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5 things that top CSO candidates need on a resume

Jan 20, 20169 mins

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If all the recent IT hiring surveys are to be believed, chief security officers can expect a pretty sweet year in 2016. Job demand is up. Salaries are way up. And neither trend is expected to slow anytime soon.

Yes, good CSOs can pretty much write their own ticket in 2016. That is, if they can write a good resume.

Despite the growing demand for IT security leaders, IT recruiters confirm that organizations are still very fussy about whom they will bring on board or promote into this key role. A strong background in technology and IT security is a given. But so are business savvy, solid communication skills, top leadership qualities, and demonstrated value.

Notice the use of the word ‘value’ here, not ‘worth.’ Hiring managers want to know what a CSO candidate has done to help protect corporate assets, increase revenues, cut costs, and provide ROI.

So how does the CSO candidate pass muster when it comes to an effective resume? CSO Magazine put that question to several HR and technology leaders that hire CSOs or track the firms that do. These experts offered the following collective advice on the five things that top CSO candidates must do with a resume.

Tip 1 – Can you ditch the cover letter?

Interestingly, the first set of advice offered wasn’t about the resume at all, but about cover letters. All five IT staffing experts agreed that the use of cover letters is on the decline with many senior level IT professionals. They disagreed on whether that is a good thing.

[ MORE RESUME HELP: CSO resumes: 5 tips to make yours shine ]

The deciding factor may be whether the CSO candidate is sending out a paper resume, applying for a job online, or using a headhunter. They may also be surprised to learn that even if they do include a cover letter, it may be getting tossed by the executive recruiter anyway.

“When a client hires us to recruit for them, when we are sending in a resume, we delete the cover letter,” explains Ann King, cofounder of CVPartners, a subsidiary of Addison Group. King’s colleagues are also likely to rework the resume itself, sending the client resume 2.0 if you will.

“We fix it all up in a format that is easy for the client to read, with a nice progression from [the candidate’s] education on up to current times, their current job being first. The cover letter – we just get rid of it. Attached to the resume we send a short bio of what our thoughts are on this candidate and why they’re a good fit. The cover letter is fluffy. The client is just interested in what companies these guys have worked for; what they’re doing now; how their experience is relevant to the search – getting right into the meat of the resume.”

But not everyone agrees, especially since many CSO candidates may be new to an IT management role, and they really have to sell themselves.

“What that cover letter allows you to do is go beyond your resume,” explains Kelly Workman, a vice president at OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half International. “It’s an added exclamation point on the resume. It gives you a chance to highlight your written communication skills and a little bit more of your style. If you think of it, your resume is bullet-pointed and very meat-and-potatoes. A cover letter will allow you to express yourself a little bit more; show your interest level in the job; and really allow [the employer] to see how well you can communicate yourself and your eagerness for the job.”

Tip 2 — Tell your ‘story’

Hiring managers aren’t only interested in what job titles a CSO candidate has held. Certainly, they want to know the candidate’s exposure to relevant technology and security systems and tools. But they also want to hear about projects the candidate has worked on; teams they have led; and what they have contributed to each organization’s success.

“Overall, the underlying thing when you get to the executive level is how can that person impact the business – what was their ROI and contribution to the business,” confirms Rona Borre, CEO of Instant Alliance, an IT staffing and executive search firm in Chicago.

“When you get to the executive level, a resume has to tell a story,” Borre says. “[Employers] want to see strong education in their backgrounds, that they have advanced degrees. It sounds so basic, but that’s what employers want to see.”

Also, “What is the story behind this person? Do they come from a good pedigree? Can they tell a story about the ROI of their contribution, or what they saved the business, or how they were able to turn the business around, and give specific values to that? Also what kind of tools did they use, and what kind of technology choices did they make to further the business.”

Pay close attention to gaps in your resume, Ann King advises CSOs. Recruiters will pick up on them and want to know why they’re there.

“They’re not always bad,” King confirms, but “Make sure you can speak to them well and confidently.”

[ MORE ON CSO: Prospective security employees see too many low-ball offers ]

Tip 3 – Talk up the ‘right’ technologies

All of the staffing experts agreed that the largest mistake CSOs – and many other IT professionals – make on their resume is to list virtually every system, computer, device, or software application they’ve ever worked with. That is data overkill and a turnoff to the recruiter, they all confirm.

“I’ve seen technical people list every single application or hardware that they worked with throughout their whole career,” notes Kathy Jeffery, vice president of human resources at Sport Vision in Chicago. “When they put too much on it hiring managers might be worried, thinking ‘well, this person is a know-it-all and they probably haven’t worked on some of those things in five years.”

Still, the CSO candidate should demonstrate that they have experience with, or at least understanding of, the key technologies and tools around IT security, and the systems and software that the employer uses.

“People are looking for a detailed overview of your network security experience; what you’ve done with firewall administration; how you’ve used various encryption technologies; things you’ve done from a network protocol perspective – those are all areas that you want to touch on in your technical expertise,” explains John Reed, senior executive at Robert Half Technology.

“The other piece is that you understand how to diagnose security issues and are able to develop strategies around them,” Reed says.

“One other area that also comes up, is that people want to highlight any experience they have around government regulations, or around security for their particular industry, highlighting what they’ve done there. If they have any certifications like CISSP, they want to list that. If they’re highlighting those things, they’re going to hit the hot buttons for the client,” Reed says.

Tip 4 — Focus on performance

A CSO’s resume should reflect their ability to make decisions (both technology and business), generate support for those decisions, and get things done.

“They should focus on performance in the cover letter or the resume,” Workman explains. “A hiring manager wants to know if [the CSO] already knows the job, especially if they’re looking for someone with experience. Or they want to know that the person is resourceful enough to get things done. So anything that a candidate can list on their resume around achievements or accomplishments that are similar to what they are looking for in their job is usually beneficial.”

The CSO role is a key one, and hiring managers want to know how a candidate’s thought process works.

“What happens is that you get into a typical meeting or interview and [hiring managers] are not asking the typical questions of ‘why did you leave this job,’ and ‘what are your career aspirations,’ and ‘what kind of career path do you want to be on,” Reed explains.

“It’s more about, ‘tell us about some of the business problems that you’ve solved?’ ‘What was your approach?’ ‘What tools did you use?’ ‘What was the outcome?’ ‘What did you learn from that?’ ‘Based on what you know about our industry, what do you think are some of the immediate opportunities that we should focus on?”

“You want to retool your resume to tell that story.” Reed says. “Do it at a very high level, because you have to be brief. Talk about the nature of the project, what the outcome was, what the benefits to the business were.”

Tip 5—Stress the bottom line: your ‘value’

According to the 2016 Technology Salary Survey released last month by Robert Half Technology, CSOs have the fastest growing pay rates in IT. That is a reflection of the growing demand for CSOs, the shortage of experienced ones in the job market, and the greater emphasis being placed on systems and data security by virtually everyone.

That is certainly good news for the CSO job candidate. But it also raises the stakes on how the candidate justifies a salary offer of what may approach a quarter million dollars in the right circumstances.

“If you have individuals that are able to demonstrate a tangible ROI with their skill set, they’re able to have more negotiating fire power,” Reed stresses. “For example, if I’m talking to you and I say, ‘At the last company I worked at I was able to put a data analytics package together that helped us improve our collections, or grow our sales by 15 percent, or reduce our costs by X — when you’re able to give those success stories you put yourself in a position where people look at you and say, OK, you’re not just an expense, you can actually help us add to the bottom line.”

Finally, as a bonus tip, Workman reminds CSO candidates to really highlight their softer side.

“IT can get a reputation for being not the best communicators, not the best people persons,” Workman says. “Today’s projects involve a lot of collaboration. Talk about working with teams, about bringing them together, and maybe leading a team. That is extremely important in terms of making you stand out in your field.”