AoIS Interviews Lee Kushner, Part 1

Given the current economic situation, professional development and job searching are on many people’s minds. As a result, I saw no better time to get perspective on these topics from a true industry insider.

Lee Kushner is the President of LJ Kushner and Associates, LLC, an executive search firm dedicated exclusively to the Information Security industry and its professionals.  For the past thirteen years, Lee has successfully represented Fortune 2000 companies, information security software companies, information security services organizations, and large technology firms in enabling them to locate, attract, hire, and retain top level information security talent.  Throughout his career, he has provided career management and career coaching to information security professionals at various stages of their professional development.  He is a regular speaker and industry contributor on topics that include career planning, interview preparation, and employee recruitment and retention.

Erik: With 13 years of recruiting Information Security professionals, how has your position as a recruiter changed and evolved?

Lee: When I began recruiting 13 years ago, not many people had ever heard of a recruiter who specialized in Information Security – so there was a great burden of proof on my part to demonstrate that I understood both the technology and the industry to candidates.  Information Security professionals are a skeptical bunch.  It was very important to establish credibility and earn trust, by only promising what I was able to deliver.

I believe that after 13 years, both my firm and I have established a solid reputation and credibility within the industry and among the professionals.   Most of the people that we have worked with, we have done so for quite a while, throughout their career development.    Many of those professionals have passed on their positive experiences to their peers – and our reach has expanded.

It is my hope that through the years of working in the industry we have been able to help elevate the recruitment profession and inspire a different response when people hear the terms “recruiter” or “head-hunter”.

Erik: I understand that Mike Murray and you are working on a podcasting series called “Career Incident Response”? What is that about?

Lee: Mike and I have been speaking on the topic of Career Management for quite some time at RSA Conferences, DefCon, and The Source Conference.  We came up with the idea for a “Career Incident Response” podcast series due to the fact that so many people were coming to us either because they were a victim of a layoff, felt that a layoff was imminent, or had witnessed bad things happening to their industry peers.

The Career Incident Response podcast series will be outlined like a training course.  It will provide a guideline to what people can expect – from items that include evaluating your work situation,  the personal and emotional impact of job loss, how to effectively search for a position,  how to prepare your resume, and some basic ways to address difficult interview questions.

Note: The Podcast Series is scheduled for release on or about May 15th, 2009 on  http://www.infosecleaders.com.  Art of Information Security will post an announcement when the release happens.

Erik: If someone is working with a recruiter, what should they be doing to get the most value out of that relationship?

Lee: I believe that the most important item is honesty, which is driven by trust.  People generally like to keep things close to the vest when they are engaged in a job search and become cryptic about things such as timetable, other opportunities, their current work situation, and compensation.  The more accurate information that a recruiter has, the better that they can help assist you.

The other thing is that people should work with recruiters that understand their profession and can provide them with something more than a job description.  It should be imperative that the recruiter has industry experience, no matter which industry you are in.

For example,  if I was a real estate attorney, I would want to work with recruiters that either placed attorneys, or ones that worked with real estate clients.

Erik: What are some signs that people are working with the wrong recruiter for them?

Lee: The biggest sign is when they do not add any value to your search process that goes beyond the current opportunity that they are working on.  Many recruiters comb job boards and social networking sites, looking for key words, without understanding how they fit in.

Information Security is not a “key word” business.  There are many different segments of our industry and it is comprised of many different skill sets.   If a recruiter cannot differentiate between these skills and how you fit, then you are probably working with the wrong one.

Erik: If you could communicate one thing to someone who is trying to manage their career, what would that be?

Lee: The one thing that I would stress would be to strive to differentiate from your peers.  The industry is going to become more and more competitive, and competition for the best positions is going to increase, being able to tell that story is going to be critical to achieving your long term career goals.

Erik: In your practice, what are some of the key differentiators that you are encouraging people to pursue?

Lee: I hate to be vague, but the best thing that I can tell anyone is to make consistent investments in their career and career development.  This can include certifications, training, personal development, career coaching, etc – but investing in yourself and your career is going to be critical to differentiating from your peers and competition.

I have three rules when addressing self investment:  

  1. Any investment in your career is a good one
  2. You get what you pay for
  3. If you do not invest in yourself, do not expect anyone else to

Erik: You in fact have been working on a Career Investment and Differentiation presentation. What are some of the key points you are trying to communicate?

Lee: The key point of this concept is that it is up to you – the individual – to manage your career.  You are the one that has to seek out guidance, and plan for your future.   Do not expect your company to do it for you – you will reap the ultimate reward – so you should plan on making consistent sacrifices to attain these goals.

Erik: So, how much overlap should someone expect between their employer-driven professional development and their personal professional development?

Lee: Whatever you can gain from your employer’s personal development plan – by all means get.  However, you should understand why the employer is providing you with that stipend – it is so that it benefits them – not you.   If there is overlap – consider yourself fortunate.

Do not be tied to your employer’s career development plans – because you most likely have different plans for your career than your employer.   Develop your own career plan – and understand your skill deficiencies and try to find ways to eliminate them .  

Erik: So, you are really proposing that people treat their career as an asset that requires ongoing maintenance, just like their 401 (k) or home?

Lee: I believe that it is not only important to work “in” your career, but to work “on” your career.

Investing in your career and your personal development is the most important investment that you can make – because it is the one that you have the most control over.  In addition, once you learn something and develop a skill, it cannot be taken away from you (unless you decide to neglect it).

You can make very effective arguments that career acceleration produces the most effective long term financial rewards and improves the quality of your life.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 (link)

In the second part of our interview with Lee, he will discuss his recent presentation entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Career Managers”.

Cheers, Erik

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