The more effort that you put into selecting the right people to be a part of your network, the more efficient it will be in helping you accomplish what you are ultimately trying to achieve, namely meeting your infosec career goals. For example, it is much easier to attract a co-worker who performs the same information security tasks as you than it is to find a CIO or a CISO who will be an active participant in advancing your career. In this tip, we offer a few ideas to access these types of people.
As a group, information security professionals tend to interact most with their peers. This is comfortable, but it is not always productive. While it may be gratifying to exchange "war stories" with those who have similar roles and face similar challenges, peers typically won't add unique knowledge to your career network.
To start, find groups, organizations or social situations where you can offer unique knowledge, and where people are more apt to be interested in your unique perspective. These audiences usually contain more senior-level people who have a desire to learn more about information security. For example, if you are an information security professional that has a focus on health care, you should join an organization that is comprised of hospital administrators, CFOs and CIOs. By sharing your perspective with such groups, you can develop trusted relationships with people who value your opinions and need your help. If they are able to utilize your knowledge, you will be able to ask for their expertise in return.
Non-professional groups can be helpful as well. These can include charitable causes, religious groups or special interest organizations, just to name a few. Many of these external groups are comprised of people who are at different stages of their lives and their careers. In many cases, you'll find someone who will offer unique value to your career network and will be willing to help you in your career development.
Attracting fellow security professionals
Collaboration is a key element of success in the infosec industry. Because of this, security pros tend to congregate a great deal, either at local meetings (ISSA, OWASP, CitySec), national conferences (Black Hat, RSA Conference, Shmoocon, Security B Sides) or on the Web (Security Twits, LinkedIn groups). Use these types of groups or events to demonstrate your knowledge, organizational skills and commitment to your career.
Taking an active role can be as simple as being a part of a research project, submitting a presentation, becoming a member of a social networking site, or organizing the logistics of an event. This involvement should provide you with a good platform to interact with other information security professionals with both similar and different career goals and perspectives. As you get to know them better as people, you will be better suited to determine if they would provide value as part of your information security career network.
Locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen
Building your career network requires a proactive effort. The biggest mistake that many infosec pros make is neglecting networking when they are in positions of career strength, and only focusing on their network when they are in a period of transition or duress. This is not a strategy for successful networking.
Putting your network to work
It's up to individuals to determine how to use the network they've built. These purposes can include career advancement, "unemployment insurance," building your personal brand, assessing your skills, charting your career path, determining future career investments and understanding your market value. It is important that you set down some guidelines with your network's members so you can achieve your career goals. Some of these guidelines will have to be absolute, such as acceptable topics, confidentiality, and information sharing. Some of the guidelines can be more ambiguous like frequency of interactions, response time and introduction of additional members.
Whatever guidelines you decide to create, it is important you are able to reach agreement and negotiate terms that work for all parties involved. Once these are set, it becomes equally important that you hold yourself and the members of your network accountable to these standards. This is the primary reason why it is important for all parties to add value to the relationship. For example, if you no longer can help your CIO network member regarding their security issues, they will not have any reason to respond to requests about your personal skill development in a timely fashion.
Advancing your career with the help of the network
Your career network should be akin to a company's board of directors. A board of directors is utilized by the management team members of a company to add to their experiences, validate their opinions and create new business opportunities. For example, by leveraging the experience of those in your network, you can obtain a trusted assessment of your skills (strengths and weaknesses) and determine which skills will be important for you to develop as you strive to your career goal. You can utilize the network to validate major career decisions that can include selecting between opportunities or determining future career investments, such as security certifications or advanced degrees.
Your network can be helpful in introducing you to new career opportunities. This can happen either by recommendation, referral or direct hire. When you have an effective network, you will automatically increase your awareness of information security positions that are suited to your career development. When interacting with your information security career network, keep all of these subjects in mind and try to incorporate them in every interaction.
Building an effective information security career network is not an easy task and it takes a great deal of personal commitment to do it effectively. As you attempt to build your network, keep in mind that other people may not share your level of commitment to career development. That is their prerogative. The key is to find people who have similar drive, motivation and professional definition of success that you have. Having such a group to support you will grant you a better chance of achieving your career goals.
This was first published in March 2010