Cybersecurity's 'Broken' Hiring Process

New study shows the majority of cybersecurity positions get filled at salaries above the original compensation cap, while jobs sit unfilled an average of six months.

[UPDATED 10/12/2017 with link to the report, now published]

A soon-to-be published study shows how the traditional corporate human resources operation actually hampers cybersecurity hiring against a backdrop of the industry's well-documented talent gap.

The Jane Bond Project report, commissioned by security talent recruiting firm CyberSN, found that in addition to the lack of available talent for those positions, respondents say their HR generalists are not equipped to recruit and hire cybersecurity talent, and that flawed salary data complicates their ability to issue the best job offers.

More than 80% of the 83 cybersecurity positions studied in the report ended up with compensation offers higher than the salary caps stated in the original job descriptions. Half of the 52 organizations participating in the study say they had to up the compensation offers to seal the deal. The positions in the study include security engineers, product sales engineers, incident response analysts, SOC analysts, and product security experts.

Meanwhile, the typical cybersecurity job sits unfilled for an average of six months, the report shows. "It boggles my mind" that some jobs sit vacant up to nine months, says Chenxi Wang, founder of The Jane Bond Project.

Most respondents said recruiting for cybersecurity positions was "difficult" or "very difficult," and especially challenging for the more experienced positions.

Wang, who headed up the study, titled "The Cyber Security Hiring Crisis," says one CISO she interviewed lamented that HR was "looking in all the wrong places" for cybersecurity talent. The CISO has filled positions by recruiting from veteran databases, where he's found candidates with some military training that he was able to tap and then train for cybersecurity, he told Wang.

In addition to more accurate and updated IT security salary information, Wang says, the industry needs HR specialists focused on security talent who have an understanding of the industry.

"I had a CISO tell me [in the study] he had a recruiter turn away a really good hacker because he 'didn't look into your eyes' when he talked to you. The HR recruiter turned him away as 'not a good fit,'" she says. "But the security team knew he was a good hacker and wanted him. The criteria in which HR generalists [vet candidates] does not work" in all cases for cybersecurity, she notes.

Most hiring managers in the survey say they rely more on their own personal networks of contacts and LinkedIn – not HR – for their recruiting efforts.

Deidre Diamond, founder and CEO of CyberSN, says HR really shouldn't be expected to recruit and hire cybersecurity talent. "It's really unfair to even suggest that the HR department has the department to support the recruiting efforts of a cybersecurity position," she says. "It's so niche, there's no common language there … I feel badly for HR."

Many HR teams end up cut-and-pasting cybersecurity job descriptions that don't accurately reflect the actual day-to-day responsibilities of the opening. Companies also end up starting way too low with their offers, sometimes $10,000 to $20,000 under the appropriate salary range for a security job, she says, often because HR doesn't have the proper budget approval for a competitive offer.

Meanwhile, two of out five organizations review or adjust salary offers every six months, and three out of five do so annually.

Diversity Deficit

While the study did not look at diversity, it did find that only eight percent of the cybersecurity positions in the report were filled by female candidates. And of those women, none had negotiated a salary higher than the job offer.

"I had five organizations [in the study] that talked about their hiring practices and what they see. A few of them said 'women don't negotiate,'" Wang notes. "But a lot of men don't, either."

CyberSN's Diamond says the gender salary gap should improve when the Equal Pay Act kicks in next year. "Now, women often make less money, so their offers" are for less, she says.

"But that's only going to change if women push for it" and learn to negotiate for equal salaries in cybersecurity, she says.

Diamond says her firm plans to release a free tool for cybersecurity job candidates to create strong profiles that are attractive to prospective employers. 

A recent ISC(2) study shows organizations aren't tapping in-house talent as a way to fill security slots, either. More than 60% of respondents in the ISC(2) report say their organizations are short on staff, but just 34% say their companies cover the cost of security training.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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