TSO Hiring Process

Building a career as a TSO for TSA means working for the U.S. Government alongside 55,000 other employees contributing to the safety of U.S. citizens travelling to or from the U.S. This job comes not only with great responsibility; there are many benefits such as an attractive salary, a retirement plan, long-term health insurance and more. On this page you will find everything you need to know about the recruitment process to become a TSO, as well as additional information regarding this occupation.

Transportation Security Officer (TSO) Careers

The role of a TSO is to protect passengers, airports, and aircraft, as well as to thwart attacking attempts on board aircrafts or at airports. Contrary to what one might think, the job of a TSO is not just to check the carry-on baggage of passengers; they perform many other tasks, both directly with travelers and behind the scenes at the airport.

TSA employs TSOs at more than 450 airports across the United States. There are several TSO grades, each with its own tasks, characteristics, and salary.

  1. TSO
  2. LTSO
  3. STSO
  4. MTSO
  5. ETSO

Below you will find concise overviews of each grade.


Roles and Tasks

Screening Operations
  • Examine carry-on baggage for weapons or explosives by X-ray screening or other technological means.
  • Examine checked baggage for weapons or explosives and prevent them from being transported on planes.
  • Inspect passengers and their suitcases manually (pat-downs) for prohibited items identified by X-ray, ETD (Explosive Trace Detection) or EDS (Explosive Detection System).
  • Conduct checks at the entrances and exits of the terminals and alert superiors in case of suspicious behavior.
  • Ensure that health and safety guidelines are followed correctly.
  • Respond immediately to security breaches and emergencies.
  • Provide suggestions and comments to improve screening procedures.
  • Attend and participate, if necessary, in information seminars about sensitive or classified security issues.
  • Receive theoretical and practical education in Standard Operating Procedures and in different aspects of the job.
  • Maintain composure and be able to apply different security protocols in various circumstances or situations that may arise.
  • Have the ability to make decisions in times of crisis as well as everyday routine situations.
  • Write incident reports by hand or computer.

General Skills Requirements

  • You are responsible for your tasks and duties as well as achieving your goals.
  • Write daily reports for the purpose of updating other employees and ensuring continuity between shift changes.
  • Maintain constant vigilance regarding airport security.
Customer Service
  • Interact with the travelers, provide information and directions, and respond to requests.
  • You must have the ability to withstand pressure from edgy or disruptive passengers whilst unfalteringly conducting yourself in a calm and professional manner, in order to identify and locate individuals or objects that could threaten human lives.
  • Implement knowledge of all safety procedures and possible interactions with the travelling public.
  • Analyze situations from the passengers' point of view, in order to respond to their requests in the most appropriate manner.
  • Always act courteously and professionally. Recognize and attend to the needs of passengers who may require special treatment or assistance.
Attention to Detail
  • You must have the ability to stay focused and alert amidst the hectic airport environment which includes noises from alarms and machines, as well as throngs of travelers.
  • Know how to discern relevant information from irrelevant or distracting information.
  • Pay attention to details and follow any instructions given whilst proceeding with various screening procedures.
  • Verify the accuracy of information provided by passengers.
  • Maintain a clean and organized workspace.
  • Be able to adapt to any changes and obstacles that may result from new situations or information that arises.
  • Maintain a positive attitude in the face of setbacks or program changes.
  • Adapt your behavior appropriately during interactions with different types of individuals.
  • Be receptive to new information, ideas, or strategies that may help you attain your goals.
  • Assist superiors and cooperate with law enforcers as a witness in the event of an incident, when necessary.
  • Have the ability to admit mistakes, receive feedback from others and take active steps to improve.
  • Avoid situations or behaviors that may come across as inappropriate.
  • Encourage colleagues to act duly in a complicated situation.
  • Serve as a role model for others by behaving according to any practices and standards required and expected of you.
Interpersonal Skills
  • Respect co-workers and ensure treatment of all in a nondiscriminatory and just manner. emphatical manner.
  • Be aware of the scope of your words and actions.
  • Listen and ask questions in a way that reflects understanding of other people's ideas, problems, or requests.
Oral Communication
  • Verify understanding of important messages with whoever you communicate with.
  • Speak clearly and concisely.
  • Explain complex concepts, such as security procedures, with an appropriate level of detail.
  • Demonstrate your oral skills during presentations.

Technical Skills Requirements

Security Equipment Knowledge
  • Be able to explain the properties of various security devices precisely.
  • Be able to recognize a malfunctioning device as well as potential causes and malfunctions.
Security Screening Policies and Procedures
  • Demonstrate knowledge of safety guidelines and procedures in all circumstances.
  • Recognize discrepancies in the implementation of screening procedures and alert supervisors to them.

Learn more about the physical requirements for the TSO.

LTSO (Leader TSO)

Roles and Tasks

Handling Personnel Issues
  • Listen to and resolve employee complaints and inform superiors (STSOs) of any issues that you cannot solve alone.
  • Approve emergency leave for short periods of time, as instructed.
  • Allocate an adequate number of TSOs to each work shift in order to ensure effective and adequate screening of all persons, baggage, and cargo, according to the instructions given.
Managing Screening Operations
  • Direct the work of subordinate employees.
  • Create and maintain a fair work environment.
  • Distribute tasks and workloads among employees based on workflow and skills required.
  • Monitor, evaluate performance, and train staff. Report progress to superiors.
  • Represent the staff by contacting the STSO or TSM regarding any issues with technical equipment.
  • Make sure the equipment is used properly.
  • Ensure that employment policies, measures, and practices are properly administered within the TSA.
  • Manage passenger flow at checkpoints.
  • Supervise the check-in and/or checked baggage area on a day-to-day basis, including equipment and personnel – depending on the job allocation, you may have to supervise different aspects.
Manage Staff Performance
  • Observe TSOs and TSO trainees in the field and make note of any performance concerns so as to assist the STSOs in taking corrective disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.
  • Recommend and/or aid STSOs and/or TSMs on human resources matters regarding performance, promotions, reassignments, rewards, etc.
Maintaining Equipment
  • Diagnose malfunctions and ensure correction of them using technical manuals, books, SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), and other guides.
  • Perform regular level 1 maintenance including functional checks, system calibration, inspections, equipment cleaning, and replacing parts of EDS and ETD equipment, as instructed.
  • Operate and calibrate equipment, report, and immediately resolve equipment malfunctions.
  • Record all insights and technical checkups in the field in appropriate training records.
  • Use computer hardware and software to create documents, and analyze information, if necessary, and to communicate information in the appropriate format.
Conducting Screening Operations
  • Know how to perform all TSO duties (screening passengers, luggage, and cargo among others).
  • Maintain constant communication with management.
  • Analyze different patterns of behavior.
  • Open and close safe zones, in line with SOPs.
  • Participate in the development of new policies and procedures.
  • Project a positive image and respond to requests from the crew, airlines, and terminal employees in a professional and courteous manner.
  • Organize schedules and designate shifts to staff.
  • Prepare all documents and forms needed for everyday use.
  • Serve as a team coach and negotiator.
Coordinating and Collaborating Across Functions
  • Notify law enforcement officers immediately if criminal acts against civil aviation are suspected.
  • Cooperate and assist law enforcement officers in any request or investigation.
Coaching and Assisting Professional Development
  • Educate and advise TSO employees in customer service as well as any other topics related to screening passengers.
  • Advise employees on how best to solve technical difficulties.
  • Maintain and update certification and licensing for equipment maintenance and repairs.

General Skills Requirements

Attention to Detail
Conflict Management
  • Adhere and enforce TSA rules regarding workplace conflicts.
  • Recognize performance and problematic elements that may arise, and act on each situation.
  • Empower employees to overcome any conflicts within the team and thus accomplish their tasks.
  • Manage employees' personal problems.
  • Manage and resolve conflicts, confrontations, and disagreements in a positive and constructive way to minimize ramifications on employees and their tasks.
  • React immediately and appropriately in any instance of inappropriate behavior displayed by any individuals (employees).
Customer Service
Interpersonal Skills
Oral Communication
Problem Solving
  • Ask in-depth questions to clarify situations and identify the cause of the problem.
  • Break down problems into manageable elements.
  • Assess the convenience of potential solutions.
  • Prioritize key solutions in complicated situations.
  • Maintain an objective and impartial state of mine in order to analyze situations based only on facts.
  • Know how to recognize a problematic situation and take direct action to resolve it.
Technical Skills Requirements

Learn more about the physical requirements for the LTSO.

STSO (Supervisor TSO)

Roles and Tasks

Handling Personnel Issues
  • Approve emergency leave for short periods of time, as instructed.
  • Allocate an adequate number of TSOs to each work shift in order to ensure effective and adequate screening of all persons, baggage, and cargo, according to the instructions given.
  • Deal with uniform issues.
  • Create and maintain a fair work environment, listen to employee complaints and requests, and refer those that cannot be resolved to superiors (TSMs).
  • Take care of salaries.
Managing Screening Operations
  • Know how to perform all TSO duties (screening passengers, luggage, and cargo among others).
  • Ensure proper use of equipment.
  • Ensure that TSA rules and employment policies and procedures are effectively administered.
  • Control passenger flow in screening areas.
  • Train team members, monitor and report employee progress and progress, and represent the team in communications with the TSM.
  • Serve as a team coach and negotiator.
Managing Staff Performance
  • Assign tasks and ensure that they are carried out.
  • Supervise employees performing collateral tasks such as participating in flight programs, serving as an aviation control assessment program (ASAP) evaluator, and a TSA Certified Instructor (TAI).
  • Monitor and assess employee performance by way of recurrent evaluations and continuous observation and document these observations.
  • Set priorities for LTSOs and TSOs.
Manage Staff Performance
  • Recommend corrective disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, when necessary.
  • Recommend and/or aid STSOs and/or TSMs on human resources matters regarding performance, promotions, reassignments, rewards, etc.
Maintaining Equipment
  • Operate and calibrate equipment, report, and immediately resolve equipment malfunctions.
  • Record all insights and technical checkups in the field in appropriate training records.
Conducting Screening Operations
  • All LTSO screening operations.
  • Participate in the development of strategic management initiatives, workforce and succession management initiatives, and other reports and documents for the HQ and/or TSM, as appropriate.
Coordinating and Collaborating Across Functions
Coaching and Developing Others
  • Maintain and update certification and licensing for equipment maintenance and repairs.

General Skills Requirements

The following skills are required for STSOs in addition to the general skills expected from LTSOs.

  • Have the ability to make unpopular and difficult decisions when necessary, in order to carry out the TSA's mission.
  • Make the final decision in case of unresolved predicaments in situations where time is running short.
  • Know how to raise complicated questions or situations with your superiors and propose solutions.
  • Take the initiative to solve problems.
Team Building
  • Provide positive feedback to employees doing exemplary work and progress on a weekly basis.
  • Look for opportunities to build and improve the self-confidence and abilities of employees experiencing difficulty and provide them with support.
  • Actively involve employees in decision-making regarding issues that affect them personally.
  • Strengthen overall morale by addressing underperforming employees directly and encouraging them to showcase their skills and aid the team.
  • Spend time with employees (for example, working at checkpoints) in order to build and strengthen relationships.
Written Communication
  • Convey information clearly and concisely.
  • Be aware of the potential impact of words used when describing important concepts (wages, promotions, profits, security policies, etc.).
  • Provide documentation on complex concepts, such as security procedures, at an appropriate level of detail for your target audience.
  • Create documents without spelling or grammar errors.
Technical Skills Requirements

Learn more about the physical requirements for the STSO.

What Qualifications Are Required in Order to Apply to Become a TSO?

Applicants must meet the following qualifications in order to continue the NESS hiring process:

  • Hold one of the following degrees:
    • A high school diploma.
    • A General Studies Diploma (GED).
    • A high school equivalency test (HiSET).
    • A high school graduation test (TASC).
  • OR have at least one year of full-time professional experience in the security, aviation safety control, or radiology technician (X-ray).
  • Fluent English (i.e., reading, writing, speaking, and understanding).
  • National Service experience: refers to paid and unpaid activities, including volunteer work in one of the National Service's programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (professional, philanthropic, religious, spiritual, communal, student, social, etc.). Volunteer work helps develop essential skills and knowledge and can provide valuable training and experience that translates directly into paid employment. Each experience provides added value to your recruitment request.

What Are the Criteria to Apply to Become a TSO?

The criteria listed below must be met at the time of application:

  • Be a U.S. citizen at the time of application.
  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of application.
  • Take a drug test.
  • Take a medical assessment.
  • Successfully pass a background check, including a credit check and criminal history investigation.
  • Agree to take alcohol and/or random drug tests (once employed).
  • Must be willing to work different shifts and overtime if necessary.
  • Must be willing to travel as part of training as well as travel occasionally once employed.
  • No default on debts of over $7,500 (except for some bankruptcies) or late child support.
  • Enrolled in the US Selective Service System (for men born after 12/31/1959).
  • Residency requirement: To ensure adequate background investigation, applicants must have lived in the United States for at least three of the five years immediately prior to application. An exception may be granted for candidates who do not meet this requirement in the following circumstances:
    • The candidate worked for the U.S. government abroad in federal civilian or military affairs.
    • The candidate was or is accompanying a civilian or federal military employee serving in a foreign country.
    • The candidate studied abroad at a university affiliated with the United States.
    • The candidate has been the subject of a current and concise federal background investigation for a federal or government contractor position.

Additional information you should know before applying:

  • No moving, relocation, or travel expenses for the TSO position prior, nor during, the application period is covered, as it is does not constitute a position in law enforcement and is therefore not covered by the Law Enforcement Availability Pay.
  • Applicants who require accommodation for any part of the application and hiring process should contact the assistance service listed on the next page.
  • TSOs are required to meet the Personal Appearance Standard, necessitating a neat, clean, and professional appearance whilst working or wearing a uniform.
  • Part-time work schedules are determined by the airport and may consist of irregular (night, vacation, weekend, etc.) or "split" shifts (in increments of two hours of work).

What Is Expected of TSOs in Terms of Appearance and Dress?

TSOs are required to meet the Personal Appearance Standard when serving or wearing their uniform. This includes compliance with privacy and personal cleanliness regulations. For example, with the exception of earrings less than 1/4 inch, body and/or tongue piercings must be invisible to the public. In addition, tattoos of any kind on the head, face, or any other exposed areas such as the neck, should be covered at all times and should not be visible to the general public. Items dispensed and approved by the TSA, such as turtlenecks, can be used to cover tattoos on the lower neck.

What Are the TSO Stages of the Recruitment Process?

Step 1 - Online Application

If you wish to apply to become TSO, the first step is to go to the USAJOBS website via the following link: https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?k=TSA. Enter "TSO" in the search bar and adjust other criteria and keywords, such as location or desired schedule (full/part time). Other filters can be added, such as hiring eligibility (to whom the position is open, for example veterans or students, etc.), salary, or level of authority.

Once you have found the position you are interested in, click on "application." If you do not yet have an account for the USAJOBS site, you must now create one in order to continue with your application process.

Tip: If your search comes up empty and no position matching your criteria is available, you can save this search to your USAJOBS account and receive email notifications when a relevant position becomes available.

After clicking "application" and logging in/signing up, follow the steps detailed on the webpage. It is imperative to attach your CV/resume to your application. A CV for a government position must, as with any position, contain all information that may be relevant to the position. This includes:

  • A detailed account of your level of education (years, dates, schools, etc.).
  • Previous employments: Include the job title, the start, and end date, the length of time spent in each and any rank, a description of the position's main tasks and responsibilities, and number of employees under your management (if relevant).
  • Any other information that you deem relevant should be added.
  • Any volunteer experiences, along with a description of the tasks carried out and the duration of each experience.
  • Other certifications and/or training.
    Languages and level of fluency in each.
  • Additional skills and qualifications (do not hesitate to highlight your qualities in subtle ways).

Complete and attach the additional required forms, based on the criteria for the position you are applying for, and your personal status (veteran/student/senior/etc.). The most common forms for the TSO position are:

  • SF 15: If you apply for preferential veteran status on a length-of-service basis, indemnities, widower, or spousal rights, or as a recipient of the Purple Heart, you must complete Standard Form (SF) 15 (Application for 10-point Veteran Preference). Other forms, such as the DD 214 (Certification of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) must be provided and are detailed in the SF 15.
  • SF 50: For federal employees (current or former), the form to be completed is the SF 50 (Notification of Personnel Action).
  • PS Form 50s: For U.S. Postal employees (current or former), the form to be completed is the SF 50 (Notification of Personnel Action).

If you have one, attach a cover letter to your application; introductions such as these constitute a potential boost your application.

Make sure that all the information you have provided is correct and that you have not forgotten anything, before applying. You will receive a confirmation email from USAJOBS a few hours after sending your application.

If your application is accepted, you will receive an email from the TSA with instructions to register in the TSA Dashboard, the official portal for candidates, in which you can track the status of your application and proceed to the next step.

Tip: If you do not provide all the information required for the job offer, your application may not be considered. It is therefore especially important to verify that all forms are filled-in correctly with your details.

Step 2 - Computer-Based Test (CBT)

The next step to becoming TSO is to pass the TSA CBT exam. This is a time-limited online test (lasting 2 hours and 30 hours) which takes place in an assessment center and is composed of two categories: an English test and the TSA X-ray Test (radiology). The X-ray Test is considered to be quite difficult and requires preparation.

For more information about the TSA CBT Test, free examples, and online preparation, visit the dedicated page.

Step 3 - Contingent Offer

The next step in the application process is the receipt of a conditional offer.

What is a conditional offer?
A conditional offer is an offer made to the candidate subject to successful completion of the other recruitment process phases. The conditional offer is not a final offer, i.e., there is no guarantee of employment. Therefore, even if you accept the conditional offer, do not yet resign from your current job just yet – there is a risk that other elements of the recruitment process will result in termination of candidacy, or, even if your application is accepted, you may have to wait for a long period of time (several months) until a position becomes available and you are finally hired.

The conditional offer may arrive by email very soon after taking the CBT, possibly even within a few minutes.

Step 4 - Credit Check

By accepting the conditional offer, you also agree to pass a "credit check." This step consists of completing two forms, "Form 2811" and "Form 2812," which allow the TSA to verify the status of your credit. In order to pass this step and continue to the next stage of the recruitment process, it is necessary that the candidate does not have any of the following elements in his or her assets, or else you run the risk of being disqualified:

  • Unpaid cumulative debts of $7,500.00 or more. This includes:
    • Any late credit that has been sent by a creditor to a collection agency or a lawyer.
    • Any outstanding balance that has been declared a loss to a creditor.
    • Cases of repossession.
    • Any court judgment that has not been executed.
    • Seizure of assets or assets.
    • Any debt that has not been acquired by a bankruptcy agreement.
  • The existence of any unpaid federal or state taxes, regardless of the amount.
  • A history of late child support payments (not including actively paid deadlines).

Take note: Having regular debts of $7,500 or more (e.g., credit card balance, car loan, etc.) will not stop you from becoming a TSO. However, having debts or other financial issues such as those described in the above list, will result in your termination of candidacy. If you feel that you have been disqualified unjustly, send an appeal detailing the reasons you believe this to be so, to the email address presented on the next page.

Step 5 - Airport Assessment

After successfully completing all of the previous steps, an appointment for the Airport Assessment test is scheduled by phone and updated on your Candidate Dashboard. The Airport Assessment is a test comprised of several stages:

  1. Check-in
  2. Color Vision Test
  3. Interview
  4. Forms SF 86 and OF 306
  5. Medical forms
  6. Fingerprinting and photos
  7. Exit process

The aforementioned conditional offer received at the end of your Airport Assessment is subject to the condition that you pass the next steps in the process. This offer is intended to verify that the applicant is willing to allow the TSA to collect medical information as well as background information that are required for the next steps.

For detailed information about each of the Airport Assessment stages, visit the dedicated page.

Step 6 - Medical/Drug Tests/Physical Examination

This step consists of several parts:

Medical tests

A complete medical and psychological examination is carried out. This includes many different types of exams:

  • Eyes and vision
  • Hearing
  • Nose, pharynx, larynx, and trachea
  • Lung diseases
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Abdominal organs
  • Renal diseases
  • Musculoskeletal diseases
  • Neurological disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Medications
  • Miscellaneous issues

For a complete summary of the medical guidelines and requirements, please visit the dedicated page.

Drug test

The drug test usually consists of a urine test and a blood alcohol test. However, it is important to remember that random testing is conducted on TSA employees each year.

Step 7 - Background Check

After passing the medical examinations, a background check is carried out. This involves assessment of the various completed forms, such as SF 86 and OF 306.

Step 8 - Ready Pool

Candidates who have successfully completed all the previous steps are now placed in the "Ready Pool"; candidates are essentially "put on hold" until a post at your local airport becomes available. An official job offer is then made to the candidate.

The eligibility period for the Ready Pool is one year.

It is important to understand that candidates who have passed all the tests and steps of the hiring process up to the Ready Pool are divided further into three categories:

  • Qualified: You have met the minimum requirements at each stage of the recruitment process.
  • Highly Qualified: You have reached a satisfactory level at every step of the recruitment process.
  • Best Qualified: Congratulations! You have been deemed one of the best candidates, meaning it is far more likely that you will be recruited to the position you want.

Step 9 - Training - TSO Basic Training Program Phase I and Phase II (TSO-BTP)

Once you have been recruited and have left the Ready Pool, you will need to complete a two-week training course to become a TSO. This training is administered by the TSA and is generally paid for. You will undergo 100 hours of training – 40 hours in class and 60 hours observing other employees ("on-the-job training"). The first part of this training (TSO BTP Phase I) takes place I at a local airport, whereas Phase II takes place in the TSA Academy, Georgia. Training fees, as well as all transportation costs to and from the TSA Academy, are covered by the TSA ($4,200 in 2016).

During Phase I of the TSO BTP, new recruits will become familiar with screening techniques and will learn how to operate the various devices used for passenger or baggage screening. Officers receive training in procedures, regulations, and customer service, and also learn how to manage emergencies. As part of Phase 1, new employees must successfully complete on-the-job training (OJT) with an OJT coach. The OJT program includes learning screening functions and using necessary equipment. After the OJT program, recruits must participate in a simulation where they will demonstrate their skills in document control, metal detectors, etc., and pass it successfully. New recruits must pass a job knowledge assessment at the end of all Phase I training stages, in order to become Level 1 officers.

Phase II of the TSO-BTP takes place at the TSA Academy. This phase includes participation in courses as well as OJT and various other exams required in order to become Level 2 officers:

  • Job Knowledge Test (JKT).
  • Image Mastery Test (IMT) – for TSOs who will perform checkpoint screening.
  • Explosive Trace Detection Protocol Test (EFPT) – for TSOs who will conduct baggage checks.
  • Level 1 officers whose task is to detect explosives in the Explosive Detection. Systems (EDS) and Secondary Viewing Stations (SVS) must successfully complete The Checked Baggage Resolution (CBRA) training. At the end of this training, they must also pass the Operator Qualification Test (OQT) which includes the On-Screen Alarm Resolution Protocol image (OSARP) and the OSARP Certification Assessment (OCA).

Each exam can be attempted three times.

Security guards may be certified as passenger or baggage controllers or receive dual certification by passing both examinations. TSA certification must be renewed each year by completing additional internships and passing relevant exams.

Step 10 - Congratulations!

Welcome to the TSA! You have passed all the steps successfully and will receive your final assignment shortly. All of us here at TSA Career wish you congratulations and good luck at your new job!

Did the preparation we have offered here assist you in passing the tests and interviews required in order to become a TSO? We would be extremely happy to receive your feedback as well as any additional information or personal insights that could potentially help other candidates pass these tests too.