Cybersecurity

Council Post: Why People Skills—Not Industry Experience—Are The Most Important Prerequisite For New Cybersecurity Hires

Boyd Clewis is the co-founder of Baxter Clewis Cybersecurity. He is a CISSP, CCSK, CISA, QSA and cyber security professional.

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When hiring for jobs in cybersecurity and other technical fields, managers and company leaders understandably look for the specific technical skills a given job requires—say, programming, data analysis, DevOps, or IT. This makes sense; they want to hire someone who has the skills needed to complete the tasks within the purview of the role. Moreover, most managers aim to hire someone with previous experience in a given role because it helps them feel comfortable that the candidate is competent in these in-demand areas.

Unfortunately, these traditional hiring practices create a series of critical oversights based on one underlying misunderstanding. The truth is, experience (or even certification) does not equal skill. Real skill means not just being able to do one discrete action, it means understanding how those actions and day-to-day processes impact a business, and being able to solve problems creatively and swiftly. Just because I’ve been doing something for 15 years doesn’t mean I’m skilled at it. It just means I’m good at repetition. And hiring based on experience often means bringing in people’s good and bad habits, ingrained over years in the field.

So what should executives and hiring managers be looking for instead of experience when filling technical roles? The answer is soft skills.

Elevating Great Communicators

In cybersecurity, the number one most valuable trait isn’t being great at working on systems and software—it’s having clear, precise verbal and written communication. Unfortunately, schools and training programs focus on technical skills, often ignoring communication. This poses a real problem, since communication skills are absolutely necessary in this field. IT and cybersecurity exist only as an extension of business, to help business processes enable applications. Cybersecurity is designed to offset the risk of those necessary applications so that the business can still be productive.

In IT and cybersecurity, business and technology converge. If the IT guy can’t speak to the business person who doesn’t already understand the technology, then there’s going to be a disconnect. The business person does not understand why they need these services, or how to best leverage them to protect their company. Hiring managers therefore should bring in folks who can explain a complex topic in terms that someone can easily understand, and from that explanation, can also understand their action items.

Promoting A Sense Of Leadership

In a similar vein, leadership skills are also chronically under-valued in hiring. This is a mistake. I often think that if more IT employees saw themselves as leaders, then they would take the time to develop those skills so they could more effectively explain to other people what actions they need to take, and also better understand their own role in any business. Most IT people learn the technical skills but never understand the “why.” And if you never understand the why, you’re never going to grow your career because you’ll always be the one taking orders. The person who understands the reason behind the “why” is always going to be more valuable than the person who simply pushes the buttons. Part of having leadership skills is seeing the scope of the business and understanding where your role fits and where there’s room for growth, development, and transformation.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was younger, I remember once being upset that my manager was making more money than me. This manager didn’t know all the technical stuff that I knew, and yet when he told me to go install the patches, I would have to go do it. But the difference between him and me became clear as I grew older and more mature. I realized that he understood the business impact of what he, I, and everyone else was doing. I just knew how to do the technical things; not why. And people in a leadership position need to understand the business impact, because ultimately, that’s what drives business.

Understanding The Significance Of Sales Skills

Interestingly, sales skills are very important in this business. And I’m not talking about just getting someone to buy something. Most good tech people will do their job well—but at the same time, they know there are tools or processes that can be implemented to make their job easier and benefit the company. However, many of them never get an opportunity to implement those systems, processes, or technologies because they can’t sell the vision to their own company leadership. That’s where sales skills come in.

The best IT folks understand how to correlate the business executive’s pain to the solution a product provides, versus just saying, “Hey, can you buy this because it will make my job easier?” If you can explain to the executive the problem the business is experiencing and how this software or system will solve it, then they’re more likely to make it happen.

When Technical And People Skills Align

A good IT person can only make good recommendations when they understand the company’s objectives and avoid working in a silo. That understanding of the big picture leads to innovation and system and process improvements. And on a personal level, if you want to take your career to the next level, you’ve got to understand the big picture. That’s why my philosophy when I train and mentor is, “Don’t be an IT person, be a business technology professional.”


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So what should executives and hiring managers be looking for instead of experience when filling technical roles? The answer is soft skills.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2023/01/23/why-people-skills-not-industry-experience-are-the-most-important-prerequisite-for-new-cybersecurity-hires/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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