A Successful Career Move from Law Enforcement into Corporate Security
A successful transition from the public sector into Corporate Security can be challenging.
This month in Perspective I am in conversation with Amy Ressler, Assistant Director of Test Security, Risk Management Division at College Board.
We recently got together on a sunny weekend afternoon over a bottle of aptly named Summer in a Bottle Rosé wine to talk about her career story. The focus of her work at College Board, a leading testing services organization, is to ensure no students gain unfair advantages in testing. She works on complex investigations and policies that are impactful for test security.
Prior to her corporate security role, she had a full career in local law enforcement. I was interested to hear about her successful transition from the public sector into her current position. I thought she would have some great insight to share with others interested in making the same leap, and she does!
Amy; thank you for spending this afternoon with me! Why don’t you start by telling me how you first became interested in a career in law enforcement? Sure! Strong mentorship was the biggest influencer. A close family member had previously worked in two federal agencies as well as in high-ranking roles within local law enforcement. He encouraged me to consider a career in those same areas. He remained an ongoing supporter throughout my various law enforcement positions.
You worked in quite a few capacities as a law enforcement professional within several local jurisdictions. Yes. I grew up in a farming community and strongly identified with the mission of animal control departments within law enforcement, which is where I began. The county implemented a program sending animal control officers through the police academy to prepare for adverse situations. I was lucky to complete that training and I became a reservist program volunteer with the County Sheriff’s office. I worked my weekday schedule as an animal control supervisor then spent every other weekend on a 12-hour shift in the Sheriff’s office. It was on my very first night there that I knew had found my place.
I went on to other law enforcement positions across several jurisdictions including Field Training Officer and then Narcotics Detective. I additionally spent time in Major Crimes with a focus on crimes against children. My family and I moved, and my final role in my local law enforcement career was as a K-9 officer specializing in narcotics. It utilized my animal control experience, my certification as a Master Trainer and my background investigating narcotics crimes.
I also separately owned and ran a dog training company that leveraged even more of my experience. It was a busy time!
It sounds like you really enjoyed your time in law enforcement. What made you decide to transition into a corporate role? I knew I wanted something I could continue to grow in as a career. I chose to go back to university and work towards a degree in security management. I knew that would build on my law enforcement experience and position me for a move into the private sector.
At the time did you feel you had challenges to overcome to make yourself competitive in the private sector? I believed the degree would put me on more equal footing. I decided the best way to achieve it was to leave law enforcement for a position with more consistent hours to ensure I had the ability to work full-time, preferably still within my field, while having time to study and spend time with my family. I took on a role as a Security Manager with a county school system, and while the dependable schedule was helpful, it was a challenge to manage everything for the three years during which I pursued my degree. There were a lot of really late nights!
It is interesting that you chose a degree in security management vs. criminal justice despite your law enforcement background. What made you select one over the other? Initially the criminal justice degree was appealing because I would have earned my degree much faster. There would have been many more classes I would have received credit for based on my law enforcement experience. However, I realized I would learn more in the courses required for the security management degree. It would be knowledge that translated with more value to the private sector. The security management degree made me more relatable and opened more corporate doors for me when I was interviewing.
So, you made the leap! When you settled into your private sector job, what struck you as the biggest differences between it and your public sector career? There were several. Instead of the overarching governance of law enforcement, in companies you are responsible to principals. The reporting relationships are more complex. In enforcement agencies most people are there in support of a general common mission. However different agendas can run concurrently in a private sector organization.
Law enforcement was focused on getting the job done. And while that remains a goal in my new organization, there is a simultaneous focus on company culture. They genuinely want you to be happy in your job and treat you accordingly. I see that paying off in the commitment level of my colleagues.
And the acronyms! Every company has their own jargon; it was like learning a different language. I occasionally still have to ask for translations.
Did people in your organization or department have empathy for your transition challenges? Yes, many in my department have transitioned from the public sector or have backgrounds in related disciplines. They include retired senior military officers, prosecutorial investigators and industry experts. We have a strong woman attorney who leads the group. I was fortunate to move into an environment where people had experience moving from one sector to another.
It is interesting that you have a strong female leading your group given that statistics are somewhat dismal surrounding diversity leadership in the security profession. I always offer to be a resource for any new women who join the organization. Oddly, women can sometimes appear to be making it harder for each other to be successful. I think that women need to lift each other up when we work together. I have not come across any of my female colleagues who do not work hard to do that.
In hindsight, thinking about the people who are currently wondering about making the move from public to private sector, was there a specific experience in your law enforcement background that stands out as something that prepared you to do this successfully? It was a combination of all my experience. However, I believe that I would have had a harder time making the transition if I had not had the interim job as a school security manager. It was a bridge between law enforcement and the corporate world.
It utilized my interviewing skills and kept me current while I pursued my degree. In addition to the reward of mentoring troubled students I learned creative ways to reach kids which is an integral part of my current job. I think the transition between law enforcement and my current role would have been more difficult without that serendipitous mid-way point.
And the teaching staff at the school were great. They were able to answer questions I had on some of the basic coursework I was missing in my degree program. The kids I was mentoring saw me setting the example of it being OK to ask for help if you did not know the answer to things. I was able to build connections with both my colleagues and the students in an unexpected but truly beneficial way.
You have had an amazing journey so far. I have! When I started in animal control, I could never have envisioned being where I am now. My experience and education have made me more confident in my abilities. Transitioning not once, but twice, has made me agile and adaptable.
Given your experience, can you share some tips that will help others like you who want to make a successful transition from law enforcement into private sector careers? I would encourage people to keep taking on more challenging new roles. New opportunities present themselves when you stretch yourself, but also look for jobs that utilize the skills sets you have.
It really pays to know about the organizations you think you might want to join. I networked my way into a position as Secretary of the Deputy Sherriff’s association while I was still in animal control. Everyone knew me as a team player by the time they hired me. And I made sure I understood the businesses and success rates of my potential corporate employers when I interviewed with them.
Even with the best networking skills, the search for that first new corporate job can be discouraging. The job descriptions can be confusing. Do not let the process get you down. The interview cycle for the private sector is very different than the one you are used to in law enforcement or agency jobs. Be prepared for multiple interviews. Stick with them.
Find professional resources who can mentor you through the process. I read a lot of books that helped me to understand – and convey – what a successful candidate looked like to potential employers. Qualities that you would want in any circumstance.
And lastly, pay attention to those happy coincidences that develop during a job search. You never know what might be presented as an option. Keep your eyes open to opportunity.
Many thanks to Amy for sharing her story!
Connect with Amy on LinkedIn to learn more about her successful transition into the private sector.
Photo courtesy of E. Ressler.
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