Security Guard Hiring: A Guide for Colleges, Hospitals and Schools

Using a little extra effort when you’re hiring security guards or officers for your campus can go a long way toward improving your department.

Security guard hiring is important.

Hospitals, universities and schools could give their security departments all the money they’d ever need, but when it comes to maximizing the safety of a school or hospital, nothing will make a bigger difference than ensuring the quality of the security guards or officers on the ground.

Even the most comprehensive security systems can only complement a public safety department’s larger security strategy, and the best emergency response protocols are only as effective as the security guards or officers executing them.

Hiring bad guards can foil the most foolproof security strategy, distort the security or police department’s role in the institution, bring bad publicity to your community and create myriad barriers to a safe and secure campus.

With so much riding on security guard competence, officials should be exhausting all of the resources at their disposal to find the best person for the job. Successful hiring approaches should be as sought after as any active shooter response strategy.

Yet security heads too often succumb to the temptation of filling security officer vacancies quickly rather than taking their time in the vetting process. That’s a shame, because there are many ways to improve hospital or school hiring protocols.

Partner with Human Resources When Hiring Guards

Joe Bellino of the Gwinnett Health System in Georgia has more than 25 years of experience in healthcare safety, including time with the Joint Commission, and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Development. Much of his advice for hiring officers is applicable across all sectors of the security industry.

Bellino says his Master’s Degree has been invaluable for improving his hiring process.

“It’s helpful because many of my colleagues [in the security and safety industry] don’t understand what the human resources department does,” Bellino says. “You have to have an understanding of their processes so things don’t become adversarial.”

If a security official is unsure how a decision involving officers will unfold, he or she should always consult with HR. Establishing a relationship with HR requires the same consistent dedication as building partnerships with local emergency response agencies.

“You have to go in and make that relationship,” Bellino says. “You have to meet with HR and engage with them early and often so they’re not surprised by anything you do, because no one likes to be surprised.”

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Bellino adds that security heads can build credibility with their institution’s human resources department by building strong cases when they make employment decisions involving their guards or officers. That means approaching decisions relating to labor with the same thoroughness and precision as officers use to build cases against suspects.

Sometimes human resource departments will stall new programs or planned changes that would affect a public safety department’s workforce. Too often this leads security heads to view HR as the enemy when they’re really just trying to protect the institution.

“What I see a lot is preconceived notions about HR that aren’t based on facts,” Bellino says. “I don’t agree with everything that happens in the human resources department, but at the end of the day you have to figure out the bridge to work well with them and build confidence in the relationship. It’s not always easy, but working with them is a whole lot better than working against them.”

Consider Having A Dedicated HR Employee for Security Departments

Stan Skipworth, the director of campus safety at the Claremont (Calif.) University Consortium, says his relationship with his human resources department has been crucial for creating officer advancement programs.

“My HR business partner has really helped me with developmental training programs,” Skipworth says. “She’s assisted in bringing in outside resources and experts to enhance our training portfolio and officer development programs.”

Skipworth has a dedicated person from the human resources department that works with him on a variety of decisions.

”[HR involvement] brings a consistency to the hiring process that we didn’t always have before.”Joe Bellino

The two recently worked together to formally create permanent dispatch positions in Skipworth’s department for officers who want to focus on communications. This allowed other officers to specialize in different areas instead of rotating between dispatch shifts.

“She’s been incredible in helping us create a different environment for employees,” Skipworth says of his HR partner. “She’s helped make our officers happier and I think the world of her.”

Bellino also has a dedicated HR employee that works with him when security guard hiring and thinks every security department should have a similar arrangement.

“It brings a consistency to the hiring process that we didn’t always have before,” Bellino says. “We treat everybody the same way when they come through the door, and if there are any issues with candidates I know she’ll contact me.”

Bellino’s partner, HR Consultant Marge Foster, focuses on staffing and recruiting for the security department, so she attends job fairs to find potential officers and prescreens every security guard and offier applicant.

“She knows exactly what we’re looking for,” Bellino says. “By the time we get to the interview process we know [the candidate] is qualified.”

Foster also works with the younger security guards and officers in the department to coach them on getting the most out of the interview process. Part of that coaching involves Foster explaining what kind of questions are okay to ask during interviews and what aren’t.

“My sergeants didn’t used to interview with me, but now they do and they’re great at it,” Bellino says.

Hiring security guards

Inside Gwinnett’s Security Officer and Guard Hiring Process

After a person fills out an electronic application, the healthcare system performs background checks for the applicants that are being considered for employment.

This step is in addition to the usual requests for experience, references and education level. Many applicants have college degrees, Bellino says.

Following Foster’s prescreening process, a panel interview is conducted with ranking members of the security department. During the technical part of the interview, candidates are asked specific questions about computer skills, report writing and their comfort level with putting their hands on people. A typing test in Microsoft Word is also conducted.

That portion of the guard and officer hiring process is followed up with a series of open-ended questions aimed at testing the candidate’s familiarity with certain aspects of the job. Bellino says open-ended questions are crucial for testing a candidate’s knowledge.

“You have to just ask, ‘What makes a great report?’ If they can’t describe it to you then they don’t know,” Bellino explains. “We also talk about the notso- nice parts of the job. When you make a hiring decision, you want to be as informed as possible, but you also want the prospective employee to be as informed as possible.”

llowing the interviews, a drug screen is conducted. Candidates are then scheduled for shadowing in a four-hour day shift and a four-hour night shift.

“People can give a great interview but when you get them on the floor you can tell pretty quickly if they aren’t ready for the environment,” Bellino says. “They also tend to open up outside of the formal interview so we can better discern people who aren’t a good fit.”

Other Guard Applicant Screening Considerations

As schools, universities and hospital increasingly put safety resources into threat assessments for their students and patients, they should also consider setting up a program for staff members. This is another area where human resources can assist.

Bellino says he’s working with Gwinnett’s vice president to establish such a system.

The overarching lesson should be to take your time in the guard hiring process and make sure your processes are robust.

Related: Check out this Bureau of Labor Statistics report on security guards in the country!

That means doing things like making sure your criminal background checks include the major sex offender registries and conducting simple Google searches of applicants. Verifying education, credentials and previous employment is also important.

Check to make sure the job candidate’s name and other information matches their government-issued ID. Discrepancies there can be a major red flag that the candidate is hiding something from his or her career’s past.

Security department heads do their due diligence in every other aspect of their job, so why not when they’re vetting security job candidates? World-class guards and officers can be difficult to find, but they make school, college and university campuses more safe and secure in the long run, and that makes everyone’s job easier.

Read Next: Do You Have What It Takes to Be a University Emergency Manager?

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About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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