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How to stand out in information security

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What does it really to take to rise to the top of our field? Many people haven’t even thought about it. For others, it’s not a priority or they’ve yet to take specific actions to move ahead. Many people have simply been too busy with work and home life to ponder this question. Regardless of whether or not it’s a priority for you to rise to the top of the field, the effects of such efforts can certainly benefit you throughout the journey.

One thing that I realized about a third of the way into my career is that I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to call the shots, set my own schedule, and be able to define where I ended up at the end of my career. Knowing that I was going out on my own, I had to create a competitive advantage in order to stand out above the noise. In a sheer stroke of luck, I happened to read an article in my local business journal written by sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer regarding what it takes to succeed in sales. Jeffrey said that if you’re going to try to sell others on your products or services, then you’re going to have to build your credibility. He suggested that you build your credibility through writing and speaking. I wasn’t terribly crazy about that idea. Still, I bought into what Jeffrey said and stuck with it. With hindsight, I now know that I would not have traded that decision for the world.

My goals are still a work in progress and I can’t help but notice when others working in information security really stand out in their job roles. Some people have very positive traits that I want to model myself after. Others can be quite negative. These traits – both good and bad – can not only define where you end up in the field of information security but also determine the quality of your career along way. I know that writing and speaking to get your name out there and build credibility is not for everyone, and that’s okay. Of course, most people don’t work for themselves either so perhaps there are differing goals. However, if you want to get ahead and maintain forward momentum, you’re going to have to work on it every day.

The following things really stand out to me in terms of building credibility, developing relationships, and keeping others on your side for the long haul in information security:

  • Listen – listen to what other people are saying. You’ll not only hear their wants and needs from their perspectives but, if you have an open mind, you’ll learn new ideas that can benefit you directly.
  • Understand – understand what other people are going through in order to accomplish their work. Something important that we have to remember is that everything is not about IT and security. It’s just as important to align with the goals of the business.
  • Communicate – communicate well, both verbally and in writing even if it means taking courses, reading books, or listening to audio programs in order to get better. This alone can make, break, or otherwise limit one’s capacity to do well in security.
  • Develop – develop your technical and business skills continuously over time. Many of us in IT (myself included) have a tendency to assume that we know almost everything and don’t need to learn new things. This belief is dangerous for long-term career growth.
  • Provide value – provide value to other people you work with or want to work with to show them that you’re not just selfishly going through the motions to earn a paycheck. Instead, you’re doing what it takes to work as part of a larger unit to make the business successful.

Even if you just focused on one or two of these items, you would certainly stand out above your peers (or competition) in information security. I know it doesn’t always seem like we are competing but one thing that you can never ever forget is that we all work in sales. We are always trying to get people to buy into what we’re saying, what we’re doing, and what we’re planning on doing. If you go about your work believing that you are “just” an IT your information security professional, you’re going to come across as Nick Burns from Saturday Night Live. If the goal is to make advancements in IT and security, that’s not where any of us need to be.

One of the most important things you can learn about people is that they do things for their reasons and not for yours. If you can focus all of your efforts, including the items listed above, with this in mind, you can help others get what they want while, at the same time, you’re getting what you want. Society often teaches us is that things life is a zero-sum game. That’s absolutely not true. There’s enough good to go around for everyone. However, it’s only going to happen to those who choose to better themselves. The alternative is if you keep doing what you’ve been doing in your career you’re just going to end up with what you’ve already gotten. Is that how you want to spend the rest of your career? It certainly doesn’t sound fun to me.

You want to stand out in the field of information security – just make sure you’re standing out in a good way. Study these areas. Look further into the subject of emotional intelligence. Learn how to make yourself a little bit better every year and your earning potential will be unlimited and the opportunities will present themselves around practically every corner.

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