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How a Search Partner Can Help You Translate Candidate Speak

In the world of executive recruiting, clients often gauge your value as a search partner based on experience, network, and domain expertise. However, there are other unique skills that a search partner can provide. These skills can make the difference in the success of the search.

One such skill is the ability to effectively play translator between candidate and client. We are often asked to translate the true meaning behind a candidate’s broad and sometimes bold statements during the interview process. For instance, when a candidate tells a recruiter and/or client that they “are open to exploring new opportunities” it can mean a lot of things. It could mean that they are truly evaluating options, just testing the waters, or actively looking and involved in other interview processes. This can make clients wonder if it’s worth the time to invest in the candidate.

While we don’t have magic pixie dust (not all the time, at least :) ), we do build strong relationships with each potential candidate that allow us to ask deeper questions and gauge the proper next steps. We ensure that the client’s message about their position’s scope, value, and growth is exactly in line with the candidate’s claim for what’s next in their career.

During the interview process, candidates and clients are politely playing the professional dance when answering one another’s questions. Our job is to translate for both parties. When the meaning is not obvious, it can lead to interpretation and assumptions which cause trouble for the search.

Here are a few examples of a candidate’s potential response to the question “Why are you looking to explore a new position?” and our translations:

“I’m looking for a cultural change”

Translation: Their current culture may be toxic; there may be decisions being made that they do not agree with; their specialty may not be seen as a key instrument for growth in the company and/or not a strategy focus (despite the company saying it is); or there may be little room for advancement.

“I’m looking to be closer to the business or the product”

Translation: They are not seeing the executive sponsorship that would allow them to be closer to the business or working directly to impact the product roadmap. In a CISO’s case, they have a very unique view of the company’s coveted assets; code and data. Because of their view of how things flow, they are looking to add more value to the business in their next challenge.

“I’m looking for the ability to grow and/or mentor a team”

Translation: They are ready to build/manage a team and/or this was promised in their current role, but it stalled or didn’t happen. This could be an up-and-comer who has not been offered the opportunity to manage a team but feels that they are ready or it could be a more tenured candidate who acquired a team (instead of building one) or had a more substantial team in the past and is now a high-paid individual contributor.

“I’m looking for the ability to drive a full strategy/program”

Translation: They were brought in for some specific technical skill or architecture purpose but have not had the opportunity to build the company’s overall security strategy and/or program.  They may have been involved in a small portion, but got a taste of running the full program and want this in their next position.

Please let us know if we can help translate for you.

Tips for Building Your CISO Resume

In the past, we covered how important a strong position description is to setting the company’s expectations for the CISO role. The same can be said for a CISO candidate’s resume or CV when looking for a position. The resume is still the best two-dimensional introduction to the candidate’s security narrative and career trajectory.

If you’re applying for a CISO role, your resume should accomplish three primary goals:

1: Take the reader on your journey

The reader needs to see how you have become a consistent performing leader and how and where you have grown. Make sure to include where you were promoted; how you transformed your position; and how you gained the confidence of the business and other like-minded past executives in past positions.

Tell the reader about the companies you have worked for. How large are they? What market do they operate in? What is their scale? Do not assume that the reader knows. Even if you are working for a well-known company, take the time to explain the group that you are with. For example, if you are with a SaaS company, talk about the scale of the delivery infrastructure, the number and market size of the products, and anything else that allows the reader to evaluate scale. The scale at which your current company operates in is a critical part of the evaluation for an onlooking executive.

2: Clearly define your successes

Share your wins and accomplishments. This is probably the most consistently underperforming part of the CISO resumes that I review. A CISO’s role is very difficult and this is your time to shine. Show what you have accomplished in each of your positions. We like to see facts - specific business results, their impact on the business and how those accomplishments came about. Include specific samples of your security program scale, scope and successes that you and your team were able to accomplish during your tenure. Ask yourself: How did you drive the security programs and strategy? How did you drive security DNA and discipline into the creation of the company’s products and services? What evidence do you have on tying security successes back to the business strategy?

You can answer these and other questions by offering samples of project wins, specific before and after examples, and bullet points that focus on the high-level business impact that occurred as a result of your efforts. When explaining these successes be sure to air on the side of more detail around the scale and scope of the project or program you completed. How you specifically achieved these successes should be discussed during the interview process.

3: Show how you are a sales and business enabler

The need for today’s CISO to be a true sales enabler has never been more important in the evaluation of a CISO candidate. Take the time to explain how you (and don’t forget your team) helped strengthen the company’s product, compliance story, or overall security posture in the community. In addition to proving how you work regularly on both the internal and external sales enablement effort, it is also important to show evidence of your outward facing skills in contributing to the security community. Be sure to highlight specific content you have created, discussions you have led, and panels you have participated on as ways you are working to impact the greater community.

Being able to achieve these goals during the creation and revision of your resume will likely weigh heavy on your evaluators.

A few more quick tips to consider when creating your CISO resume:

LinkedIn versus Resume

We are often asked, “How much detail should you have on LinkedIn versus your resume?” Our suggestion is that the resume and LinkedIn profile mirror one another with the resume including more information and samples of projects or work. We see LinkedIn used by executives to get a quick view of the candidate while the resume is given more time and consideration. Be sure to fully describe anything you list in the summary section of your resume in the appropriate tenure section.

The old ‘two page’ rule

We still receive a lot of questions about this rule. While it is important to stay concise, it is not important to limit yourself to two pages. Add the necessary data and detail to get the point across. If it takes three pages to do that, so be it.

Use facts and figures

This is an important one and something we are constantly reminding senior leaders about. If you cannot quantify your accomplishments than that is a problem. In a resume (or on LinkedIn) you need to specify figures, monetary savings/or spend, and percentages to quantify your work.