Becoming a Close Protection Operative (Executive Protection)

The first steps towards a career as a CPO (Close Protection Operative) is to truly understand the work that it entails, not what is written in a book or taught in a run of the mill classroom, but what actually occurs on a daily basis for a highly professional and successful operative on a high level Executive Protection detail. Many newcomers and people from outside of the industry have misconceptions about the work and completely underestimate the actual workload.

The day to day aspects of the role are far removed from those romanticized ideals and there is a huge amount of responsibility and dedication to the work, specifically if you are to become successful at it.

Before anything else the first question you should ask yourself is why 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, patience and perseverance, 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 required to make a situation safe.

Unlike the stereotype that most people believe, an aggressive personality is not an attribute; after all you are supposed to be avoiding conflict when you can, you will probably be considered a “necessary evil” in the eyes of the 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 here solely to facilitate a normal life as possible given the circumstances and to take care of their safety and well-being.

If a situation occurs 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 potential and probable 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 might be attending some lavish parties with your principal, traveling on some of the world’s best commercial airlines (but probably economy class and not sat with your principal in first class), staying in the worlds finest hotels (but probably not sleeping much, and sharing a room with your team member if you have one) what they don’t tell you is that mostly you will not be paid phenomenal money, you will have very little sleep, you will be required to fulfil other tasks that the principal might see fit and be away from family for a considerable time.

Finding work is another question that is frequently asked and for some presents the major hurdle in becoming established in this career. You might be working as self-employed and face considerable competition from your peers. You may work for a company which takes a huge cut of the money, and may take a considerable time to be promoted or be treated unfairly (unless you work for a highly reputable company such as GDBA) 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 security 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 very rare and those who have secured these roles usually have a huge rapport with the client and are hardly ever replaced.

Most of the 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 found out sooner than you think, and you will find it almost impossible to gain further work in this case as the industry is very small and well connected. Everyone must start somewhere, and most people will help a new person to the job if they are honest about their skill base and keep their mouth closed and work hard.

It will also be worth you are obtaining a professional domain name so you can create an email address and personal website. I would suggest 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 from.

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 working 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 bear 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.

Note that at long last employers (companies, principals private offices for example) are now looking in depth at the course in which the operative has partaken in, for example the quality of the trainers and the content being taught and the reputation of the course provider. This basically means that a 5 day course offered by an unknown company will no longer warrant your resume well, however a 21 day course with Horizon (Level 3 Certificate for Working as a Close Protection Operative within the Private Security Industry, FPOS, MIRA & HECPO) will be hugely beneficial to anybody’s aspirations to find work in the industry.

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 (Hostile environment deployment) you will not be able to work these contracts and for good reason. The skills required cannot 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 oversee 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 or Afghanistan. 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 from a highly reputable Military source.

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 Executive Protection is the need to understand protocol which essentially good manners and the ability is 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 LinkedIn 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 textbook. 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 saying 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 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 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.

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.

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 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.

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 must 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 literacy 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 professional black and white 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 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 screening 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 or 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.

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 fact you were the one that got everyone their coffees.

Now you have done all that it is time to network, all that means is talking to people in the industry and getting known, networking tools like LinkedIn 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 there and present yourself like a true professional, be passionate and determined and focus on the end result.