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How Businesses, Employees Can Navigate The Security Hiring Process

At Black Hat Europe 2016, security experts weigh in on how companies can build strong security teams, and how employees can educate themselves to meet business needs.

Businesses face complex and dangerous threats in the evolving world of cybersecurity, but one of their greatest obstacles is hiring the right talent to fight them.

At Black Hat Europe 2016, experts discussed how organizations can manage the skills gap through best hiring practices and education. On the other side of the interview chair, security pros can be more effective by learning industry-specific skills and how to talk with the business.

A 2016 survey of Black Hat USA attendees revealed organizations acutely feel the security skills gap. When 250 respondents were asked why their security efforts fail, 37% cited "a shortage of qualified people and skills," and noted a lack in staffing, budget, and training.

More than two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents felt they did not have enough training and skills necessary to perform all of the tasks required of them. Nearly 75% felt they didn't have enough staff to defend their organizations against modern threats.

There are a few ways security pros can effectively improve their knowledge, skills, and capabilities, said Bob Lewis of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA).

An annual report from ISSA and the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) discovered the most popular options for security education included attending specific security training courses (58%), participating in professional organizations (53%), and on-the-job mentoring from a more experienced security pro (37%).

Education may be part of the solution, but it's also part of the problem. Trained security professionals are in higher demand, Lewis noted, and often tough for businesses to keep.

"The average lifespan of a CISO is two to four years," he explained. "There's a lot of churn, it's essentially a seller's market," and it's easy for skilled pros to find lucrative job offers. Nearly half (46%) of ISSA/ESG survey respondents were contacted by recruiters at least once a week.

Current and aspiring security professionals also struggle to establish career paths in the evolving industry, Lewis continued. Factors including the diversity among focus areas, lack of well-defined career road maps, and rapid industry changes which mean cybersecurity pros are not only undertrained, but unsure about what they need to learn.

So which skills are most critical for security pros navigating the job market?

"We need someone to explain technology in business terms," said Floris van den Dool, Accenture's managing director for security services in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. "Can we make our technical issues, our technical findings relevant to the business? That's what I'm looking for when I recruit people."

Van den Dool also noted a growth in demand for industry-specific technical skills. For example, someone applying to a cybersecurity position at a bank or telco network should possess skills relevant to their desired industry.

"There's a big shortage of skills like that," he said. "I think that's where the next wave of security will take us." 

Owanate Bestman, information security contract consultant at Barclay Simpson, cautioned against overloading your resume with too many certifications. While some, like CISSP, withstand the fluctuation in security trends, certifications don't convey excellence in softer skills that security pros also need.

"Communication, curiosity, etc. don't come with a certification, they come with the individual," he said.

Both experts stressed curiosity and experience as important factors for current and aspiring security pros. Applicants should be able to discuss their project experience and how their work influenced the business.

"The main thing in security is you have to be curious, you don't have to be afraid of technology, and you have to understand the business you want to secure," said van den Dool. "Learn, have technical curiosity, and think 'What can do wrong and how can I prevent it?'"

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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