March 14, 2013 at 1:11 PM ET
It's possible to get paid $200,000, or even $500,000, a year to spend all day with a celebrity, but landing such gigs isn’t easy.
Quintessentially People is a recruiting agency that provides staff to royal families, politicians and international executives, as well as high-profile names in music, fashion, film and television—none of whom they are permitted to name. When working with celebrities, the agency is most often looking for a private chef, a bodyguard or a traveling personal assistant. Royals or politicians more often have household-related requests, such as a nanny, an estate manager or a palace manager.
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But the headhunter has also had assignments to find a "ninja nanny" (a nanny trained in martial arts and with experience as a close-protection officer) or a butler with dog-whispering skills who can teach the client's canine how to play the piano, said Quintessentially People co-founder Sam Martin.
Nondisclosure agreements are de rigeur when dealing with celebrities, but despite the discretion, not everything is top secret. A few things have been established about working for the rich and famous.
One: To some extent, it's who you know.
"The majority of our candidates come through word of mouth and recommendations," Martin said.
Ed Majcina, founder of the Praetorian Group, which provides personal protection services, agrees. The former head of security for Lady Gaga, he has also worked with Steve Forbes, Meg Ryan, Lindsay Lohan and Robert DeNiro. After eight years in the military and experience supplying high-risk protection in Iraq for U.S. dignitaries, Majcina transitioned into celebrity services.
"It's kind of a small community, the people I work with," Majcina said. "Usually it's word of mouth, so the management will find you somehow through that or a headhunter, but mostly it's through relationships."
Two: Only candidates with spotless records need apply. There will be a rigorous background check, which typically includes criminal and financial checks. Praetorian doesn't take personal references but checks with previous employers.
"It's just one of those markets which attracts a wide range of characters, so we do have to be very careful," Martin said. "Some candidates refuse to sign the nondisclosure agreement, but if they're going to be difficult early on, we don't take it any further."
Education and experience requirements vary by position and client.
"Some may require a first-class degree at a top-five or an Ivy League university, with five different languages and knowledge of Arabic culture," Martin said. On the other hand, he added, some jobs may call for a college education to any level and only two years’ experience in the sector.
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Being a public figure means being vulnerable to threats, however, so not just trustworthiness but loyalty is important.
Clients are subject to "death threats via social media and mail," Majcina said. "You have stalkers, crazy fans that show up, inappropriate behavior." General crowd control during public appearances is a necessity. As a bodyguard, he has to be ready to jump between his client and bullets. Professionals in his field act as first responders so they also need medical training.
"Then it comes down to who you are as a person," Majcina said. "Are you calm and collected when things don't go right? Not just the skill but will. You have to have the will to put your life on the line, if not, find a different job."
Another point: Depending on the visibility of the position, it might also be important to have a certain look and demeanor.
"It's almost like a menu these days," Majcina said. "We have clients asking for white European over 6-feet-2. You're an extension of the client, aren't you? Image is everything, and that includes their staff—especially the ones they're surrounded by constantly."
And those hoping to become best friends with their assigned celebrity have it all wrong.
"You want someone who enjoys that industry and wants to be the 'behind the scenes' person who gets a kick out of making people's lives run seamlessly," Martin said.
Finally, the only reliable way into the field—paying dues—is bound to strike some as unglamorous.
"If you want to work for a high-profile person as their PA, for example, the best thing to do is to try and get a support position working for a well-known business, and stay with the company for as long as you can. Job hoppers are really difficult to place and we don't tend to represent them, regardless of who they have worked for," Martin said.
"If you can get a PA position working for a director, CEO or managing director of the company, then this really will increase your chance of transitioning into the private world," he added. Such executives "often ask their right-hand person to carry out private work for them, such as property renovations, private jet travel, private household staff recruitment, personal financial transactions, etc., and this is the type of experience you must get in order to progress into the private world."
Candidates hoping to be PAs can also get started working in television or film production as a runner on productions.
"Make yourself indispensable to production teams, move on up to be a production assistant and there's always a high chance you can move on to being a PA to the presenter or to other people you meet along the way quite quickly," Martin said. But, he added, "salaries tend to be lower progressing this way in television, and television is notoriously hard to get into."
Salaries for private PAs can range from $60,000 to $150,000, said Martin, adding that he has seen cases of some earning more than $500,000 a year.
Majcina said that bodyguard rates can run from $1,000 for a night like the Grammys to the $500,000 range for a round-the clock presence. Even once you've landed that coveted celebrity job, he cautioned, "You're only as good as your last gig, and if you make a mistake, it's on a world stage. So if I'm walking down the street with Gaga and someone does something to hurt her, my career's over."