Cybersecurity recruitment: Attracting hard-to-find applicants and diverse college grads

Posted April 02, 2018 by


We had an excellent panel discussion with experts who have years of experience in cybersecurity recruitment. They had insight into where to look for new talent, how and why to broaden your funnel, what has changed with Gen Z candidates, and how to attract the diverse talent you need. Our panelists were Pete Bugnatto, a strategic talent sourcing specialist at Lockheed Martin; Melissa Baur, Managing Partner at The Georgetown Firm; and Steven Rothberg, President and Founder of College Recruiter.

There is more demand than ever for professionals in cybersecurity. Pete Bugnatto of Lockheed Martin says there is simply more security needed. Now, just about everything needs to be secure and cybersecurity is more built in, rather than bolted on, to systems.

Build candidate personas to recruit cybersecurity

In his experience recruiting, Bugnatto has seen more crossover recently between traditional cybersecurity skill sets with software engineers, systems engineers and others. Cybersecurity really “involves every skill set when you think about the whole system.”

What does that mean for recruiters? You must craft different messages that will resonate with the different candidates you’re trying to attract. Your message to attract malware engineers will be different than your message to attract information insurance or risk management framework people. “It’s not one size fits all,” says Bugnatto.

Melissa Baur of The Georgetown Firm helps her clients look at psychometric analysis and personality tests that give them a picture of who your ideal candidate is and what resonates with them. This is important because you might want, for example, “a software engineer who is capable of understanding this form of code and is able to do penetration testing.” But if you compare those traits with your pool of applicants, you might find that the software engineering majors don’t bring the skills or traits you need. A different major might actually offer more.

Building your talent pool and widening your recruiting funnel

This is why Bugnatto looks in unexpected places to find candidates. More often than not, he says, cybersecurity candidates need certain certification or security clearances. When people receive these certifications, they tend to share their accomplishments on social media. Bugnatto looks for that on Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter and reaches out to them.

These hard skills come first, says Bugnatto, simply because cybersecurity candidates must have certain technical skills. Plus, you just can’t do an effective Boolean search for soft skills. However, once he builds his talent pool of candidates, he does a deeper dive to find the right soft skills.

Many employers still have a short list of top schools from which they recruit. Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter reminds us, however, that students at those elite schools receive more hand holding from career services, so they will be more prepared for the job search. Students from a non-traditional talent pool, say from community colleges or vocational schools, may not receive that same level of support. However, says Rothberg, more employers are looking to broaden their entry-level talent pool beyond those top schools. The employers who do that, says Rothberg, have realized what their data say about quality of hire. When you analyze productivity data, you might find that the quality of entry-level hires is not related with the school they attended.

In addition to looking beyond top schools, employers should expand their targeted majors. Rothberg points out that there are students with a liberal arts degree who are awesome developers. There are students who never went to college and “in their spare time in high school they built apps with their friends.” Rothberg gets requests from employers to target cybersecurity majors, and has to remind them that there just aren’t that many out there. By widening your recruiting funnel you will find candidates who may not meet all your requirements, but that’s what assessments are for. In addition, by hiring someone who is just off the center of your target, you might end up with an employee who is more coachable and adaptable, with the ability to change along with your organization.

Related: Recruitment methods for non-traditional students

Baur challenges employers to question their assumptions about their candidate pool. She has helped employers to do surveys and assessments to validate (or not validate) what they believe about their candidates. This especially becomes important as recruiters look to their current college talent, which will now be Gen Z until the year 2033. Baur recounts one client who was trying to attract millennials, but after doing an assessment they discovered that their talent pool had changed in the last two years. That pool of Gen Z candidates require different messaging.

Gen Z is different from millennials in important ways

Employers who are focused on millennial characteristics are missing important changes, says Rothberg. Being digital natives, your Gen Z candidates want information from you now, and they want it where they already are. One mistake Rothberg sees is when employers create great recruiting videos and then don’t upload them to YouTube.

Gen Z has been very affected by national and global social challenges. They think school shootings are normal, their generation is defined by the financial crisis, and the U.S. has been at war their entire lives. Therefore, Gen Z is more pragmatic, says Baur. They are looking for security and benefits like 401(k) or a pensions. They might look for 10 different jobs, but they will stay at one employer to perform those 10 jobs. Compare that to millennials, says Baur, who are likely to change employers more often. Rothberg agrees. “They are much more into security than older millennials. They are much more likely to want to take a job with a Fortune 1,000 company than a startup.”

Watch Steven Rothberg present “New Strategies to Engage Gen Z and other modern candidates”

At Lockheed, Bugnatto and his team are adjusting their recruitment campaigns to attract Gen Z. They produce more videos, for one. They often replace regular emails with video messaging, and they produce video job descriptions. This makes them more attractive not just to Gen Z, but to everyone. Bugnatto advises other recruiters to get their cybersecurity professionals involved as they craft their messaging. These candidates don’t want to hear from recruiters, he says. A message from a cybersecurity professional will go over much better than a message from a recruiter.

A big mistake employers make is to create a great recruiting video and then never upload it to YouTube.

Diversity in cybersecurity recruitment

“Difference in messaging matters,” says Baur. Many employers want to attract more women to cybersecurity roles. Smart employers know to adjust the actual wording in their job postings. Certain terms in your job postings will turn women off, says Baur. Catchy phrases like “best of the best” will cause women to pass you by. Many women see that and self-select out, “rather than apply and get rejected.” But if women see in your posting that you’re looking for creative, collaborative or imaginative candidates, they are more likely to apply. Research has shown that if women don’t feel they meet nearly all of your job requirements, they won’t apply. Men, on the other hand, will apply when they feel they meet 60% – 70%. Baur says employers can and should adjust their posting language so that their message is attractive to women.

Related: Diversity in the workplace: Recruitment tips and tactics

Don’t forget about the images you project in your recruitment materials. Your imagery needs to match the candidates you want to attract. If you want to attract Latinos, says Baur, and none of your images include Latinos, you’re not going to do well with that population of talent.

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