August 18, 2017


Author: Jerry Brennan  

Paper cutouts of a group of people. An Educated Guess: Pathways to Advance Your Security Career

Questions surrounding the best educational route into the security field are hard to answer. They are made even more difficult by the global nature of today’s corporations and security management careers.

Companies often struggle to define the education profile of the perfect security management candidate. Similarly, people interested in entering the security field often don’t see a clear academic pathway into it. Determining the best education option is also a question for security practitioners who are focused on career advancement. The best educational choices are driven by a few key considerations.

Countries have different education systems in place. In the US, we don’t often see candidates who have gone directly from high school into a security management degree program. In fact, there are still few degree programs available with a security focus while others are still in the early stage of development. Therefore, we more often see undergrads with degrees in criminal justice, police science or public administration who then go on to pursue advanced degrees in security management once they are working in a related field.

Differing Educational Systems

This can be contrasted with education options in countries like the UK that started degree and diploma programs in security management in the 1990s. In addition to well-established curricula, the UK and more than 45 other countries have national qualification frameworks in place that specify and connect the various levels and credit values of a wide variety of qualifications.

Requirements for some security positions in these countries specify that candidates be educated to a specific level within one of these frameworks rather than identify an exact degree requirement. However, most senior security management positions in these countries prefer or require a university degree, especially if the position is with a large multinational organization where degrees are required regardless of where jobs are located. Entry into the security profession solely through education could become more common as degree programs become more available. Regardless of country, today most corporate security candidates find their start in the profession through their previous work with various government agencies.

The Public Sector

Most agencies now require a degree for entry. Degrees upon entry are broad and often unrelated to an individual’s security-related role in the agency because they have continued to develop proficiency via time in position, training and experience. We most often see candidates who have joined an agency and moved into a role that is directly relevant to a second career in corporate security.

Candidates coming into a corporate security role from the public sector have often funded their degree and/or post graduate work through employer education reimbursement programs. Additionally, they may have achieved certification from relevant accredited associations and developed professional networks that will serve them well in their private sector roles. This combination of education, training in tactical skills and management, experience working in complex organizations and strong professional networks makes them formidable competition for security management roles.

In the future, declaring a major in security management may be attractive to someone who hopes to get a degree and go directly into a position in the security profession. Even with extended time in related advanced degrees, this is clearly a faster route than gaining relevant experience on the job in the public sector

Young Professionals

In the US, university graduates leaving school with both undergraduate and graduate degrees likely will carry substantial student debt. Salaries for entry- to mid-level security managers without real-world experience are modest, and the challenge becomes how to acquire a job with a salary that offers the opportunity for a good quality of life and room to pay off loans. Additionally, hiring organizations often look at a candidate’s most recent salary before making an offer, and younger recent graduates without experience are inevitably at a disadvantage in this case.

While CSO or Head of Security positions can certainly come with robust compensation packages, the entry- and mid-level salaries have not kept pace. There is often a large gap in compensation between the top security position and the rest of the security organization. Multinational organizations are often a good choice for younger security professionals, as they usually offer a wider range of positions across a larger geographic area, usually with a more competitive entry-level salary.

Large corporations also often fund advanced degrees for employees which offers another avenue to further education in the field. However, not all companies have defined career paths within their security organizations that can make use of advanced degrees.

The exceptions for younger graduates are in the areas of IT security and cyber security. Organizations globally are suffering from a lack of educated, qualified people to fill an ever-increasing roster of jobs. Degree programs are rapidly becoming available. There are a plethora of certificate and diplomas available to support even faster entry, and association certifications are multiplying almost weekly. For a recent university graduate, this sector of the security field offers increased entry-level salaries and hiring incentives.

Different Routes for Top Candidates

When selecting the best security talent, often the top candidates being considered have all travelled different educational roads to achieve their success. Competition for these roles can be fierce and employers often need to look beyond conventional education pathways to determine the best qualified candidates. As formal education options increase, the balance may shift in the future in favor of formal degree programs and qualification frameworks. However, for the immediate future, hiring managers should expect to see that their top security candidates have taken different approaches to education and career advancement.

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