the world have deepened the security instability in many regions due to the increased threat of violent crimes, political violence, and terrorism. The volatile security situation impacts on business, people, and governments. Consequently, there is a growing need for close protection services worldwide.

The challenge


Close protection requires lots of planning, constant security/situational awareness, and readiness. Although it is a challenging endeavor, looking after someone is not as much as exciting as it's displayed in popular Hollywood movies. There are no action-movie scenes such as chasing cars, shooting around, and kung-fu fighting. Although on many occasions bodyguards work armed (especially PSD operatives), they use weapons very rarely. In terms of close protection, if a bodyguard has to apply a weapon (violence), the threat has already been eventuated. Therefore, the bodyguard has failed in one of his/her main duties – preventing threats before happening.


Anyway, this doesn't mean that protection specialists never use weapons (violent actions). It just means that the main goal of professional bodyguards is prevention rather than reaction. However, if an incident occurs, the primary aim of close protection is removing a Principal/VIP from danger as soon as possible. Violent actions are a last resort in close protection, and when it comes to that, professionals apply controlled, careful, and adequate response timely and rapidly, repelling enemy attacks while keeping the Principal safe.


Whether you will experience dangers or not, it depends on your clients, threats, and the area of operations. For example, providing close protection in the private military sector often entails operations in conflict-affected regions (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Somalia, etc.). So, if you work as a PSD operative, you may found yourself in life-threatening situations (e.g., road ambushes, improvised explosive devices, and terrorist attacks). However, operating as an EP operative in commercial close protection can be as much dangerous as PSD protection. For instance, if you're looking after a Principal traveling to a high threat environment (Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and Haiti, etc.), you can face serious threats ranging from organized crime to political violence to unconventional dangers (e.g., natural disasters and infectious diseases, etc.).


Although you should do everything you can to prevent negative events from occurring, it is not always possible. In reality, providing close protection is always a compromise (giving and taking), and it's about making informed choices (whether opting for a plan A or B). So, there will be cases when stopping bad situations isn't doable/feasible. The reasons for this could be many, such as human errors, insufficient resources, and force majeure, etc. Anyway, when a situation goes south, you must be ready and plan ahead for it (i.e., always have a contingency plan for an emergency in place). Therefore, you will apply a backup plan and extract your Principal to safe heaven (out of harm's way) asap.


Both EP and PSD protection operations entail certain risks; protection specialists put their lives in danger to protect someone else's life. It is up to you whether you will accept a task or not; you need to balance the risk associated with doing the job and the pay. The close protection career is worthwhile, and it's an invaluable experience for true aficionados in this walk of life – constantly pushing you (your mind and body) to the limit.


Commitment

Some clients will treat you better than the others and vice versa, but regardless of their profile and the way they treat you, protection specialists must act professionally and always provide the highest level of services possible. Further, due to the nature of a job, active EP and PSD operatives always stay below the radar, not attracting too much attention, nor receiving kudos in public, and never exposing private matters about their current/former clients publically. For instance, commenting on Principals and taking and sharing photos of them on Social Media are unethical. Also, sharing sensitive info about your clientele can not just tarnish their reputation (and yours, too), but it can put them in greater jeopardy.


Close protection requires integrity, honesty, trust, and loyalty, and only true professionals possess these core values. For those who cannot keep their mouth shut; this industry is not for them. Being a bodyguard is a stimulating experience since you have an opportunity to make a difference and help someone by protecting his/her most important asset – a life. However, this career comes with great responsibility, and only the fittest individuals can succeed.


Close protection services


Security is one of the most fundamental human needs. According to Abraham Maslow, there are five kinds of human needs; one of them is safety needs that come second in the hierarchy of importance for living. In the absence of security, people may experience post-traumatic stress disorder or trauma. Security and safety needs include personal, emotional, and financial security, health, and well-being, and safety needs against accidents and diseases and their negative impacts. As a result, at-risk individuals address close protection services.

What is close protection?

Close protection is a type of security services provided to individuals under the elevated security risk of threats against their safety due to their employment, high-profile status, wealth, associations, geographical location, or any other reason that would make them vulnerable and the target of a physical attack, harm, blackmail, or kidnapping. The main goal of close protection is to meet all security and safety needs of a Principal by implementing security measures commensurate with the threat. It is a demanding task requiring a specialist approach, methods, and procedures. Therefore, protection specialists apply an action-oriented approach to providing close protection services, proactively identifying, assessing, and mitigating threats before they take place. To achieve this, they employ state-of-the-art technology and sophisticated and advanced techniques (e.g., threat assessment, risk analysis, protective intelligence, counter-surveillance, anti-surveillance, reconnaissance, investigations, intelligence analysis, etc.).


Close protection procedures include comprehensive security measures to protect diverse clients and their valuable assets against diverse threats. Level of security measures depends on threats, risk level, a profile of Principal, and operational environments, and can involve different methods (e.g., covert or overt protection or their combination thereof), a range of protection tools (armed/unarmed protection, armored/soft-skinned vehicles, and technical security measures), various aspects (e.g., celebrity protection, corporate protection, high threat protection, diplomatic protection, and high-net-worth protection), and additional security teams (reconnaissance, counter-surveillance, and counter-assault teams, etc.).


Close protection work far exceeds the protection from physical harms only. Threats consist of both existing and emerging dangers and have become more complex over time. Therefore, it has become more challenging to protect clients in modern times. For example, your Principal may receive a threatening message on Social Media; this perceived danger must be thoroughly assessed. Otherwise, neglected security risks can easily become real dangers to your Principal. This also means that you must be able firstly to identify a wide range of new pathways for carrying out threats, which requires constant upskilling. This suggests that those responsible for close protection must possess versatile skills – be Jack of all trades.

Covert protection (protective surveillance) and overt protection

Most of the activities conducted by protective specialists are and remain confidential, discreet, and unnoticed to bystanders (i.e., behind-the-scenes operations). In the corporate sector, many today's clients prefer unobtrusive protection, which is hardly possible to achieve with overt protection (aka arm-length protection) since security detail is highly visible (e.g., foot formation, motorcade, equipment, etc.). From the Principal's point of view, arm-length protection is a too intrusive way of protection, and it's more suitable and often seen in the government sector (since there are a lot of resources available to enhance security and support security detail). From an operational standpoint, overt protection is limited in terms of operational effectiveness. That is to say, a highly visible close protection team can be easily spotted by a threat actor and therefore the team is vulnerable and less effective.


Therefore, professional security companies opt for employing a subtle approach to conducting close protection operations. Namely, they provide a specialist method of close protection – Covert Protection or Protective Surveillance – that is inconspicuous protection involving clandestine tactics (e.g., low-profile driving, low-key foot formations, concealed equipment, covert communication, and protection specialists who blend into the operational environment as much as possible). Covert protection gives them many strategic advantages – such as timely identifying threats, unobtrusive protection for Principals, reducing location-specific risks, and better operational efficiency, among other things. However, overt protection can still prove of use in certain circumstances. For the best outcomes, the combination of covert and overt protection is broadly used.


Bodyguard skills


Looking after someone bears a lot of responsibilities and requires considerable physical, technical, and mental resources. Maybe it sounds exaggerating, but professional bodyguards are closest to a know-it-all type of person. For becoming an EP/PSD operative, individuals undertake a range of specialist training programs to build considerable professional acumen, but firstly, they must have a certain personality. The latter is not so easy to learn, it is something inherited (i.e., something that a person is born with and that is strengthened over time through practical experience). Your traits depend on the mental and moral qualities distinctive to each individual. Therefore, there is a long list of qualities required for protective specialists, including resourceful, intelligent, and robust character, a can-do attitude, excellent people skills, reassuring behavior, nice manners, and common sense, among other things. Speaking of physical appearance and attributes for professional EP and PSD operatives, they aren't brainless 6-ft-6 gorillas armed to the teeth, nor they heavily rely on muscles, guns, and mixed martial arts. Both intelligence and physical fitness are needed in close protection. Every bodyguard who worths his/her salt is proficient in weapon handling, unarmed combat, and has a high level of fitness. The physical size of a person providing close protection isn't much important (bigger doesn't necessarily mean better). Although there are no standardized requirements regarding the physical appearance of a bodyguard, s/he must look presentable (i.e., be clean, tidy, well-dressed, and physically fit). Sometimes, employers set specific requirements for EP and PSD roles (e.g., height, weight, look, sex, age, background, and nationality of candidates) due to client preferences and operational requirements (e.g., environment, culture, language, industry, etc.). In essence, it is all about whether you are fit enough to professionally perform your EP/PSD duties or not. Muscularity doesn't carry any weight in close protection work, but your physical fitness (aka functional strength) does, along with your professional competence, knowledge, attitude, and mindset.


Regarding professional know-how required for EP and PSD protection ops, it involves a broad spectrum of competencies that can be grouped into two main categories – hard and soft skills. The former refers to tactical competencies such as weapons handling, tactical procedures, close protection foot/vehicle formations, reaction to attacks, evacuation techniques, hand-to-hand combat, tactical knife combat, close-quarters combat, defensive and evasive driving, emergency first aid, and anti-kidnapping, among other things. While the latter relates to more sophisticated techniques including threat and risk assessment, intelligence gathering and analysis, hostile surveillance detection, anti-surveillance, counter-surveillance, reconnaissance, search procedures, human intelligence (HUMINT), open-source intelligence (OSINT), communication, conflict management/verbal judo, contingency planning, security/situational awareness, behavioral intelligence, crowd management, computer literacy, cybersecurity awareness, business etiquette, and so on. Both hard and soft skills are required to be successful in close protection.


Also, rapid advances in technology have introduced new pathways for carrying out threats. Therefore, EP/PSD operatives must stay technologically relevant to be able to recognize and mitigate new threats. You don't have to be a cybersecurity expert, however, some knowledge about IT is must-have nowadays. For example, for collecting all-source intelligence (e.g., about threats, clients, employers, etc.), OSINT skills come handy. Also, understanding social engineering will help you identify threats associated with social media and internet use (e.g., financial scams, phishing, reputation damage, information loss, etc.).


Bodyguard training


As has been discussed, you must get a full spectrum of skills to be able to conduct EP and PSD duties professionally and to be employed in the first place. However, keep in mind that it takes years of constant and practical learning to become a professional bodyguard. Professionalism entails a never-ending learning process. Therefore, to stay at the top of their game, protective specialists maintain their skill set by regularly practicing and learning new things. Regarding EP and PSD training, there are many training companies nowadays. When seeking a training provider, you must consider several things including the following.


Career plan


Firstly, you should make a career plan, involving analyzing your opportunities that depend on your profile (i.e., your strengths and weaknesses). Do you want to work in the commercial close protection industry or the private military sector? For instance, you want to work as a PSD operative but don't have any military/police experience. You should be aware that the lack of such a background will be considered as your weakness. In this case scenario, you will struggle to find a job upon attending a course. However, it doesn't mean that you are not the right fit for close protection. It's just that you should change your approach and goal. Therefore, don't focus on your weakness, instead, you should look at your strengths. For example, you may have experience working as a door supervisor (aka bouncer) in night clubs, hence your transferable skills can be useful in celebrity protection since you better understand (fit in) the operational environment. So, keep in mind that many transferable skills from your current job occupation can be useful in the close protection career. Proper planning will enable you to select a training course that suits your needs best and to point you in the right direction.


The reputation of a training provider


It is essential to consider the reputation of a training provider. You certainly don't want to waste your time and money by attending a course delivered by a training company being known for second-rate training.


Instructors' experience

You should also check the experience of instructors teaching the course. You cannot learn from a person who doesn't have any operational experience in the industry. Also, you will learn the most from instructors who are still active.


Course quality

Course quality is best assessed by considering two factors – a syllabus and teaching method. Go through the course syllabus and always aim at training that meets your individual needs. For example, if you are about to attend the first training course in your career, you should focus on training programs with a comprehensive curriculum covering a wide range of topics to provide you with versatile skills and that is geared towards both EP and PSD protection ops. If you have already done some training courses and are looking for a training program to enhance your professional competence, you should focus on courses with a specific syllabus covering particular topics in-depth (e.g., surveillance, covert protection, protective driving, tactical medicine, etc.). Also, check out the teaching method on the training course, which should always be based on the practical approach.

Course pricing


When it comes to the price of EP/PSD training, it is understandable that everybody wants cost-effective training courses. However, don't confuse cost-effectiveness with low-priced and low-quality training. So, you should stay away from cheap courses (buy cheap, buy twice). If you want a training company with a good name in the industry, skilled instructors, and a high-quality training program, you must be aware that it isn't cheap.


Awarded certificates

Certificates awarded on a training course are important for several reasons. Firstly, nationally recognized certificates (i.e., qualifications) are required for licensing. That is, commercial close protection comes under the private security sector, and as such, it is a government-regulated industry. Every country has its own laws and regulations regarding licensing for work in the private close protection industry (e.g., SIA license is required in the UK, PSIRA is mandatory in South Africa, CNAPS is compulsory in France, and each state in the US has its own license required for work as a bodyguard).


What qualifications you are going to need depends on where you want to work. Let's take that you want to work in the UK, for example. To operate as a CPO in the commercial close protection industry in the UK, you have to have an SIA front line close protection license issued by a government body SIA (Security Industry Authority). Candidates have to meet several requirements to obtain the license. One of the mandatory requirements is to have the Close Protection Level 3 qualification that is awarded upon completing the accredited CP course that's delivered by an approved training organization. The latter means that a training academy is assessed and approved by an awarding body. At the moment, there are four awarding bodies for assessing/approving providers delivering the CP Level 3 qualification – HABC/Highfield, BTEC/Pearson, IQ, and AoFAQ. You can check approved training academies on the official SIA website. So, go after the CP Level 3 qualification if you intend to operate as an EP operative in the UK.


As for international close protection work and the private military sector, there is no officially compulsory license for close protection. However, the vast majority of British private security/military companies will demand either the SIA license or the CP Level 3 qualification for overseas work (e.g., PSD protection ops in the Middle East and Africa). Also, other companies from Australia, Canada, the EU, and the US will follow this model if they have British clients. However, have in mind that the CP Level 3 course is aimed at commercial close protection, and as such, it is unfit for the private military sector and PSD protection operations, as well it's not suitable for close protection ops in high threat environments. The CP Level 3 course lasts 12 to 14 days only, and as such, it lacks many core topics such as weapons training. Thus, if you need the CP Level 3 qualification for international work, you should combine the CP Level 3 course with some other courses to achieve full competency required.


Secondly, certificates always come handy in job hunting. Employers will ask your portfolio including completed training courses testifying your capabilities and continual professional development. The bottom line, if you are looking for a close protection course to get licensed, check out your country's licensing policy and attend the nationally recognized training. If you are after a training program for continual professional development, then focus on skills and not just on qualifications.

Post-course support


You should stay away from training organizations that promise a job if you buy their course firstly. It is nothing more than smoke and mirrors and a mere marketing strategy to sell their courses. In reality, to find employment in the private close protection industry and the private military sector, it depends on two major factors that are subject to change – market demand and client preferences. Also, another critical element is your abilities. It's not possible to know in advance whether you are fit for a position or not.


Nevertheless, the role of training providers in job landing cannot be completely excluded. Although professional training academies don’t guarantee employment, it doesn’t mean that they won’t help you to get an opportunity eventually. By providing ongoing, post-course support, reliable training organizations assist their graduates – providing networking, career advice, reference, recommendation, and job interview. Also, many private security/military companies offer EP/PSD training and directly employ from their pool of graduates when an opportunity arises. Therefore, you should use your common sense and due diligence when choosing the right training provider.


Final thoughts


To summarize:

  1. Close protection is a complex, challenging, and demanding undertaking that requires considerable physical, technical, and mental resources.

  2. Close protection is related to the private security industry (commercial close protection/executive protection) and the private military sector (PSD protection operations).

  3. Both physical fitness and intelligence are required for close protection.

  4. Both males and females can be successful EP and PSD operatives.

  5. To become a professional bodyguard, you should firstly possess a distinctive character – mental and moral qualities.

  6. To get employed, you must attend EP and PSD courses providing you with professional know-how. You should equally concentrate on developing both hard and soft skills.

  7. To stay at the top of your game, you should continue training and learning new stuff. Remember professionalism entails never-ending learning.

  8. To legally work in your country, you will have to get licensed. Check out your country's law and go after a training course in line with it.

  9. Although the vast majority of successful protection specialists are former military and police personnel (particularly, those engaged in the private military industry), people from all walks of life can make it in close protection as long as they meet all professional requirements.

  10. You need to plan your career in line with your profile and experience to achieve success, be realistic, work hard, and focus on your strengths and transferable skills rather than on your weaknesses.

As for high-quality bodyguard training, check out the Advanced Close Protection Training Course by Nemesis Protection. It is 40 days of hands-on learning and scenario-based training designed to prepare you to operate both as an EP and PSD operative. The course is suitable both for experienced individuals who want to enhance their professional skills and for newbies who intend to obtain hard and soft skills. Also, check out our other training programs for protection specialists (e.g., 28-day Executive Protection and 28-day Hostile Environment Close Protection Ops).


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