Tag Archives: AoIS Interviews Lee Kushner

AoIS Interviews Lee Kushner, Part 2

In the final part of our interview series with Lee Kushner (part 1), Information Security recruiter and career coach, we will jump right in with a discussion of Lee’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective Career Managers”.

Erik: I noticed from your web page that you recently delivered a presentation called “7 Habits of Highly Effective Career Managers”. Can you give us a flavor for what those habits are?

Lee:

  1. Talent or Great Skills
  2. Excellent Communication
  3. An effective network
    • Your network is only good if you can call on it and get a result
    • What are some effective giving strategies?
  4. A Professional Development Plan
  5. They Invest in Themselves
  6. Develop Their Own Personal Brand
  7. Possess Necessary Intangibles (perspective, patience, passion)

Erik: Ok, so how can someone reality check themselves about “having great skills”, or about the kinds of positions they “have great skills” for?

Lee: Talent is the one thing that is critical to being great at what you do, whatever that may be. Without talent, it is tough to achieve greatness. However, one talent could be something as simple as being the “hardest worker” or “never quitting until you figure it out”. The truth is that we are all talented at something – it is important to recognize what that talent is, cultivate it, develop it, and leverage it.

The questions I normally ask people is:

  • Tell me one thing that you do better than most people
  • Tell me the accomplishments that you are most proud of
  • If I asked your peers about your skills, what would they say was your best one

When you answer those questions, you usually come close to discovering your best skills or true talent.

Erik: Communication is one of those elusive soft skills. Many people think they are great communicators, but are so-so. Do you have any concrete advice?

Lee: Most people are lousy communicators because they do not believe that it is a skill. There are classes and courses on how to increase your vocabulary, to communicate with executives, to speak to subordinates, etc.

Ask people around you in your personal life, or anyone who can provide you with an honest answer (without repercussions) about your communication skills – that may be a good guide to see where you really stand.

Erik: “Effective Network” – I suspect that you mean something very specific…

Lee: I define an effective network as one that can be called upon on short notice and one that will provide you with a meaningful response to your query. Your network can be made up of co-workers, industry peers, specialists, mentors, and educators. An effective network also has to be willing to offer “candid” communication – be able to freely tell you when you are both heading down the correct path and the wrong one.

Erik: So, having a Linked In account isn’t enough?

Lee: No. Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. Just clicking on a “Linked Invitation”  does not equal a trusted, meaningful relationship. It is quite the opposite.

Erik: I am very bad with names and faces, however I try to use conferences and large meetings as networking opportunities. One habit I have developed is to write clues to myself on the back of every business card I accept. I write things like, “met Jim at RSA 2008 on Expo floor”, ”Great network threat guy”, etc. Do you have any specific networking habits that you use?

Lee: What works for me is that I like to remember something that is unique about the person that is not necessarily job related: such as an outside interest, a college or university, or something personal. To me,  this allows a connection to be developed that is outside of how you would traditionally think of them, and then you can effectively remember other things about them. However, just because it works for me, does not mean it will work for all.

Erik: What does a Professional Development Plan look like, and whom should I share it with?

Lee:  My thought is that a Professional Development Plan has two parts. The first part represents your current career and the skills that you currently possess. The second part is your long term career goal, and the skills and experiences necessary to qualify for that particular role.

Really what you are doing is performing a “career gap assessment”.

Other components of a career plan should include research on how to attain these necessary skills, a timetable of sorts to actually acquire the skills, and an understanding of the sacrifices necessary to achieve them.

Your career plan should be shared with people who respect and care about you, both personally and professionally. Your professional network can consist of your mentors, your supervisor, your peers, and trusted outsiders. Those can include career counselors, career coaches, executive recruiters, etc.

On a personal level, you need to share this with the people that will share the benefits and suffer from the sacrifices. This is usually your immediate family. Sacrifices can inlcude travel, longer work hours, relocation, and the finances needed for career investments.

Erik: Is personal brand synonomous with reputation?

Lee: In many cases it is, however I think that a personal brand is much more difficult to come by. I mean, everyone has a reputation: some are good and some are bad. However, you traditionally have to work very hard to establish a well respected professional brand.

In today’s culture, professional branding means that you not only have to establish a respected reputation, but you also have to be known for something that makes you unique and your opinions and knowledge “sought after” and relevant.

Erik: Developing a brand is a long term investment. How do you do this so it is not viewed as a “job campaign”?

Lee: You are correct; developing a professional brand will not happen overnight. I believe that many people who have respected professional brands have an inner drive and passion for excellence. It is this passion that usually drives them on a daily basis, and they know of no other way to conduct themselves. My feeling is that if this behavior is viewed as routine and standard, it appears natural, and is only viewed as a job campaign by people who do not share the same level of professional drive or who feel threatened.

Erik: Necessary Intangibles?

Lee: Passion to me is number one. All successful professionals, regardless of field, have a passion for their careers and are driven by an inner quest for excellence.

Patience is another one. Too many people get caught up in the concept of how quickly they can advance, without realizing that they will miss out on the opportunity to learn more and develop their skills.

I think that someone’s work ethic is also a big differentiator. One of my favorite expressions is that the worst thing to be in life is lazy. Someone who is willing to put in the time, effort, and energy to achieve usually finds themselves in positions where they are given extra opportunities to demonstrate their skills.

Erik: Lee, what advice do you have for folks who are currently out of work and looking?

Lee: Two pieces of advice: The first is to “keep your head up” and do not get discouraged. The second is to take this time to reflect as to why you are currently in this situation, and begin to plan accordingly so that it does not happen to you again.

Erik: And for those who are worried about being displaced?

Lee: My best advice would be to be visible when it is time to be visible. This is the time where you have to outshine the people around you, take on additional responsibility, and demonstrate that you are not immune to the current economic conditions.

This is not the time to ask for additional compensation, additional training, or take extra vacation. This is the time to show that you are a team player, hard worker, and are loyal to your current employer.

If you feel that your displacement is imminent, then you should get your resume prepared and begin reaching out to your network to see if they know of good opportunities for someone with your skill set.

Erik: Are there any Career Management resources you could point folks to?

Lee: I will be frank in saying that unfortunately there are not many Career Management resources specifically targeted toward Information Security professionals. Mike Murray and I are hoping to change that at www.infosecleaders.com. We are planning to produce regular career-driven content specifically geared toward the Information Security community. The initial podcast series ”Career Incident Response” will be posted soon.

In addition, we should also be publishing and releasing the results of our Information Security Career Management series around the time of Black Hat and Def Con this summer. The survey is still open and can be found at www.infosecleaders.com/survey.

Erik: Lee, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. I know based on the response to Part 1 that this information is getting a lot of attention and that the Art of Information Security community has really appreciated it.

Lee: Our profession is growing and increasing in popularity. In the future, there is going to be increased competition for the best positions. It will not be enough to only be good; you will have to be better than your competition. It will be imperative to plan accordingly and make regular investments in your professional development to differentiate from your peers.

Many Thanks to Lee Kushner

If you have found this interview helpful, please consider participation in Lee’s professional development survey at www.infosecleaders.com/survey. He has a tremendous passion for helping Information Security professionals develop their careers, and for aiding employers in understanding how to attract, develop, and retain top talent. The survey is Lee’s way of reality checking the advice and council that he gives, and will be shared through his upcoming podcasts and speaking engagements.

Cheers, Erik

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