People matter: How to solve security skills shortage challenges

July 19, 2021 6 minute read

The skills shortage in the security industry stretches as far back as we can remember having an industry. Everyone knows it’s a challenge with no easy short-term solutions.

The root of the security skills shortage gap remains murky, and some observers say the pandemic and reallocations of security resources could be widening that gap.

The recent spate of high-profile breaches and ransomware attacks have made the argument that companies must make security employee recruitment a top priority if they haven’t already. Though there are many good universities graduating skilled job candidates every year, they have not kept up with surging demand. Fortune 1000 companies with deep pockets can use high salaries to attract top-tier talent while everyone else must rely on other differentiators like company mission, people, and location.

Most companies are in a constant state of playing technical catch-up. For decades they have retained a significant amount of technical debt and manage legacy and fragile systems. The need for competent cyber security professionals grows as technical debt grows and the frequency of incidents increases.

When I look to attract new talent at Yubico, I ask, “What’s our differentiator? What makes a person want to work here rather than anywhere else?” A candidate should never leave an interview without knowing Yubico’s mission, what makes us different, our philosophy on building a team and why we’re successful. 

That means that when I talk to a candidate, I want to get a sense of what they want as much as I want to sell them on the Yubico mission. Through the process of asking the right questions, you’re signaling important differentiators to that job candidate.

Example Questions for Security Industry Specialist Candidates

  • Do you want to have a material impact with the work you do?
  • Is that impact measurable across the security industry? 
  • Do you want your ideas heard and passed on to senior leadership? 
  • Is work-life balance important to you?

If a prospect answers yes to any of these questions, you’d better be ready with all the concrete reasons why your company will help that person have a measurable impact and still have a personal life. It’s important to outline this “impact trade-off” for those candidates that are early in their career. Would you rather be one of many or do you want to be on a leaner team where you have a real impact on mission-critical initiatives every day?

Silicon Valley culture often encourages the “turn-and-burn” model, where everyone strives to get to a FANG company, do a grueling tour of duty, and then move on because they feel they’ve burnished their resumes enough to advance somewhere else. But smaller companies can offer something better than that — a place to grow, keep a work-life balance, get promoted, and have a real impact.

Ultimately, though, employee recruitment is about people and the relationships they have in the workplace. You go to work for a person, not a brand or a company. Most people want to work for a good leader and work with someone whose philosophy aligns with yours. Ideally, you are working for someone who you want to become someday, a true mentor. That may not be possible on every team, but honing mentorship skills is a good goal for managers that can become part of a permanent company culture over time. 

There are a few best practices I find useful for attracting and retaining the best talent in the security industry. This won’t address the skill shortage in cyber security, but it may give you a better chance of attracting top talent.

7 Best Practices for Attracting Talent During a Security Skills Shortage

  1. Source candidates from geographic markets that are underserved, and create remote-friendly positions so you can hire all over the world. Look outside traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley. 
  2. Talk up your company’s outsized impact in the industry, and how an employee can be a bigger fish at a smaller company. Motivated individuals want to know that their ideas could reach the CEO. You want that motivated person!
  3. Don’t bother competing with big tech. Job candidates who already have their sights set on the giants may not be a good fit at a smaller company because they aren’t looking for those kinds of opportunities. Explain to first-job seekers that a job role with generalized duties is one where they can learn more and grow faster than they would as a specialist at a larger company. 
  4. Find people early in their careers, then invest in them. Those people with potential could turn into “A-team players” with time and be more valuable than a candidate who is already highly skilled but will only ever be a “B or C-team player.” 
  5. Sometimes aptitude and attitude traits matter more than specific skills with a set of tools. Skills can be learned on the job. But you want to start with someone who’s highly motivated, passionate, capable, curious, independent and is comfortable with ambiguity.
  6. Internal candidates that are familiar with the mission and team are a great source for new hires. Training and awareness programs can seed interest and passion in employees. Implement education programs with the intent of attracting internal transfers.
  7. High performing teams are diverse teams so interview with an open mind and check your bias. Individuals with different backgrounds and experiences will add fresh perspectives and ideas to the team. Bias about candidates may lead to assumptions about their abilities, passion, or background. Recognition of bias allows us to actively work to address them. You’ll end up with a more diverse and higher performing team with candidates that are a culture add instead of just a culture fit.

Meet the YubiTeam! At Yubico, we believe in fostering an inclusive, supportive environment that allows our team members to collaborate closely with one another to provide innovative solutions for game-changing internet security. We thrive on curiosity and exploration, both of which are highly encouraged by our leadership team as they are the foundation of our product offerings. Interested in joining the team? Check out our careers page here.