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Steps Toward Career Success

SECURITY PRACTITIONERS just entering the field often wonder what they can do to achieve career advancement. Although it is not required, a degree in security can provide a competitive advantage in the job market and could lead to a higher salary. However, as professionals progress in their careers, other factors become more important. These include leadership ability, analytical talent, and interpersonal skills.

Getting Started

There’s no question that a security education may help a person get a foot on the ladder, perhaps at a higher rung than would be the case starting in the industry without any related formal degree.

One example is Steven Davis. When he was a recent graduate of Eastern Kentucky University’s baccalaureate program in asset protection and security management, he was hired as a loss prevention manager for Kmart at the store level. Davis says that his bachelor’s degree in security management was the central reason he was hired as a loss prevention manager. The hiring managers at Kmart were impressed with his courses of study, he says.

Michael Laverdure, assistant vice president of security and safety at the Science Applications International Corporation, says that his master’s degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University was crucial to his career progression when he first joined the security industry. He gained responsibility for security and safety in both the public and private sectors and leveraged his education to compete for management-level security positions for the first 10 to 12 years of his career.

While a degree can help one gain a footing or progress faster within the industry, an undergraduate or graduate degree is not essential to an executive security leadership role. There are some security experts who have risen to the top security position in their company without a baccalaureate or graduate education. Francis D’Addario, CPP, former vice president of partner and asset protection at Starbucks, has had an illustrious career in security. D’Addario has only an Associate of Arts degree, but he also earned his Certified Protection Professional® credential.

Up the Ladder

Once a security professional has gained experience in the industry, several factors can help catapult that career. D’Addario attributes his rise to his ability to think strategically, develop strong rapport and credibility with other executives, and communicate his objectives.

These types of qualities can be developed over time. But these skills alone may not gain you the appropriate attention within the corporation.

There are four strategies that security professionals can use to help them advance within their organizations: become a resident expert on a security topic, develop a personal brand, cultivate a mentorship, and establish a network of colleagues.

Be an expert. Becoming a go-to person or resource in a company on a specific topic can help a security professional garner recognition early in a career. Anyone joining a security department should attempt to identify a specific security need within the company; they can then work to fill the void by reading books and articles, attending seminars, and reaching out to other industry professionals to become a recognized company expert.

A new store loss prevention manager at a retail company may recognize a need to become proficient with interviews and interrogations, for example. This proficiency could lead to saving the store and the company a substantial amount of money by thwarting internal theft. The security professional, in turn, would gain a reputation as a leader in this specific area and could see a boost in career prospects.

Becoming a resource or a local expert could also be the result of learning proprietary systems or processes. If a security professional masters a software program or simplifies a complex process or procedure, he or she could be the resident expert with regard to that system or process. Over time, as that knowledge allows the security professional to solve problems for others, it will help him or her gain credibility with managers and executives.

In implementing this strategy, the security professional should not try to master too broad a scope of issues or systems all at once. It is best to focus on and master one specific issue before moving on to the next. Trying to master too many topics may lead security professionals to overextend themselves.

Develop a brand. Though noted author and speaker Tom Peters coined the term “personal branding” in 1997, the concept is still relevant. Personal branding is identifying and communicating who you are. It is the way other people think of you, how you convey your core values, highlight your talents, and present your agenda to others. Security professionals who successfully develop a personal brand can achieve great success by developing and evolving that brand.

Developing a personal brand is more than maintaining a professional look, though this is essential. Performance and distinctiveness are key to developing a brand. For example, giving a formal presentation on security trends to company executives is an excellent way to communicate a personal brand. During the presentation, the audience will quickly size up how you look, how well you are conveying your message, and how skillfully you articulate your position.

Find a mentor. Mentors provide guidance and can act as an unbiased resource. Mentors can be invaluable for young security professionals. Those interested in finding a mentor should seek them out in organizational meetings, industry conferences, career fairs, magazines, and newsletters. When you chance upon a potential mentor, introduce yourself as a professional seeking information from successful and knowledgeable sources like him. It is important to identify a mentor whose goals are aligned with yours and who has a similar career path. This will increase the likelihood of a strong and beneficial relationship.

Network. Networking with industry experts can help advance a security career. Networking can begin at any career stage and is advantageous to both new and experienced security managers and executives. Networking can occur during industry conferences, through social mediums such as social networking Web sites, and through professional associations.

Networking is often regarded as an employment tool. Although it is advantageous to network with industry peers and colleagues when searching for a security position, networking has many other benefits beyond finding the next job. It allows you to reach out to other security experts to assist with solving a complex problem or to benchmark a process or procedure. Networking also enables you to stay current on industry news and trends.

As the competitiveness in the security marketplace continues to grow, adept security professionals should use both education and experience to get ahead on the job. Additional steps, such as becoming a local expert, developing a personal brand, seeking out mentors, and using networking opportunities can help security managers find the quickest path to the executive suite.

Chris Richardson, CPP, is vice president of operations for PCG Solutions in Lexington, Kentucky.