We use cookies to personalize and improve your browsing experience. 

To learn more about how we store and use this data, visit our privacy policy here.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employs approximately 60,000 workers nationwide to ensure the safety of our nation’s transportation structure. The majority of its workforce consists of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), the face of TSA who interact with millions of travelers every day and play a vital role in keeping air travel safe.

TSA By the Numbers

TSA oversees the safety of millions of travelers within the U.S. daily. Here are some of their impressive statistics:  

  • Responsible for the security of nearly 440 federalized airports
  • More than 50,000 transportation security officers keep people secure
  • TSA screens more than 2 million passengers daily and over 750 million every year
  • TSA screens 1.4 million checked items for explosives and other dangerous items daily
  • TSA screens 5.5 million carry-on items for explosives and other prohibited items every day
  • Responsible for the security of over 23,000 domestic flights per day
  • Responsible for the security of nearly 2,600 outbound international flights per day
  • Nearly 20 percent of TSA employees are veterans or still proudly serving

Attributes of a good TSO

According to the TSA website, here are the characteristics they are looking for when hiring TSOs:

  • Friendly: TSOs spend the majority of their time interfacing with the public providing customer service and guidance to travelers.
  • Dependable and adaptable: TSOs are responsible for protecting travelers and responding quickly to ever-changing threats.
  • Observant and detail-oriented: To help identify and prevent potential threats, TSOs must be on high alert at all times.

Eligibility requirements

TSA accepts candidates of all different backgrounds and experience levels. Their basic eligibility requirements include candidates to be:

  • A U.S. citizen or national
  • 18 years of age or older
  • In possession of a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent certificate
  • Registered for Selective Service 
  • Able to pass a federal drug screening, medical evaluation, and background investigation
  • Available to work shifts at odd hours, occasional overtime, and the ability to travel for training

Steps to becoming a TSO

The TSO hiring process takes approximately 90 days. Since TSA is a federal agency, all job opening announcements (JOAs) and application submission are completed through the online federal government application portal. Here’s a breakdown of each step to maximize your online application experience.

    1. Create a user profile

      This provides a snapshot of your profile based on demographics. Pay special attention to the Hiring Path component which includes descriptions for possible groups for which you may belong, such as veteran, student, or federal employee. These identifying factors are used again within JOAs and can narrow down your job search. After you work through the Hiring Path section, the site will guide you through a basic work history, experience, and education section. TSA will use this information to reach you if you are selected for the testing component of the application process.

    2. Search JOAs

      The benefit to creating your account before searching for positions is that all the background work is complete. Applicants can search by series, keyword, JOA number, department, or location. For airport security personnel, the most common search is simply TSO. You can filter your search and save job postings and refer to them at a later time. 

    3. Apply for jobs

      To apply for a TSA position, you cannot simply upload your own resume. You must use the resume builder which walks you through all employment, education, references, and other common resume components. Review your information before submitting and upload any additional required documents. 

    4. Take TSA-CBT

      If you meet the minimum qualifications, you may be invited to take a computer-based test (CBT) to assess your English proficiency and to evaluate x-ray interpretation aptitude. Upon passing the CBT, you will proceed to additional assessments.

    5. Airport Assessment and Interview

      This step includes fingerprinting and a structured interview which measures job-related competencies by inquiring about your behavior in past experiences and proposed behavior in hypothetical situations. Prior to scheduling the assessment, candidates are asked to also complete a credit check and preliminary background investigation, followed by a medical evaluation, and federal drug screening.

    6. Ready to hire

      When all required steps have been completed, TSO candidates are now eligible to receive a job offer commensurate with an airport’s hiring needs.

Preparing for the exam

The TSA-CBT is two and a half hours long and includes two components–the English Proficiency or written section, and the image interpretation or x-ray section. Approximately 60 percent of the test is dedicated to the written section with the remaining 40 percent focusing on the x-ray section. 

The English proficiency section of the exam focuses on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and written communication, such as grammar, usage, and syntax skills. 

The x-ray portion of the test contains five to six sets of images, with each section providing an item or items for the test taker to locate within a series of TSA scan images. You are provided 30 seconds to memorize what specific type of item you are looking for within each section. Common items that you may be asked to identify include guns, knives, sharp objects, tools, bottles, and shoes. The images are provided in color, with each color correlating to a certain type of material or materials.

Peterson’s test prep provides three full-length practice tests, online lessons, and tips for preparing for both sections of the TSA-CBT exam.  

Exam scoring

The TSA test is scored based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no penalty for guessing. When in doubt, guess!

RELATED: A Screening of Peterson’s TSA Test Prep: Demo Video