Making the job connection all about networking
By By Vawn Himmelsbach
In the security business, having the right connections is almost essential to finding a job. It’s a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other, and high-level security executives are often poached by other companies — and in some cases hounded by head-hunters until they say yes. Rarely are these ever lateral moves.
While head-hunting is common in many industries, the security business is different in that it doesn’t have an established recruitment process in place, nor are there any recruiting firms that specialize in security. Some argue there aren’t enough high-level security positions in Canada to justify the involvement of recruiting firms, while others see it as a way to level the playing field in a business that is largely driven by who you know and who knows you.
By By Vawn Himmelsbach
“I don’t think the recruiting agencies and head-hunters have really
caught up with the new role of the CSO,” says Peter Martin,
vice-president of special operations with AFI International, who
previously worked for Securicor, an armoured car and security services
company. He was approached by AFI a year before agreeing to go work for
Most companies rely on peer recommendations and align themselves with
organizations such as the Canadian Society for Industrial Security (CSIS) or American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). The
vast majority of jobs are communicated on an informal basis through
this peer network, without making the newspapers or even being posted.
Often, one hears about a job by making contacts within a particular
organization and staying apprised of job openings.
“It really highlights the need for networking in the security
industry,” says Martin. “Everybody knows everybody.” For companies that
don’t promote from within, he added, you’re likely to find senior
security positions vacant for longer periods of time than in other,
more traditional functions, such as finance or operations, because of a
lack of qualified individuals out there. “Most of the people who are
very good are already employed,” he says.
This means recruiters find someone they like and try to lure them away.
“I’ve done it myself — I identified individuals when I was head of
security and I would recruit the hell out of them,” he says. “I
wouldn’t employ a recruiting agency to do it because I circulated in
the same circles, so I would target them.”
A more formalized recruiting process could help to solidify the chief
security officer position, he added. If a recruiting agency were to
come forward and recognize that as a specialty, it would help to
legitimize the role of CSO, and perhaps level the playing field for job
The recruitment process is much more established in the U.S., where
there are firms that specialize in security. There, the
cycle begins with a client expressing a need to either develop or
improve its corporate security program, says Peter Metzger,
vice-chairman of Christian & Timbers, an executive search firm with
offices in the U.S. and Europe.
“We typically put together a specification that will capture the
information that the client expresses,” he explains, adding that candidates
are then measured against those specifications. The firm also directly
approaches people it believes would be good for the role, or touches
base with people who are respected in the community to ask for
“We do business all over the world,” says Metzger. “Typically
citizenship is not as important as qualifications. We work with
multinational clients so we recruit people for positions in Europe and
South America and everywhere.” The firm would like to do more business
in Canada, he added. “We’d like to understand what Canadian companies’
needs are and how they differ from our other international clients — we
need someone to make some introductions to companies they think would
be best suited for business partnerships with us.”
In Canada, there’s not such a clear market for dedicated security
positions, whereas there’s more of a focus on security in the U.S.,
said Dave Tyson, senior manager of IT and physical security with the
City of Vancouver.
Tyson worked on the physical security side for 16
years before making the move to IT security in 1999. Now, in his
current position, he focuses on both areas of security.
“Historically I have been approached on both sides of the fence but
there’s been more active senior-level recruiting on the IT security
side,” he says. “The physical security manager role has been more
organic, local word of mouth, through ASIS security associations.”
example, he was approached last year to head up an IT security
consulting group at one of the Big Four accounting firms — an offer
that he declined.
Head-hunting calls are quite common in the industry, since many
companies don’t know where to look for candidates. He typically gets
one or two calls a month, often to see if he knows of anyone who would
be a good fit for a particular position. Many companies go to their
local ASIS International chapter, which is an organization for security
professionals with locations across Canada and around the world. “We
recruited our last two senior security people directly from the ASIS
chapter website,” he says. “We got exactly what we were looking for
because the skill set is located there.”
There’s still opportunity for enhancing the process in Canada, he says,
though he’s not sure there are enough head-office positions to justify
the return for a recruiting firm specializing in security. Instead,
they could develop relationships with the larger U.S. head-hunters, he says. But even in the U.S. there are only a few recruiters that have
focused their practice around security and they tend to be small firms.
However, some of the larger, more generalized recruiting firms are now
getting into the security business.
“Security in Canada is a fairly close-knit group and if you want
someone for a specific role, you can pick up the phone and call a
number of colleagues and find out pretty much whatever you need about
someone without too much trouble,” says Tyson. “The informal
information conduit is live and well.”
Derek Knights is one security specialist who has used this informal
information conduit. He recently left Ontario Power Generation for a
job as senior security governance specialist of corporate information
security with Sun Life.
“I’d seen a position on one of the professional list servs that I
belong to,” he says, adding that he’s a member of several professional
associations.” He called up a friend who worked for that particular
organization. His friend informed him that the position was being
filled internally, but told him to keep an eye on the company’s website for additional postings. When another job came up, Knights applied.
“I don’t look in the newspapers anymore,” he says, adding that it’s
easier to focus a job search through list servs and professional
“By using professional associations, you can zero in on jobs that are
looking for people with the skill sets you’re familiar with,” he says.
“Recruiters will do it the same way. When you get into the high-level
security stuff, it’s a relatively small market and a small pool [of
Through his membership in various associations, he’s made contacts in
different areas of the profession. “A lot of people think I was poached
but I wasn’t,” he says. “Once you’ve made up your mind that moving can
be done, then it’s just a matter of which bait is in front of you.”
Gene McLean, vice-president and chief security officer of Telus, was in
fact poached by a head-hunter who knew of his reputation in the
industry. McLean, who is one of the few CSOs responsible for both
wireline and wireless security, left the RCMP to work for the Canadian
Bankers Association, where he spent just over three years before moving
to Telus. A head-hunter called him about the job, and McLean tried to
think of anyone he knew who might be interested. It turned out,
however, that the head-hunter was interested in him. “Really I had
never thought of it, and that’s how it happened,” he says.
He was also approached last year when Telus workers went on strike,
though he declined the offer. “I was working day and night [during the
strike] because that was a very big part of the business, to manage
security through a major work stoppage,” he said. “I was approached at
the end of that saying, ”˜We’d love to have your talents here because
nobody else has had a strike that went that well.’”
For larger companies, the recruitment process is often more formalized,
where the HR department is involved in hiring. Telus, for example,
usually posts jobs in newspapers and journals, and relies on the HR
department to vet candidates.
But at some point, everybody’s looking at the same pool of candidates.
“With all the job movement,” says McLean, “there’s a little bit of
cherry-picking going on.”