ASIS UK’s Young Professionals Group held its ‘Developing a Career in the Security Industry’ event at the Aon Centre in London recently and the message was clear: networking and people skills are key to building a security career. On average, 241 people apply for each security post, so it’s vital to make these skills work in your favour, as Sarah Haywood observes.
The ASIS Young Professionals initiative is designed to cater for security professionals under the age of 40 and with less than five years’ experience in the industry. The event featured a broad range of guest speakers including a recent student, a young security professional, a security consultant, a manager and director, an ex-Armed Forces professional and an experienced recruiter.
Whether you are taking your first steps in the security industry, or reaching the zenith of your career, undoubtedly networking is a key skill. Internships can provide an initial entry point, offering an opportunity to develop the right skills for career progression. However, as the speakers pointed out, even at this stage it’s important to stand out from the competition and. Often, a university education will offer academic help rather than industry contacts.
LinkedIn was flagged by the speakers as an obvious networking portal. Equally, meeting professionals face-to-face at networking events is also very important. In fact, the humble business card is still a valuable tool. The recruitment-focused speakers advised that a well-targeted business card (with not only contact details, but a brief professional background on the individual) can go a long way towards an individual being noticed.
Another common theme was that the world of business is a social one, so it’s vital never to ‘close a door’. Even when you feel like you’re moving on to bigger and better things, it always makes sense to do so on good terms, as this experience and these relationships will continue to build your professional network.
A further clear message is the need to gain as much experience as possible, and from as many people and organisations (and even industries/sectors) as you can. This affords a good view of the commercial and business sector as well as the specific security needs they require.
This doesn’t stop when you progress further up your career ladder, either. Several speakers highlighted the need to keep moving throughout your career. In fact, this can be a horizontal move to a completely different industry or sector, just as much as it might be a vertical move to a more senior role.
As one speaker eloquently put it, every day is a ‘school day’ in the world of security. There are always new skills to be learned and lessons in good (and bad) practice to be understood.
Something which all the speakers touched on is the need to be persistent. Many lucrative roles will see large numbers of applicants apply and it’s important to keep pushing yourself forward for every opportunity. If you don’t bag the role, learn from the process, improve your skill set in the interim and ensure your next application improves on this.
One of the speakers suggested that they only hear once from around 90% of their applicants. By being persistent, it’s possible to be part of the 10% of applicants who will become noticed over time and stand out from their competition.
One of the most significant shifts in the industry of recent time is the imperative for security professionals in the commercial sector to understand the pressures and drivers of the business world. This is particularly relevant to ex-Armed Forces and ex-police individuals who may have less experience in the machinations of the private sector.
Sometimes, ex-Armed Forces professionals can find it a challenge to ‘sell’ themselves to a commercial employer, having been trained to work as an expert cog in a much bigger machine. However, the considerable technical skills they’ve learned along with ‘soft skills’ (such as leadership, team-building, project and management skills) are highly valuable and need to be articulated well to any potential employer.
Sometimes, these considerable skills will require additional re-training to offer all the requirements for a commercial role. Happily, there are excellent security industry training providers on hand to help with this and many businesses run ex-Armed Forces programmes that can help, too.
Finding the right opportunities
If you are competing against an average of 240-plus other applicants, it’s important that your application stands out for the right reasons. Rather than just sending a generic CV for every application, ensure that it’s bespoke to the role for which you are applying. Make it succinct (one page if possible) and push your greatest strengths to the fore.
Always ensure that you network with relevant groups (such as ex-Armed Forces or Women in Security groups, for example) both online and in person and look to join industry associations such as ASIS International and The Security Institute. This sill help you to meet other professionals in your chosen field of expertise.
Gain a broad level of experience, learn from those around you (both in security and in the wider commercial world) and re-train or study as required to ensure that you have all of the necessary managerial as well as technical skills to stand out from your competition.
Finally, never stop progressing and moving on to new and exciting opportunities. Enthusiasm and curiosity are key attributes for the security professional, just as much as they are for any other profession. This will drive your career forward and assist you in enjoying the satisfaction and rewards of this most vital of professions.
Sarah Hayward is Head of Sales at ARC Training