How to Climb the Career Ladder in the Security industry

Author: Sarah Hayward, ARC Training

Staggeringly, on average 241 people apply for every advertised security post – so it is vital to ensure your training, skills and experience work in your favour. This is particularly the case when it comes to young professionals looking to develop and nurture their security career.

The ASIS UK Young Professional (YP) committee held its ‘Developing a Career in the Security Industry’ event earlier this year and the message was clear – networking and people skills are key to building your security career.

The ASIS YP event, which is designed to cater for security professionals under the age of 40 and with less than five years’ experience in the industry, featured a broad range of guest speakers. These included: a recent student, a young security professional, a security consultant, manager and director, ex-services professional and an experienced recruiter.

Successful networking

Undoubtedly networking is a key skill, whether you are taking your first steps in the security industry or reaching the zenith of your career. Internships can provide an ideal initial entry point, offering an opportunity to develop the right skills for career progression.

As the YP event speakers pointed out, even at the early stages of your career it is important to stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, often University education will offer academic help rather than industry contacts.

Whilst LinkedIn is an obvious networking portal, meeting professionals face-to-face at networking events is also very important and the humble business card is still a very valuable tool. A well-targeted business card (with not only contact details, but a brief professional background on the individual) can go a long way in being noticed.

Another common theme flagged up at the event was that the world of business is a social one, so it is vital never to ‘close a door’. Even when you feel like you are moving onto 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.

Gain a wide variety of experience

The speakers at the YP event were also very clear that security professionals need to gain as much experience as possible, from as many people and organisations (and even industries/sectors) as you can. This gives a good view of the commercial and business sector, as well as the specific security needs they require.

Experience is just as important when you reach further up your career ladder. Several speakers highlighted the need to keep moving throughout your career, which could even be a horizontal move to a completely different industry or sector, just as much as 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.

Being persistent

The event speakers all agreed that all levels of security professional need to remain persistent. Many lucrative roles will see large numbers of applications and it is important to keep pushing yourself forward for every opportunity. If you don’t get the role, learn from the process, improve your skillset in the interim and ensure your next application improves from this experience.

A seasoned recruitment speaker at the event suggested that astonishingly they only hear once from around 90% of applicants. By being persistent it is possible to be part of the 10% of applicants that will become noticed over time and will stand out from their competition.

Understanding commercial drivers and pressures

A noticeable and significant shift in the industry in recent times has seen security professionals need to better understand the commercial sector, along with the pressures and drivers of the business world. This is particularly relevant for ex-forces and ex-police individuals, who may have less experience of the private sector.

Ex-services professionals can sometimes find it a challenge to ‘sell’ themselves to a commercial employer, having been trained to work as an expert cog in a much larger security machine. However, the considerable technical skills along with ‘soft skills’ (such as team leadership, 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-forces programmes that can help too.

Grabbing opportunities

When the statistics show you are competing against an average of 241 other applicants, it is important that your application stands out for the right reasons!

Instead of simply sending a generic CV for every application, ensure that it is bespoke to the role you are applying for. Push your greatest strengths to the fore and make it succinct (one page if possible).

It always pays to ensure you network with relevant groups (such as ex-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, which will help you meet other professionals in your chosen field of expertise.

Always aim to 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 you have all the technical and managerial skills to stand above your competition.

Most importantly – never stop progressing in your career and moving on to new and exciting opportunities. Like all professions, enthusiasm and curiosity are vital attributes for the security professional. This will help your career evolve and flourish, helping to open doors to new opportunities and ensuring you continue to enjoy the full satisfaction and rewards of this essential profession.

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