Moving into the private sector of corporate security is a natural progression in the professional career of many law enforcement individuals. A Senior Director from Microsoft Global Security provides clarity on this transition, and from experience knows that there are three distinct groups that often make the move from the public to the private sector.
Law Enforcement Transition Group #1
The first and most common group is comprised of law enforcement officers who are coming up on retirement after putting in 20 to 25 years. They have already completed a full body of work, and are ready to move on. Still relatively young, and not quite ready to retire at some Florida beach house, they are in their prime and desire a new direction in their chosen field. They will probably be receiving a pension, and this subsequent new position will generate additional income.
Many successful corporate security team members are recruited from this contingent, but there are some distinct challenges to those coming from this group. Often, they find it difficult to function within this new hierarchy, one where they now hold complete end-to-end ownership for specific work. They must be able to oversee and accomplish this work individually, as there are fewer layers of responsibility than there were in the governmental hierarchy of rank promotions or pay grades. The buck may start and stop with them, so to speak. Also, many find that they miss the camaraderie with peers that they grew accustomed to in their law enforcement day-to-day work.
Law Enforcement Transition Group #2
This segment is comprised of law enforcement officers who are in the mid-career part of their lives. They are not near retirement, and thus taking a big risk by leaving the security of their current government job and its future benefits. However, they have the burning desire to try something different and may feel that high level skills acquired from experience on major crimes, traffic division, narcotics and SWAT teams are being wasted in law enforcement that is too slow moving for the pace they seek. These individuals often have had to wait for positions to open up in order for advancement in the public sector, and many feel their current assignments are too limited for them to incorporate all their knowledge and skills. These candidates are hungry, motivated and ready for a change.
Law Enforcement Transition Group #3
A very interesting segment, because it is made up of people who entered law enforcement but were unable to meet the requirements or succeed in their public sector roles, they ‘washed out’. On a police force one is initially assigned the duty of being a patrol officer. As a baseline, it takes a certain intellect containing a unique combination of street smarts and common sense and for many, it is just not a good fit. They subsequently get terminated or end up quitting. However, they are often people with unique qualities and skillsets that can be fabulous candidates for private sector corporate investigations and security positions.
Personal Experience in the Corporate Security World
I came from the second group. After 12+ years on multiple police forces serving the public in roles like patrol officer, detective, terrorism task force, narcotics undercover, SWAT, high tech crime, computer intrusion and fraud investigator – I was ready to try something new!
The first thing I learned was that a private sector corporate investigations career was certainly different. I needed to spend extra time learning more and more about business – inside and out – because the job is not only to protect, but to better enable the people in the company. To be successful one has to learn business acumen, and all the basic fundamentals of the corporate enterprise.
Technology needs to be embraced at a high level, and then leveraged and incorporated to its fullest into every security plan. There also needs to be an understanding that corporate security is not law enforcement. In law enforcement, probable cause can lead to an arrest. In a corporation, the security team does not hold that power. You are NOT a cop! A partnership with government authorities is entwined in your work and you need to be cognizant of these boundaries.
In the corporate investigations and security field, one needs to always be a good listener and observe everything around you. Don’t make initial waves acting like you know how to do everything better than those who are already established in their positions in the company. Be patient in this unfamiliar environment, although opportunities are there, being pushy is not the proper tactic for advancement. The key is to not be critical of others, or critical of previously adapted policies and processes. You must first execute the work that you do professionally and beyond expectations – Excel, Excel, and Excel. You will be noticed, and you will advance up the ladder without stepping on toes along the way.
Approach this career change knowing that there will be some unexciting times as well. Instead of leading the investigation team of a major serial murder crime, you may be asked to investigate a missing phone. It is a different, self-contained world, and soft skills often need to be incorporated.
Advice for Hiring Managers to Identify the Best Corporate Security Candidates
Company hiring managers should familiarize themselves with the three groups identified to better understand the law enforcement pool that security and investigative candidates tend to come from. Properly set employee expectations during the interview, prior to their initial work period, as many often start to miss the law enforcement field, the camaraderie inherent with it, and may want to go back. Do your best to monitor their wants and needs and mold their job description accordingly. Help them succeed in their new career path if you feel they are worth the continued effort.
It is a big transition, and awareness of this from both the employer and employee will lead to the best avenue for success.
Possible Security Career Focus in a Corporation
There are many areas of career focus within the corporate world. We have in this article mostly focused on my experience in the corporate investigator field. Some of the other areas that a talented and skilled candidate could enter are:
- Security Operations
- Security Technology & Consulting
- Executive Protection
- Asset Protection
- Event Security
- Operations Centers
- Risk Mitigation
- Crisis Management
- Resiliency / Business Continuity
Law enforcement skills are invaluable to every company and solid candidates are in demand for all levels of security positions. Advancement is possible and usually quicker than in the public sector.
My transition from law enforcement in Honolulu, and Redmond to the Senior Director for Microsoft Global Security was extremely successful and fulfilling. It was a little scary to initially make the move, but I’m very happy that I took the chance.