Recruiting Security Professionals in Times of Crisis

Layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes have become the norm during the Coronavirus crisis, yet organizations and their leaders have to apply balance in maintaining staffing and cost controls with a long-term eye toward ensuring talent and readiness for the emergence from the COVID19 pandemic.


COVID19 has taught us all many things including new terminology like shelter-in-place, social distancing and asymptomatic. These terms many of us had never heard of before the coronavirus crisis have changed the way we interact with each other and businesses survive. We have been forced to be “social” while maintaining “physical” distance from one and other. We have all found different ways to work, engage with our clients, colleagues, and friends, and—for me—recruit exceptional cyber and physical security management talent.


The virus has required that businesses adjust their way of identifying and hiring critical personnel, including key security leadership and management. While some are choosing to put leadership searches on pause, many are moving forward, looking for creative ways to convene search teams, interview candidates and make decisions as to whom to advance and hire.


How the Coronavirus is Changing Executive Recruitment

Executive search consultants, like myself, are learning to steer through a crisis and support our clients and candidates as creatively as we can. After weeks of recruiting through the Covid19 crisis, interacting with security professionals and hiring managers alike, I’ve made a few observations I thought I would share:

  • Security professionals are evaluating their current career paths. As I have engaged with candidates, a theme has emerged that goes like this, “Once the worst of this is over, I will be open to looking at options.” This pandemic experience has many professionals re-evaluating what is important to them and considering alternative career paths for the future. So, while many security executives and managers are focused on managing day-to-day in their current roles for now, they may look to move in the near future. For organizations looking to hire, the takeaway is that recruiting shouldn’t stop and the war for top-level talent in the security industry doesn’t show signs of easing. This certainly is true in cybersecurity where the pandemic and resulting fallout has only increased the need for staff.


  • As a direct result of performance (or lack of) some organizations may be thinking of tweaking their management teams. During times of crisis certain people shine and others may wither under the demands. Many of my industry contacts have told me that the Covid19 crisis has shined a bright light on leaders’ true strengths and weaknesses. Some essential roles including security leadership have not risen to the internal standard expected. As a result, organizations will make some changes to their leadership and management teams to enable the team to meet and exceed expectations.


Bottom line: The need for top security professionals will be greater than ever. So how does an organization keep its recruitment efforts moving forward during this pandemic?


Before You Begin

You have a vacant or soon to be vacant security role but have not yet begun a search. Do you start now or wait? Consider these questions:


  • How critical is the role to the organization…what will occur if it goes unfilled?


  • Do key decision makers have the time to commit to the recruitment process when it gets started?


  • What and who is at risk by delaying the search?


  • Would we consider hiring a candidate if we have not met with them in person?


  • Do we risk damaging morale if we are recruiting for this role when some staff are furloughed?


Look at your circumstances objectively and decide what is best for your organization. If you are planning to utilize a search firm, engage them in the discussion. They can review your unique organizational needs and provide intel on what’s currently happening in the security job marketplace.


If you move ahead with recruitment, it is still possible to develop strong candidate pools. Some security professionals may actually have more time to look at a new career option. Even security executives on the front lines of the pandemic, for example, a Chief Security Officer (CSO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)—may consider discussing new opportunities as a welcome change of pace. It is important, though, that in considering these individuals as candidates, hiring organizations be flexibility on scheduling and show empathy and compassion for what they may be going through in their professional and personal lives.


Advancing to Candidate Interviews

Once your organization has identified candidates it wants to “meet,” it is certainly possible to keep the process moving by conducting first round interviews via video using Zoom, WebEx, Skype or other popular resource—and there are even some benefits. Video interviews allow all parties to be more flexible in terms of location and timing. A few specific considerations to keep in mind:


  • First-round interviews. Typically, these interviews are kept to a small group (search committee members, hiring executive, key leaders). Conducting these via video may feel awkward at first, but you will find that having an active dialogue is relatively easy.


  • Second-round interviews. Normally second-round interviews involve a broader group of people including direct reports, teams, and key stakeholders. Realizing that interviewers need to be practicing social distancing as well, most video systems allow the capability for multiple parties to be involved from various locations. When multiple interviewers are involved, it is a best practice to identify one person as the moderator, so people are not talking on top of each other and there are no long pauses. Even these group interviews can make time for small talk and for making room to check in with the candidate on a personal level.


  • Compiling feedback from the team. For early round interviewing, it is easy to gain feedback from interviewers regarding candidates through standard online survey tools. Survey Monkey is one of the most popular, but there are many good options available.


  • Heading toward the finish line. Many hiring organizations are understandably wary of advancing to finalist candidates without having met them in person. One way to get a more detailed picture of candidates is through varying assessments that focus on skills, leadership, and behavioral traits. Many assessments also provide insight into what motivates a person as well as how they manage in times of stress. Given that early round interviews may have been conducted virtually, having another tool to help as you assess candidate personality and cultural fit is welcome.


Keeping Candidates Engaged

The pandemic has thrown timing off for most searches, as hiring managers, search committees and candidates have many priorities. It may be several weeks between key decisions and until candidates are advised of next steps. It is important to keep in touch with the candidates in play during this time. If you are using an executive recruiting firm, confirm with them that they are in regular communication with top candidates, sharing any information they may have relative to timing and just doing regular check-ins.


When your finalists have been identified, have a hiring manager reach out to them personally so they don’t lose interest or accept an alternative offer. You can also regularly send them links and materials on the organization, the community, school districts, etc. Send them virtual tours of your locations, links to promotional pieces, organizational history, and current news to keep them engaged. Get creative so they continue to be interested and feel connected to you.


The Last Step

Video interviews are useful for narrowing a pool of candidates, but they still don’t replace all that you gain through in-person meetings. At the CSO/CISO level, it would be hard to hire someone without ever meeting in-person. The personal connection and ability to see how individuals engage with others is critical. Candidates will also want to visit the organization and have an opportunity to get a feel for the culture, the people, and the intangibles.

Looking Toward the Future?

Executive recruiting may return to something more normal in the future however, there will be process tweaks and lessons learned. We will be more agile and adaptable. We will see more comfort in conducting virtual interviews. New roles may emerge, new leaderships strengths and characteristics will be needed. What will not change is the need for exceptional coordination, collaboration, and organization from everyone involved.

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