Not All Security Professionals Are Created Equal

In my role as an executive recruiter, I have been conducting searches for security management executives nationally for the past ten years. In reflecting on these searches what I find interesting, yet not surprising, is that top notch security professionals don’t come from a factory, an exclusive school for security gurus, the military or law enforcement. They come from a variety of backgrounds with talents and skills that cover a wide spectrum.  This is exactly as it should be.

The corporate security executive whose role is to oversee a global organization needs to be comfortable interacting with C-level leadership as well as front-line players and be able and willing to use all the resources available to communicate and implement the company’s security vision. Conversely, a security professional who will oversee a smaller company with aggressive growth plans should have a passion for establishing process, policies and metrics and be ready to get their hands dirty doing just that.  There are also those firms that are contracting a security professional or that have not fared well in today’s business climate and need a security executive with experience in dealing with all the security concerns that arise in a company that is struggling to stay viable. The list is endless.

So how does this apply to HR, CEO’s and hiring authorities seeking to hire security management professionals?

1)  Focus on your needs, your company, not your chief competitors. Know your company – it’s short and long term goals as well as the overall mission.  A majority of firms first look to their competition as a source for their ideal candidate. This plan can work, but even similar sized companies in the same industry have vastly different needs and barriers to overcome. Yes, they all want to please the Board of Directors and create shareholder value but while some companies need a Chief Security Officer to maintain the status quo, others need a CSO who will build a sophisticated security apparatus to support growth that is line with the business plan and corporate objectives.

2)  Identify the type of Chief Security Officer you need. Do you want your Security Director to specialize in a particular niche? If so, what niche? Risk assessment, business continuity, security policy and guidelines, information security, physical security, brand protection, are just a few of the possibilities. A few years back, a pharmaceutical company engaged me to help find a VP of Security. They needed to replace the incumbent for lack of performance. After delving into the details of what went wrong and what type of skills and experience they needed it was apparent the previous VP had moved from investigations to Director of Security at one Start-up Company after another. He had not run a complex security department that required strong organizational skills and business acumen.

3)  The security executive who fits today may not fit tomorrow. Businesses today are forced to evolve rapidly in order to compete and survive. Clients often comment that “Mike was an excellent VP of Security for the first few years he was here.” The reality is, Mike did not become a bad security management professional but as the company became larger, more sophisticated, and more diverse; it needed a different type of leader as its security executive.

4) Decide upon crucial soft skills needed without regard to industry. Are you looking for a security evangelist? Or perhaps a change agent? Are you looking for someone who can unify a dysfunctional security team? I have always been a fan of using testing to determine the soft skills a candidate has. These skills are increasingly important in today’s workplace.

5)  Know the true culture of your organization. People often describe their culture as laid back when the fact is, only the dominant “Type A” players excel. Security management professionals rarely fail because they don’t know security. They fail because they are not a cultural match for the organization or their “security sweet spot” is not what the firm needs.

6)  Select from a deep pool of candidates. This can be a great example of best practices and you may also get a positive result that you don’t anticipate. Last year I was contacted about conducting a Director of Security search for a financial services firm. They were initially reluctant about using a corporate security management recruiting firm; however, when they weren’t able to attract the candidates they sought they rethought their approach. We presented candidates from many industries and backgrounds that fit the candidate profile. To their surprise, but not mine, they selected a security executive from a food processing company. He just celebrated his first anniversary and the client is extremely pleased.

I end this blog with a reminder that you cannot always judge a book (or a security executive) by its cover.

Let us know what you think.

David Lammert

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