Mapping Out a Successful Career Switch
Have you ever thought of changing security career paths? Given the past two years of the pandemic, fluctuating workforces, and the security field’s growth, many security professionals are considering how to expand their personal horizons. Depending on what article you read, significant career changes occur anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the time people change jobs, with individuals changing positions anywhere from five to 10 times within their lifetimes. The numbers and statistics may vary, but it is highly likely that the average security professional will change his or her focus or role at least once. So how can one successfully plan for and make a career change?
As Ann McFadyen highlighted in her Public Finance article “How to Make a Career Change,” reflection on the reasons for a career switch is essential to a successful move.
“Whether you are considering moving up, along, or out of your current role or career, it’s vital that you sit down and plan,” according to McFadyen. “Too many people take the decision to change career as a reaction to something that is going on to disturb the status quo, without allowing sufficient time to consider all the options available.
“If you are not careful, you can find yourself in a worse situation, because the desire to get out of a role can cloud your judgment as to what the next position should look like or feel like,” she continued.
Types of Career Moves
If you are at a crossroads in your career and attempting to determine your next direction, ask yourself a few questions: Does a change always have to be vertical? Could a lateral move into a different realm of security increase your portfolio? Does this career move support a greater goal or position?
When most people consider a career change, it is usually a vertical one, moving upwards from a security specialist to a security manager, for example. This often entails increasing knowledge of management practices. Vertical changes can occur within one organization, or they might require the career changer to switch employers as he or she grows.
Another popular move is a horizontal career change. The security field is always changing and growing to meet emerging security concerns. A security professional might be in physical asset protection, but she is taking courses in cybersecurity to make a lateral move into a digital asset protection role. Or the manager of a physical security team has taken on additional responsibilities to prepare to become a security operations center manager. Horizontal changes help increase versatility, improve skills, and grow networks.
Although vertical and horizontal moves are most common, there are additional career changes that may align more closely with the changer’s goals, including entrepreneurship or selecting a transition that enables better work–life balance.
Sometimes there are aspects of a switch that may be outside of a security professional’s control, like a business closing, layoffs, or downsizing, but one should use those life changes to reflect on potential career paths. While outside influences or individuals may trigger career considerations, retain your own counsel—you know your passion best, so let that help you design your next professional evolution.
Self-Analysis for Switchers
A good exercise in career self-analysis is to consider your brand. Often branding is only associated with marketing, but we all have a brand, a mantra, or a characteristic that comes out in our positions, activities, and everyday life. This tells a story of your inward drive.
Dawn Graham explained in her book Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success that understanding your key roles, accomplishments, values, and expertise is important to ensure you speak your truth and your passion during a transition. If you understand yourself and how you can shine, you will be better prepared to explain it during interviews and as you advance in your career switch.
“I have a lifetime of seeking out things I am unfamiliar with and challenging myself to learn,” says Corey Capsalis, director for government security at Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies company.
Capsalis started his career as a physical protection professional at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts after graduating with a criminal justice degree. Capsalis joined the Lincoln Laboratory’s security team in 2010 as a personnel security specialist, focusing on clearances and background processing. Later, he was given an opportunity to become a contract program security officer, increasing his knowledge in another security practice.
It was his continuous pursuit of growth and development that led Capsalis to pursue additional training and knowledge in cybersecurity. He earned his CompTIA Security+ certification, which led the way to his becoming an information system security officer. Making the switch required additional training and also inward reflection. But for Capsalis, entering cybersecurity from a physical security background aligned with his continuous development mantra and his lifelong interest in technology.
Capsalis’s professional journey continued—he transitioned into a senior management role as associate director and then director of government security at Pratt & Whitney. Instead of being the frontline worker, he now engages clients, executives, and policies for the organization. Capsalis credits his successful transition to learning about the position, the organization, and his own capabilities and interests.
Zeroing in on your passion and your personal goals can help focus your career path. As you search for positions, any previous roles and experiences should be in the forefront of your mind.
Sharon Bickmore, CPP, senior manager for regional security operations at Capital One, started her career with the U.S. Department of Defense in 1998 and served in a variety of industrial security roles and management roles until 2013. From there she was in management at Microsoft Data Center, then transitioned to physical security at WeWork. She has been in her current role since 2020, having transitioned from industrial security, data center security, physical security, and retail security. Bickmore credits her successful transitions to reflecting and analyzing positions and how they can benefit career development.
“I think part of your career goals and path is looking at position vacancies and how they can add to your career path,” Bickmore says. “Part of your career path and progression is showing how it is adding value to your career. Each position should be adding to your career path and overall development.”
Mapping Your Switch
As you examine your career path, document, journal, or map your discoveries and ideas in a career development plan. A career development plan can be used as a tool to help you highlight where you have been and where you want to go. There are many template career development plans available online or at your organization—primarily through the human resources department. It is generally a grid or table that helps plan where you want to go, identify room for growth, and develop a plan to move forward.
As important as reflection is to a career change, it’s essential to research the role as well. Part of this process is doing an effective inventory of one’s own skills. For example, if you are transitioning into cybersecurity, there will be additional certifications that could be required for the position you seek.
Melissa Mack, CPP, started her career after college in loss protection at Target. She actively pursued different roles in asset protection, from investigator to auditor and then management. She changed organizations, remaining in similar asset protection roles, but she eventually transitioned to physical security when she became a finance organization’s Latin America regional security manager, later landing her current position as director at Pinkerton.
Mack highlights the importance of doing a gap analysis of skills as part of a career move, saying, “I am constantly looking at career postings—not that I am making a move, but rather what is the global need, and what gap analysis and skills do I need to make the next step.” Mack credits her successful switching to this gap analysis and continuous development and growth.
Security professionals’ job research process should include looking into organizations that may interest them and speak to their inner mantra and mind-set. This includes researching the organization’s culture, beliefs, technology, and business. Research helps prepare candidates for the interview process and for the job in general by identifying ways the organization and the security professional align.
Before taking on his current role, “I studied the business, the technology, what is going on, and the threats in the world,” says Tyler Murphy, director of security at Maximus Federal, Inc. He highlights the importance of “knowing myself, knowing my business acumen, the position, and what I bring, and bring that out in the interview process.”
Murphy started his career after high school by joining the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as an infantryman. Upon leaving the military, Murphy was a guard at General Electric before transitioning to BAE Systems. He held myriad positions in the industrial security field—from security specialist to security manager and ultimately director—before he transitioned to his current role.
“When I prepare for interviews, I try to prepare for the role and the individual I am interviewing with,” Murphy says. By understanding his skills and how to align with the role in advance, he was able to demonstrate his confidence that he could succeed and benefit the organization. “Believe in yourself,” he says. “If you don’t get to a place where you can, if you do not have confidence in yourself, no one else will.”
The Necessity of Networks
Reflection and research are still not enough for a successful switch. Making a career change is about people. Using your network and your network’s network will help in job searches and professional development.
“Use LinkedIn, alumni resources, any networking platform in every way possible,” Bickmore says. “Use your network to say, ‘I am open and ready for options.’”
The human aspect of any career move should not be underestimated. Your network could be what gets you an interview. For example, SAIC Vice President and Chief Security Officer Michelle Sutphin’s mentor—an individual with multiple years in the security field—introduced her to opportunities and individuals that would help her achieve roles with increasing leadership needs.
This process may require you to reexamine your security and business skills or reassess the shape of your network. When Mack was working at Target, she realized that she needed to expand her network beyond asset protection professionals. She joined ASIS International and became involved in her local chapter, meeting others in a variety of security positions and fields. This helped Mack focus on a bigger picture beyond a single security silo.
Despite an applicant’s best efforts, there may be times where he or she does not get a call or an interview. If this happens to you, take a moment to reflect and, if possible, reach out to the recruiter or your network to get actionable feedback.
“What got you here won’t get you there,” Sutphin explains. “If you want to get above, you have to change and adapt to get to the next role.”
After the Switch
A switcher’s work is not done after receiving a job acceptance letter—the process has only entered the next phase. As one transitions into a new organization or role, it is imperative to adapt and interact with individuals on all spectrums of the business.
“Be patient with yourself, giving yourself time to get acquainted with the business and corporation,” Bickmore says. “Give yourself latitude to get up to speed.” Adjusting to a new role or organization will require reviewing processes, integrating with fellow stakeholders, and acclimating to an organization.
“Be adaptable to change and integrating yourself into the business,” Capsalis says, emphasizing the importance of communication with executives, stakeholders, team members, and clients.
In the first few weeks of a new position, the security leader should meet with counterparts in the organization, customers, and the team. Do not overlook this part of the process.
“By establishing yourself as a trusted advisor, you can build bridges and connections for the betterment of the organization,” Murphy says. People will be more apt to help you in the future if you have laid an early foundation for collaboration and communication.
This is even more essential during the unique business climate brought on by a pandemic.
“I didn’t meet my boss until I was six months into my position,” Sutphin says. “How did you integrate into a position when you can’t meet someone in person? I am not going to just walk into an organization without building those relationships.”
As part of this process, one should also establish lines of communication with the security team. During the transition to her CSO role, Sutphin says, “I had an all-hands meeting with all of my leaders a week before I started to get together and explain who I am. I didn’t talk about my professional background but focused on me. So many people start off the conversation by what they do, but I am going to start off with who I am.”
By focusing on who she is as a person rather than her position or past roles, Sutphin opened the door to learn about her team members on an individual level, strengthening their bond and learning what’s most important to them. She explained that her focus in previous positions had been on the team because they were the subject matter experts, and her duty was to support them. Building common understanding between the team and the security leader helps to solidify communication and collaboration in furtherance of the business.
During her initial weeks in a new position, Mack also seeks out the individual who previously held her position, if still present, to receive feedback or recommendations. By proactively opening lines of communication, the new security leader is more likely to garner feedback—both positive and negative—that can help him or her lead in a positive direction.
The skills analysis and training should also continue past the hiring date. When Mack shifted to her role in physical security after a career in loss prevention, one of the first things she did was to take courses on business development. This narrowed her skill gap around business practices while building an appreciation for the organization.
Skill building goes beyond self-analysis, though. Prior to the interview, job candidates should have researched the organization, and after getting the job, they should go further and do additional research on the product line, business, and culture. Mack recommends accessing organizations, associations, seminars, and periodicals that focus on the business and technology you now support. By further understanding the business and its products, you can show stakeholders your dedication and help support the organization’s mission more effectively.
One often-underleveraged resource is an organization’s mentoring program. By partnering with another individual in the company, incoming security professionals can acclimate more quickly and integrate into the culture.
Security leaders can enhance organizational culture and create a facet of it that aligns with their personal brand by collaborating across functions.
During his acclimation to Pratt & Whitney, “Culture played a huge role for me,” Capsalis says. “(Then-president) Bob LeDuc focused on culture as key, and (he) was a firm believer in empowerment. I used that as a motivator as I encountered a culture I agreed with and sometimes when I faced adversity. I can use that positive culture to create change and be a champion for my team and the organization.”
Shelly Kozacek, CPP, is a security leader with more than 20 years of experience in various security fields who is dedicated to continuous development. She is a vice chair on the ASIS International Professional Development Community.