Has anyone experienced or noted what has become the standard in the recruitment of commercial, executive security management roles in recent years? I’m talking about the Global, VP, Regional or Multi-jurisdiction roles for security professionals? A sad, dangerous and routinely wrong process has become commonplace as commercial entities seek out security leadership and executive management professionals.

Over the past 15-20 years there has been a gradual decline in the professional standing of “security” experts, in the eyes of companies, in the eyes of HR departments and even in the eyes of fellow “security professionals”. It is still mostly regarded and qualified as a “non-technical” discipline, even for those that hold graduate and post graduate qualifications. Post 9/11 there was a rush to get “security” expertise into the commercial business space [despite it being available and present for decades prior] and the elevation of security experts to C-Suite levels within the company. Companies appreciated the complex and technical inputs that were required and that the vocation was not something that they could just assign to a senior manager or risk being managed by a security guard. This was the beginning of the end in some regards. Far too many that flowed into the commercial sector from the government, intelligence, police and military failed to effectively contribute and thrive in the commercial sector. Former Generals, Police Commissioners, Colonels, spies, soldiers, and numerous other pedigrees or ranks populated the space and were part of the commercial failings, ultimately being seen as “the cost centre” guys, always wanting more budget to buy stuff, build fences, deploy security guards and make it “harder” for the business to operate as they had before. They also spent too much time and effort on doing their past jobs, trying to win wars, chasing terrorist cells, policing communities and pursuit of bad guys, which all too often is not what the business really needs and will run out of patience and acceptance over time, firing the individual and likely either not replacing them at the previous level or reduce the responsibility to that of middle to junior management. Compounding this was that many could not maintain business and commercial representation within the C-Suite or executive management levels such as the management of money, people, assets and so, which was then reassigned to other departments, whilst they retained title and status as a “subject matter expert” with little influence or standing within the business. The result is that in many countries, businesses and regions there are LESS or even NO executive security professionals that have a seat within the C-Suite or direct access to this group. This is an important historical overview of past failings as it is starting to repeat, as history has a tendency to do.

Recent international events, wars, politics and terrorism incidents have forced commercial entities to reevaluate the role of security professionals and their value within the organization. Only a little….because nothing REALLY bad has happened to the company or their people…yet. Furthermore, there are a lot of executive managers that witnessed/experienced the aforementioned post 9/11 issues within the security profession and don’t want anything to do with “security” again as a result. They saw no value in it then and they don’t see any value in it now. They also haven’t encountered a security professional that contributed to business and commercial growth of the business. All they encountered where business inhibitors, not business enablers. Sadly.

So what has all this got to do with the recruitment of executive security professionals?

Companies are attempting to recruit senior executive security professionals through the same online portal as new graduates and those entering the workforce for the first time. This is not solely a failing for security professionals but nearly any executive management role. It is highly unlikely the company will EVER find the best person for the role using this approach. Whilst it may be expedient and time-saving for HR, it is at the loss of talent and suitable candidates for the business needs.

HR and finance have influenced the budget allocation for executive security positions with a claim that “anyone could do it, including local nationals” which results in the total exclusion of the BEST people for the role, whilst seeking out the CHEAPEST available option. We all know how that works out over time and it further contributes to the negative view of the profession that occurred previously. There are very capable and appropriate local nationals for executive security management roles but they are very far and few between and have usually accumulated the required skills and experience outside of their home country/locale, often not wishing to return to national roles again.

If you were to assign one executive to manage and possess all the disciplines for HR, finance, law, safety, operations and general management you would immediately identify just how crazy that idea was and unlikely to succeed. However, that is exactly what happens with “security”. Security is a catch-all for ANYTHING a layman thinks is related to security. Investigations, IT security, cyber security, security guarding, CCTV, cash in transit, audits, reviews….you name it…it’s all “security”. So finding the single person that does all this is often a folly from the beginning. Alternatively, because IT/Cyber security is a hot issue at present, they only invest in that technical vertical, in addition to them then managing all the “other security stuff”. Again, predictably poor outcome.

Far too many security professionals aren’t suitably skilled in general management, commercial enterprise, and commercial undertakings. The business will either find out after they fall short of expectation, remove that as a function which means the individual has no power or ability to actually get anything done within the business or will exclude them entirely from the planning and development stages of the business activities, resulting in a never ending rush to clean up the problem and failings, after the fact. This concept is doomed from the beginning yet it still dominates the recruitment process.

Every business, industry, and profession have their own vocabulary and related language which they believe to be unique and not replicated in any other sector. “Finance is not like Oil and Gas” or “We do things very differently here in the retail sector” are just some of the claims you hear over time. Finance, HR, IT and numerous other technical disciplines cross over industries and contribute in effective and meaningful ways. At some point, someone foolishly believed the executive security professionals couldn’t do the same. “Must have 10 yrs finance/banking experience” is far less likely to be true or necessary than the gatekeepers might believe. These mistakes sadly are often perpetrated by other security specialists, trying to keep or retain a “boys club” type mentality. This over-emphasis on industry specific or only experience excludes many extremely valuable candidates and weakens the business/industry with in-breeding overtime.

There are those internal HR departments that acknowledge that they don’t know the first thing about security or what is really required so they outsource the recruitment. This often amplifies all the problems and mistakes noted so far, even further reducing the likelihood of finding the right candidate or the business benefiting from the expertise of the BEST candidate. Furthermore, the exceptionally poor customer service and people management practices of so many of these recruitment firms result in many executive security professionals refraining from entertaining any opportunities posed by the firm or recruitment company as they know just how poor the process will be from the outset.

Applicants and prospective candidates don’t help the process either. Throwing their hat into the ring for consideration, even though they fall well short of the requirements of the role. Yes, sometimes the role is poorly positioned and the company doesn’t really know what they NEED, just what they have for now decided upon what they WANT. This isn’t an invitation to flood selectors with your lack of suitability or an opportunity to “talk your way in” to a more senior or better paying role.

Sadly there is a tendency for too much emphasis on police, government, intelligence and military pedigree. Yes, there are roles and times where this pedigree is ideal but rarely is going directly from any of these past roles into an executive security management role effective or successful. Commercial security is simply a different animal and requirement, especially on the business side of the equation. Impressive former titles, rank, units, specialties, etc may have nothing to do with what is required and in some instances act as significant inhibitors. Anyone who has become accustomed or conditioned by any job, government sector or public service is at a disadvantage in the initial transition. This includes those that took a few business courses during their service.

Education and qualifications feature in the list of errors too. Validation and confirmation of learning are effective in any technical profession but the quality and composition of many “security” courses is still underdeveloped. There is even an entire economy established to create, deliver and up-sell “security” courses and content. Whilst it has been very profitable for vendors and organizations that have stamped a particular standard or qualification as the industry benchmark, this is not the case. Implementing top line filters into the recruitment process around certain courses, education standards, and qualifications will not generate the best results. All too often, the best or most suitable candidates have been doing the prescribed roles and responsibilities for a long time, without any documented education courses. This is not easily identified by systems that don’t have humans reviewing candidates such as the growing number of HR recruitment software and other metadata aggregators that search for particular skills and qualifications. Regrettably, many security professionals don’t know how the system works either so they don’t add specific keywords and experiences, which in return don’t appear in computer generated short lists either. You can’t close out education without noting that there are those that have simply purchased a qualification by way of liberal vendors or undertaking a standardized test…..as opposed to those that have actually done the role and developed the skills in the commercial sector. Lastly, far too often, those leaving the government, military, police and intelligence sectors don’t have any commercial equivalent qualifications or have a series of incremental, demonstrable educational certificates. This can be both restrictive for the candidate seeking commercial offers and be confusing for recruiters as they have to understand the skills and experience and transfer opportunities that don’t come conveniently wrapped in a single qualification or educational course for their consideration.

Often, some of the biggest mistakes and prejudices result from recruitment of executive security management roles that involve or are led by the outgoing/former individual. Their view of the role may be far too narrow, exclusive and even weighted to their own personal beliefs rather than that of the business’ needs. They may play favorites, introduce obscure standards, water down the role, surrender key skills/experience, preference former titles/pedigree or simply do a poor job because they haven’t had prior experience in the recruitment of executive security management positions before.

Having been involved, participated in and subjected to executive security management recruitment over the past 17 years I have seen and experienced many of these mistakes, over and over again. Despite the odds, some companies find the best available security professional from time to time but the overall mechanism is poor at best. This has only been compounded in recent years by online recruitment platforms and advertising such as LinkedIn, job sites, etc. Companies need to approach executive security management recruitment in much the same manner as they do for comparable executive positions within the company, not a buffet style approach used for volumes of fresh graduates. Security professional need to get better at communicating and conveying their ACTUAL skills and experiences, rather than those supported by a vendor endorsed course of qualification. Above all, both parties need to address and acknowledge the ULTIMATE requirement…business and commercial relevance. If the security professional is not adaptive to the commercial demands of the business and able to empower the business to make informed choices affecting their security of assets, they will fail and the business will be at risk. If the business recruits someone that uses the same standardized approach and recommendations, taken from a manual or technical standards resource, the business is at significantly more risk that it realizes. Investment in a better process or recruitment will only yield better candidates and result in the best available security professional. A win-win outcome for all.


Tony Ridley

Travel Safety Experts
Travel Safety Experts

Travel health, safety, security and risk management experts