How to Become a Private Military Contractor

Are you interested in pursuing a career in military and security? Here, we discuss the steps you need to take to become a private military contractor.

Illustration of two soldier silhouettes one walking and holding a riffle and the other kneeling and pointing a rifle on his left side

The demand for private military contractors has exploded over the last 20 years, but they go back centuries. During the early years of the United States, the Founding Fathers utilised the Letters of Marque and Reprisal, hiring private contractors to attack or capture ships of a nation at war with the issuer. This is not the case today, but it does highlight the historical precedent of this occupation.

Although some might consider the role of a private military contractor to be controversial, this employment opportunity has become normalised as a military career in recent years.

Whatever the case may be, if you are intrigued by the idea of pursuing a career in this sphere, we have compiled a complete guide on how to become a private military contractor.

1. Know what the job involves

Private military contractors (PMCs), also referred to as defence contractors, provide security services to private organisations, VIPs, or government agencies or officials. Private military contractors play a critical role in gathering intelligence, offering technical support, training professionals in the field of international security, and transporting arms and equipment to conflict zones around the globe.

While becoming a PMC sounds glamorous and fun, the job can be physically demanding and risky. A large majority of PMCs work in war-torn and politically unstable areas. Even though they do not regularly work in combat arenas, they often are tasked with protecting VIPs and world leaders. In doing so, they are also at constant risk for unexpected gunfights or violent demonstrations.

It is also important to understand that PMCs are not mercenaries.

The latter are war combatants and only work for monetary gain. Mercenaries are usually former military personnel who take on war combat jobs. Most western nations, including the US, have laws that prevent their citizens from acting as mercenaries. On the other hand, PMCs usually work for either the government or private contractors, have a chain of command, and follow orders.

The job may be glamorised in the motion pictures, but real life is quite different, with the job taking a physical and psychological toll on many of these private military contractors.

Stephen Friday, a private military contractor who spent more than a decade in the British army, told The London Guardian:

'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. Certainly, my worst incidents were as a PMC rather than in the military.'

And, like other veterans who have served in the military, mercenaries witness the same violent scenes that can permanently impact your psyche. Sean McFate, a decorated soldier and mercenary, told Men's Journal: 'Some of the things I saw have been pretty hard to shake.'

2. Read up on what the law says

The laws around PMCs are vague across most advanced and developing jurisdictions.

Outside of the US and South Africa, most other nations have no specific legislation on it. Some nations like Switzerland will not allow their citizens to become PMCs. But in the US, you can legally work as a PMC as long as you abide by the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Most of the agencies which hire PMCs self-regulate but overall, there is no coherent legal framework on an international level regarding the regulations and accountability of PMCs. As such, each country and region may have its own laws, under which you would be subject to depending on where you are based.

According to The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law, PMC can be brought against criminal courts for their individual actions: 'As individuals, PMC members remain theoretically individually accountable for their actions and as such can be accused and judged for torts, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, or acts of genocide.'

Overall, it's important to conduct your own research and familiarise yourself with both international and local laws in place.

3. Gain relevant military or law enforcement experience

To become a PMC, candidates need to have a military or law enforcement background.

Some positions require no experience in the military, like intelligence, transportation computing, telecommunications. IT, robotics, surveillance, etc., but in most cases, agencies prefer people with experience in the military or law enforcement. These jobs are in high-risk, politically unstable nations with ongoing wars, and you candidates should have some knowledge about the use of firearms, covert intelligence, operating military trucks and other critical equipment.

4. Get into great physical shape

Even if you have no military background, candidates who wish to become PMCs must be in excellent physical shape.

Since most PMCs work in dangerous regions and war zones, they must be prepared for the worst. Being unfit not only jeopardises the health of the individual but can put their colleagues at risk. Army-supervised boot camps can improve your physical fitness, cardiorespiratory function, and physical strength. Excellent physical fitness can also improve morale, build character and ensure you are prepared for any mission.

5. Learn a foreign language

Because most PMCs work in foreign countries, it is important to be able to speak different languages. This can be a tremendous asset for communication with the locals.

The languages in most demand include Arabic, Pashto, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Farsi.

Today, there are many online classes for people who want to learn these languages. For an average user, the language programme takes about 100 hours of self-directed study. In addition, there are many apps and small portable devices that can translate most languages into English.

6. Meet the job requirements

For people who may have watched too many movies, it may appear that a PMC must only know how to carry a weapon. This is nonsense because the role of a private military contractor is a lot more intricate than that, especially in this highly globalised world.

So, beyond possessing the right skills and experience, what are some of the other job requirements necessary to be hired as a mercenary and effectively carry out the responsibilities?

  • Passport: A valid passport is mandatory since you will be travelling outside the country on a regular basis.
  • Driver's license: An automobile will be your primary mode of transportation, so be sure you have a valid license in your wallet.
  • Vaccinations: In order to enter a foreign country, some governments require visitors to have a specific set of vaccines. Be sure that you are completely up to date on your vaccinations to be permitted to enter a nation.
  • Age: Private businesses that specialise in this field will typically want applicants who are a bit older rather than freshly out of school. Although there will be special exceptions for someone who is 21, you might need more years in public service to be considered for a job.

That last one is pretty essential. This was pointed out by John Geddes, the head of Ronin Concepts, who told the Guardian about who it mainly hires: 'They're pretty much misfits who can't or won't fit into civilian life. They tend to be older. Wars are fought by 18- and 19-year-olds. The average age [of a PMC] is mid-30s, early 40s. In some companies, there is an upper age limit of 49.'

Ultimately, you need to ensure that you have all the special documents to travel overseas and carry out the tasks and responsibilities for your employer. It is critical to make sure that there will not be any restrictions on your movement in and out of the foreign country where you are temporarily located.

PMC jobs in the US are only offered to US citizens.

7. Fix your CV

To have a good chance of getting a job, your CV should highlight the following:

  • Details of your law enforcement/military experience, expertise and education
  • Any course in criminal justice, communications or emergency management
  • Fluency in a foreign language(s)
  • Experience as a police dog handler or in private security (if any)
  • Experience with computers, hacking skills or other technical skills
  • Knowledge of repairing military equipment or expertise with firearms, tactical shooting.

Remember, many people are applying for PMCs jobs, and only the best stand a chance.

8. Start your job search

Companies that actively recruit PMCs include the following:

  • AirScan: a private company that specialises in airborne surveillance
  • Allied Universal: a multinational security service
  • Beni Tal: an Israeli company that provides quick response teams
  • Blue Hackle: a USA company that is in risk management
  • Constellis: a US-based risk management and security company
  • G4S: an international security company that offers security to government officials
  • GardaWorld: a British security company
  • General Dynamics: a USUS company that offers military services globally
  • Hart: an international risk management company offering security in high-risk zones

Final thoughts

Being in the military is a crucial aspect of veterans' identities. From the camaraderie to the work that you do, there is so much about this career that can leave you feeling addicted. This is why when soldiers return home, the first thing they want to do is go back into the field.

This would be music to the ears of security contracting firms since they want dedicated employees who will not buckle under the pressure, danger, energy and time in another place.

PMC jobs are not a dime a dozen, and they are not for everyone. It takes a lot of research to find companies in this line of work and employers on the hunt for PMCs. And, of course, if you happen to apply for this opportunity, it will require an extensive process that consists of documentation verification, interviews, skills testing, and so much more.

Whether you are fresh out of school or have compiled years of training and looking to change careers, you need to be aware of what this occupation entails because it could permanently change your life – some say good, and some say bad.

Join the discussion! What interests you about this occupation? Let us know in your comments section below!