Mercenaries: What They Do and How to Become One

private military contractor during the special secret operation

If you want to blow things up and kill people for a living, pursuing a career as a mercenary might just be your true calling.

Find out all about what this controversial career entails, what the earning potential is and what it takes to become one.



What Is a Mercenary?

First things first, let’s take a closer look at what exactly a mercenary is.

A mercenary is not what many would call an ordinary, traditional job; much like arms dealers, some would even argue that it is morally and ethically wrong.

Simply put, mercenaries are professional soldiers hired to serve in a foreign army and are primarily motivated by personal gain.

More recently, they have come to be known as private military contractors (PMCs) or private security contractors (PSCs). They are typically hired as bodyguards for key staff or security personnel to protect company premises, especially in hostile territories.


Is it Legal?

This is somewhat of a grey area.

The United Nations technically outlawed the recruitment, training, use and financing of mercenaries with the UN Mercenary Convention in 2001, which has so far been ratified by 35 states. But countries like Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – countries with large militaries – have not ratified the convention.

Although mercenaries haven’t completely disappeared, private military and security companies have gradually taken over the activities that were carried out by mercenaries who have now come to be known as PMCs and PSCs. And this is precisely where things get sticky.

Critics, meanwhile, argue that the UN Mercenary Convention as well as Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions were designed to cover the activities of mercenaries in post-colonial Africa and do not adequately address the use of PMCs by sovereign states.


What Is It Like?

Stephen Friday, who spent 12 years in the British army before becoming a PMC in 2008, told the Guardian that ‘certainly my worst incidents were as a PMC rather than in the military… The firefights were a lot closer, a lot more personal.’

He claimed to have once come under fire for seven hours as a soldier in Baghdad, but ‘it was worse’ as a PMC. ‘When you’re in the army, you’ve got an army behind you. As a PMC, you can’t call for back-up; you can’t call fire missions in… There was a stage in 2009, for a period of about 3 months, where we were probably losing guys every second or third day. It was violent and emotionally difficult.’

Another PMC, who didn’t wish to reveal his real name, spoke to CNN back in 2011 and said of his experience: ‘I had spent five months not eating, not sleeping, because you’d have death missions, seeing people get blown up all around me, going on dangerous missions where I could have died… I had so many close calls when we should have been killed, dozens of times… It didn’t happen daily, but it was dangerous.’


Why Should I Become One?

For the money, of course.

While it is an extremely dangerous job, the salary and perks make up for putting your life on the line on a daily basis. PMCs often make up to £10,000 a month, tax-free. To put that into perspective, army soldiers make, on average, £14,637 to £27,054 per year, according to the National Careers Service.

Essentially, PMCs have the potential to earn as much £120,000 a year – 4.4 times more than what a soldier would typically make.



How Do I Become One?

While there aren’t any set traditional requirements to follow this controversial career path, there are some things you can do to make you a more desirable candidate.

Gain Relevant Experience

You won’t need a PhD to become a private military contractor, but most employers typically require previous military or law enforcement experience. Candidates who apply for a job without this are hardly ever accepted. That said, many companies offer training programmes to aspiring PMCs without prior military experience.

Learn a Foreign Language

Though not required, obtaining proficiency in a foreign language like Arabic, Kurdish, Pashto, Dari, Somali and Spanish can be extremely beneficial and will give you a competitive edge over other applicants.

Get in Shape

Physical fitness is a must – simple as that. In most cases, there are strict requirements that you must meet, and you will have to complete rigorous tests which assess your physical strength and stamina.

Fix Up Your CV

As with most other jobs, you’ll need to submit your CV along with your application. Make sure that it clearly highlights your military and security-related experience, skills and qualifications, and don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide to help you craft a stand-out CV, no matter the stage of your career.


Where Can I Find Mercenary Jobs?

Due to the nature of the job, you won’t really open your local newspaper and find an ad saying ‘Mercenaries Wanted’.

Your best bet for locating opportunities would be directly through the companies that specialise in the provision of military and security services. Below is a non-exhaustive list of such companies:

  • Academi, US-based. Originally known as Blackwater, the company received widespread notoriety in 2007 when a group of its employees killed 17 and injured 20 Iraqi civilians.
  • Aegis Defence Services, UK-based. Came under investigation when a number of ‘trophy’ videos were uploaded online showing PMCs firing at civilian vehicles in Afghanistan for no apparent reason.
  • Corps Security, UK-based. Reports to Queen Elizabeth II.
  • DynCorp, US-based. Provides services in Bosnia, Colombia, Kosovo and Kuwait, among others.
  • Erinys International, UK-based. Came under fire when photos emerged of a 16-year-old Iraqi youth being mistreated during an interrogation.
  • Northbridge Services Group, Dominican Republic-based with offices in the UK and Ukraine.
  • Pinkerton Government Services, US-based. ‘Offers a full range of cleared protective services designed to meet the specific requirements of the US government.’



What is your view on mercenaries? Would you consider becoming one? Have you or do you currently work as a PMC? Join the conversation below and share your thoughts with us.


This article was originally published in March 2015.