What makes a good hiring fit? Changing our approach to bridge the cyber skills gap

At a time when cybersecurity is impacting enterprises and individuals alike and organisations are pumping resources into countering endless waves of cyber attacks, one topic is at the forefront of the global discussion: the skills shortage within the cyber sector. The workforce cannot sustain the demand requirements needed in the current cyber climate. For this to change, new principles need to be adopted to increase the number of IT professionals and to alleviate the pressure within the industry. 

Thankfully, the horizons look far more positive than previously hoped as a recent survey conducted by FireMon, the leading provider of Intelligent Security Management solutions, has shown the hiring pool may not be as dry as we thought. The research took place at the 2017 RSA Conference and gauged the attitudes of 350 IT security professionals towards the skills shortage. The stats found that a remarkably high 93 per cent of respondents place more importance on experience rather than qualifications when it comes to hiring. Additionally, a further 73 per cent claimed that it didn’t matter whether IT staff were college graduates when it came to getting the job.

This bodes well for potential workers who have core knowledge but fear they lack the necessary qualifications to apply for a position within cybersecurity. 

Jeremy Martin, Vice President of Engineering at FireMon, is an advocate for this change and believes there’s more to the person than what’s written on a CV. He said “combating the skills gap does not lie solely with more people getting degrees and certifications. Experience has been shown to be much more important, which could be good news for security-minded folks who learn by experimenting with code and tearing systems apart. That is not to diminish those with qualifications, but instead to encourage those with real-world experience to apply for the IT security jobs they think they might not otherwise get.”

A working philosophy

In his working life, Martin has adopted a set of philosophies that have helped build his team and steer the company in the right direction. This stems from hiring the person and not the CV, which he admits he “rarely looks at”. Instead, Martin directs his focus on candidates’ less tangible skills - how the person interacts with him, their personality traits and what gets them motivated. He believes “it is more important to hire people with a strong moral compass, a good sense of humour and who fit into the team culture.” This philosophy inevitably contributes to the positive working ambience which brings greater work efficiency and is a reason why the company one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry. “We all spend enough time at work that I want it to feel like a family atmosphere more than a work atmosphere. Treating people with mutual respect and a sense of family values creates a whole new level of loyalty and team comradery.”   

Having managed over 250 engineers in his career, Martin has learnt that selecting the most technically talented candidate is not always the right choice. “I have seen it time and time again where a group will hire the smartest person they have ever met only to have that person be so disruptive to the team that the team actually becomes less effective - having a team member that everyone is scared to talk to usually ends in disaster.” He values mentoring and coaching to make up skills, whether technical or business, to ensure the individual becomes a valuable team player. “If you truly focus on the person and who they are at their core you can almost always coach them into being effective team players.” 

Desired attributes

Candidates will always be given the chance if they are able to display the key attributes needed to succeed in the workplace. For example, having strong communication skills was found to be a desirable characteristic that would put IT professionals in good stead when applying for positions in the industry. Respondents from the FireMon survey were split down the middle as to what was more important: good communication skills or technical skills. 

For Martin, being able to communicate goes a long way. He values open communication to help develop his employees and help them find the best opportunities, even if that means the opportunities lead away from the company. “Help your employees figure out the best way to navigate their careers and be happy,” he says. “Life’s too short to be unhappy.” Putting this viewpoint into practice helps keep things in perspective and allows managers to be flexible and show respect and honesty, which can alleviate the most complicated of problems. 

By using a resume as a pre-qualifier, the face-to-face interview is the stage to impress. Even if you lack the technical skills, Martin recommends showing you are a good person that would gel within the current working mould. “I encourage everyone out there in a hiring position to quit reading the resume so much. Hire the good person that is a good culture fit with lesser technical skills over the better technical fit but lesser culture fit every time. You won’t regret it. If you hire the right people, they will always pay you back.” This is a proven philosophy that is backed by strong results, as under Jeremy’s leadership, FireMon has built the most scalable product in the security management space that can support customers with over 15,000 devices.

By following this ethos, organisations could not only develop better working environments but, most importantly, increase the number of candidates up for consideration to fill IT security roles – no small feat given the skills gap the sector is facing. 

Dean Alvarez, Features Editor, IT Security Guru
Image Credit: GaudiLab / Shutterstock