Recruiting: Vets are a Good Bet

Nov. 10, 2015
The security industry is making great hires among military veterans

When Daniel Kilgore left the Navy nearly 30 years ago and started looking for a civilian job, he had no idea that there was such a thing as an “electronic security industry.” He just knew that he had a specific, strong set of highly technical skills that he had learned in the military as a petty officer with a Tradevman rating (short for “training device man”), and he hoped to put those skills to use in a job.

He was job-hunting in Boston, and saw an ad in the Boston Globe that referenced technical skills, a customer service position as a sales trainee at a company called Boston Sentry Protective Services. It was a company that sold and serviced security alarms and operated its own Central Station. Kilgore got the job, and the rest is history — a very successful electronic security career history. Today, Kilgore is director of global accounts at RFI Communications & Security Systems Inc., a systems integrator with headquarters in California specializing in security and fire-life safety solutions.

“I often joke that there was never a moment in my early life when I says, ‘When I grow up I want to be a security guy,’” Kilgore says. “Meanwhile, I’ve been doing this in some capacity since 1985.”


A Natural Resource

It is no joke that many military veterans are finding a natural career fit and many rewarding job opportunities in the electronic security industry — an industry that has seen unprecedented growth in recent years thanks in part to the growth of home automation systems and the smart home market.

Companies like RFI are finding a pool of incredible talent in military veterans — people who embrace technology and are trained very well in how to use it.

Sharon Brown, human resources manager at RFI, says that, from a corporate values perspective, RFI has always been very supportive of veterans. The company was founded by a veteran, and about 7 percent of its employees served in the armed forces. These people hold a wide range of positions at RFI — from technician to sales to operational management — and many have been with the company for quite a long time.

“Certainly many veterans are leaving the service with exceptional technological training and experience — they have solid computer skills, and many even have experience working with fire safety equipment, so their experience is directly related to our fire alarm products,” Brown says. “But even if their experience is not an exact fit for what they’ll do at RFI, we find that they are willing and able to learn. If you can detonate a bomb or take a submarine 20,000 leagues under the sea, you can probably install and service a burglar alarm.

“Perhaps of even greater importance than their technical expertise is a certain leadership quality that most veterans display,” Brown continues. “They have no anxiety about working with a client or managing a group of people; in fact, they are extremely comfortable with and adept at working with teams of people. It is no wonder we have veterans in positions of management here — including a service operations manager, an engineering manager and our director of global accounts.”


A Special Skillset

RFI’s director of global accounts, the aforementioned Daniel Kilgore, received in-depth technical training as a Tradevman in the Navy. “The level of complexity of what I worked on in the Navy was far beyond what I’ve worked on in most of my civilian jobs,” Kilgore says.

Stationed in San Diego, Kilgore maintained and operated a simulator called a submarine attack trainer — where Navy submarine personnel came to practice fighting “bad guys.”

“Looking for that first job, my technical training in the Navy was kind of a blessing and a curse — my military training was highly specialized, down to troubleshooting on the component level of a circuit board,” Kilgore explains. “My very specialized skills didn’t translate directly to the typical computer companies that were flourishing in the 80s — or even resonate with some general technical companies today. Fortunately, my electronics experience working with computers, electronic I/O’s, relays and servos did translate to the security market.”

Today Kilgore says that his technical and leadership training in the military helped lay the groundwork for his successful sales and management career and his current successful role at RFI overseeing many of the company’s large key accounts.

“In the military, I learned how to deal with issues in an organized, methodical way,” he says. “The regimented approach to problem-solving has been extremely valuable to me, both in my career and in my life.”


Unmatched Field Experience

As regional manager of Southern California at RFI, Bill Romano handles all operations and sales functions for the region — overseeing installation technicians, outbound sales people and administration. He has been in the electronic security industry for 23 years, including stints at Protection One, Diebold, back to his beginnings at Thorn Automated Systems. But before all that, Romano served in the Navy for six years.

“My technical aptitude in the security industry — which has helped me to build a successful and rewarding career — can be directly correlated to the military training I received,” Romano says. “One of my goals in the military was to hone a specific skill that I could apply to the outside world. It just so happened that the skills I learned were a perfect fit for the security industry.”

Romano held a number of security-related jobs in the Navy, including serving as an electrician and interior communications specialist and working with alarms, cameras and phones.

Like Kilgore, Romano was not aware of the security industry when he ended his military stint. “I was just very fortunate to find a job as a field technician at Thorne Systems,” Romano says. “It also didn’t hurt that the GM at Thorne was former military. He knew that I came to him well-trained, and with a certain discipline and direct approach that many veterans exhibit. I’ve been fortunate to be able to put my military technical training to use ever since.”

Romano had supervisory responsibilities in the military, directing work details and providing reports to senior management. He says that this kind of experience — common among mid-level, non-commissioned officers — has helped him to receive promotions throughout his career.

He also says that the level and type of training he and other veterans receive makes them great candidates for management positions and regular promotions.

“Many veterans have a more advanced level of skills than you might find with other job candidates who only have tech school training,” Romano says. “(Veterans) have field experience that you can’t get in the classroom. Senior managers in security companies are starting to recognize this, and are taking a harder look at veterans. Plus, people coming out of the service today have a more advanced skill set than I did coming out of the Navy 20 years ago. The technology is getting more sophisticated, and so are the skills.”


Spreading the Word

One of the top challenges for electronic security companies is to position themselves and the industry as an attractive option for military veterans and other qualified candidates for industry job openings. A couple years ago, the Electronic Security Association (ESA) established an Industry Advisory Group (IAG) to address issues like an outdated, inaccurate perception of the industry.

Steve Firestone, in addition to being president of Select Security — one of the nation’s largest providers of business and residential security systems — is the Vice Chair of the IAG.

“The industry as a whole has a perception problem. We need to get in front of millennials (people born in the last 20 years of the 20th century) and other qualified job candidates,” Firestone says. “We need to let them know that we are not your grandparents’ security industry — that we’re no longer just about pulling wires through the attic. People in our industry are working on some really cool initiatives, with some amazing technological products that are protecting people and homes — products you can feel really good about.”

Firestone, whose own company’s staff is comprised of 10 percent veterans, recognizes that veterans are an extremely important subset of the millennials that the IAG is trying to connect with. “Many veterans don’t know that our industry exists, which is a shame and a wasted opportunity,” he says. “The military is as tech-driven an industry as there is. People are leaving the military with incredible technological backgrounds; plus, they understand the need for protection, surveillance and responsiveness.

“We have people at Select Security who started as technicians in the operations group, demonstrated an early proficiency in the tech side of the business and have risen up into either our engineering group or into sales management positions,” Firestone continues. “There are definitely opportunities across multiple disciplines at our company, and throughout the industry.”

To accomplish the goal of reaching qualified veterans, ESA has embarked on a number of initiatives, including the website, designed to reach out to veterans and others who might be interested in a career in electronic security. The association is also in the process of completing a Member Toolkit, which will provide all ESA member companies information, templates and tools that they can use to attract and retain a new workforce.

“The challenge for many of ESA’s member companies is their small size,” Firestone explains. “They may not have the human resources personnel and the marketing bandwidth to successfully reach veterans and other strong candidates and make them aware of the incredible opportunities available in this industry. We’re hoping to change that.”


Shannon Murphy is Vice President of Sales & Marketing at the Electronic Security Association (ESA). Please visit for more information.