Security Recruitment Trends in the New Year
In the first of our recurring series Perspective, we are in conversation with Jerry Brennan about the changing landscape of security recruitment.
2020 was more than a year to remember. Many would like to think it was one to forget. It began with the last of what we think of as “The Before Times” and ended without clarity as to what the cliched “New Normal” would be. The start of 2021 seems equally tenuous but perhaps with a glimmer of optimism. Before year’s end we hope to speculate with more certainty what our collective future holds. Therefore, the beginning of a new year seemed like the perfect time to sit down with SMR’s Chief Executive, Jerry Brennan, for a peek back at pandemic-related changes in security recruitment in 2020. We especially want to know what he sees on the horizon for security careers in 2021.
SMR was off to a busy start last year. Your first job announcement of the year listed over 13 new projects the company was working on. Yes. At the start of 2020 SMR was working on a large volume of security recruitment projects across each of our three regions. All our advisors and recruitment team were fully engaged.
Did that change as the first quarter of 2020 progressed and news of the pandemic spread around the globe? Without a doubt. SMR has offices around the world and we saw the shifts. First in the Asia Pacific region, then in the Americas and finally EMEA. Almost all our client companies paused in similar fashion as their international operations were affected. Some recruitments were placed on hold while others continued. Large multinationals with higher confidence levels felt their security staffing requirements would remain constant, while smaller organizations were more tenuous about their future plans. It was mid-year before I began to see real positive and negative shifts in the security career landscape.
What were some of the negative impacts for security professionals? Some security jobs simply disappeared. Not all of that was pandemic related. There were shifts in business in various industries that were clearly going to have impact with or without the advent of COVID-19. The pandemic simply accelerated some of that downsizing. The oil and gas industry comes to mind as one that was already going through a transformation pre-pandemic. However, many other security jobs were lost directly because of prolonged shutdowns. Security professionals in cultural institutions, hospitality-related organizations and retail saw many of their opportunities evaporate. Some of that will return but likely in a reimagined way. There were more significant security job losses in certain geographic areas. The UK was particularly hard hit, but that was not solely pandemic related.
Were there positives? Yes, and very interesting ones. As organizations began to tackle the massive project of reimaged work circumstances, security practitioners found themselves being tasked with completely different problems. Some EHS departments had little facts to go on during the continued evolution of COVID-19. As a result, security departments had the opportunity to become more involved in their organization’s crisis planning and return to work strategies. Senior security people saw their portfolio and responsibilities expand. In some cases, the result was security’s elevation to more prominence in the organization. This fueled promotion opportunities. Additionally, business resilience became a top-tier priority for companies that may have previously been complacent. SMR has certainly seen a marked increase in risk and resilience projects over the past 12 months.
Recruitment is a profession that typically involves lots of face-to-face time. Has that changed? Definitely. The days of flying candidates around the world for interviews are over and not likely to return anytime soon. Many of our clients over the past year continued to extensively interview security practitioners, but remotely. Zoom, Teams, etc. are an integral part of the new normal for security recruitment. In 2020 SMR successfully placed candidates in organizations’ senior-most security positions without the client and candidate meeting face-to-face. Other companies chose to fly their top candidate in at the last moment for a socially distanced in person meeting. Or flew the hiring manager out for a chat at an airport near the candidate’s home. Candidates have had to learn to stand out amongst the competition without benefit of being in the room with their interviewers.
It sounds like security recruitment is still alive and well despite the pandemic. Very much so. The shift for SMR has been how we now conduct our recruitment projects. Whereas we previously announced many of our searches, a good three-quarters of our work across the past 12 months has been completed under client NDA’s. For every single project we featured in 2020, there were several additional recruitments going on behind the scenes. It was a marked change in how we work. 2020 turned out to be one of SMR’s best years in our 24-year history.
What advice or encouragement can you give security professionals who continue to look for new career opportunities in 2021? Remain optimistic! The security profession is alive and well despite the pandemic, and there may be opportunity out there for you that you would not have had otherwise. The conference circuit is dead for the foreseeable future, but you should continue to network virtually within your peer groups as they are a valuable resource. We have all had to embrace upgraded home technology. Put that to good use and expand your horizons through online education via institutions and associations. And if you have not yet purchased your ring light, do! In person interviewing is likely to remain the exception rather than the rule.
You can read more on security career challenges in Jerry’s column Career Intelligence in the January 2021 issue of Security Magazine.
Jerry Brennan is the Founder of the Security Management Resources® group of companies. Reach out to him with questions about this interview.