Succeeding and Broadening Your Career Potential in Homeland Security

By Richard Niemann, Faculty, Public Safety Programs

Homeland security is a diverse and dynamic field with growth potential for those daring enough to accept the challenge. Opportunities exist for careers in the air, on land, and at sea.

Success in the homeland security field depends on several factors: your requisite knowledge, skills, and ability in your current or desired career path. Your success is based on your ability to work as an individual and as a team player in various settings. Anticipating and solving complex issues as they develop will demonstrate both leadership and knowledge.

An example of a situation in which such skills may be showcased is fugitive apprehension. Law enforcement agents operating along the border are tasked with identifying and capturing smugglers or coyotes who have illegally penetrated our borders. As a member of a unit tracking these dangerous felons, your ability to operate as an individual and team member to locate and detect a group of smugglers uses your knowledge, skills, and abilities to capture these dangerous theats. Coordinating a consolidated effort includes incorporating assets such a air units and the ability to operate while transmitting specific land navigation coordinates to other assets on the ground. A coordinated effort to capture those intent on harming our homeland demonstrates your leadership and skills and your ability to work with others toward a common goal.

Success in your career requires the “big three”: knowledge, skills, and the ability. Success will also require you to understand what you are passionate about, to identify your career objectives, and to set short- and long-term goals.


Today’s employers are looking for employees who can enter the homeland security arena ready to operate in their chosen field. This means you will need to demonstrate your knowledge within your field. Showing that you have knowledge in more than one area or that you have a particular sought-after skill could set you apart from others. For instance, having an emergency management degree from an accredited university and additional training from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—for example in the National Incident Management system—is very attractive to employers who use this framework in their all-hazards approach to disaster planning. FEMA operates a host of free training courses that serve many homeland security functions and roles on their website. Understanding diverse cultures and languages is key in working overseas. Analytical skills are much sought in today’s homeland security environment and are easily transferrable in several markets.


Skills are the technical attributes you have acquired. Skills can be anything from operating a helicopter and providing air support for drug enforcement operations to programming supercomputers and tracking fugitives.

Success will also depend on your willingness to accept additional responsibilities within your field. While these jobs may not always be glamorous, taking on unpopular assignments will set you apart as a team player and demonstrate your willingness to be flexible in diverse environments. Volunteering for unpopular assignments will also broaden your knowledge and expand your work duties. Consider these assignments as opportunities.


This is your opportunity to showcase you knowledge and skills by actually performing the tasks required to complete your mission. Identify your skills (it doesn’t matter where or when you obtained them), write them down, and then determine your proficiency.

Identify and focus on your core job strengths and determine what sets you apart from your peers. What are your special skills; what is your niche? Are you capable of detecting cyberthreats before they occur or are you capable of running a “denial of service” operation against a vast cyberterrorist threat? Inventory your skills and list them—you may be surprised at just how knowledgeable you are. Once you have an inventory be sure identify how these skills are applicable to your current and future aspirations.

Develop a career plan and set both short- and long-term goals, then map out the method to accomplish these goals. Managers or supervisors should be a part of this process.

Training Opportunities  

Training opportunities, whether in-house or from an outside contractor, will always give you a competitive edge. While funds to attend training are always the first cut from an organization’s budget, invest in yourself and set a personal budget to attend training courses congruent with your current position. Attending conferences within your discipline allows you several opportunities to network with others in your field while learning about the latest trends and best practices.

Joining associations that specialize in the field of homeland security can also grow your skills. Well-known organizations such as the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security provide training, networking, and credentials to validate your current skillset and provide additional training to enhance and broaden your core knowledge. Organizations like this should be a definite part of your career inventory and plan for success in the field of homeland security. University and online training courses are desirable as well, and a course in another language or culture is highly desirable prior to overseas assignments. Consider taking a class outside your discipline to increase knowledge in a peripheral discipline, and subscribe to trade publications. Always take advantage of training opportunities to obtain licenses, certifications, and additional credentials that broaden your current skill inventory and your marketability.

A complex world where the threats are constantly changing requires professionals who can track, root out, and stalk the threats that hide among our populace in plain sight. The new threats facing the homeland are more complex than ever and are willing to wait patiently to ensure success. Our homeland has seen the products of our adversaries’ destructive work. Protecting society will require a new breed of thinking to stop these sophisticated and complex threats. Do you have the skills and determination to keep the United States safe? Then you might be just what we are looking for!


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