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Why you need more than money to get top security talent

Mar 01, 20167 mins
IT JobsIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

David Darrow from CSID explains how to attract and retain security talent in highly competitive markets with something other than money

Is money the answer to the struggle for security talent?

While some people claim salary is their motivator, it’s not that simple. And in many situations, there is only so much money you can offer. What happens when you can’t pay any more money?

It boils down to creating a culture and offering people something beyond the paycheck.

As a security leader, what can you do to attract and retain the right talent?

David Darrow (LinkedIn), Senior Director People and Culture at CSID (Twitter), knows. His background ranges from working in early-stage to large, mature companies with a focus on building teams and organizations, recruiting and retaining great talent, compensation and benefits and international HR.

CSID recently announced a generous program for parental leave. Then I learned they also offer unlimited vacation. The more we talked, the more it seemed like a cool place to work. Based in Austin, they are in a highly competitive environment.

Their success in finding and keeping smart people holds insights for all security leaders.

You’re in a highly competitive market for talent. How important is culture in finding and retaining the right talent? Is that why you now offer paid family leave?

I’d argue that Austin is one of the most competitive markets in the U.S. for talent, especially technical talent. With an unemployment rate hovering around 3.1%, it’s this competitive landscape
that is really starting to put some healthy pressure on employers to be at the top of their game. We love that it’s encouraged a lot more thinking from Austin employers around the benefits they’re offering and reflecting more broadly on their company culture as a whole. It’s “upped-the-ante” for all companies in Austin, and we’re all better for it.

Culture has become critical in attracting and retaining talent. Gone are the days when fully stocked refrigerators and foosball tables were enough to attract smart, dedicated employees. The right talent today, at least for us, are looking for more than gimmicks, they want compensation and benefits that improve their quality of life, an interesting work environment, and smart people that are nice to work with.

For us at CSID, empowering our employees to achieve balance in their lives – whatever that may mean for them – has always been central to our corporate philosophy. Our parental leave policy isn’t something out of the blue for us, but rather an extension of that corporate philosophy. We’ve offered an open, flexible vacation policy for several years and have other alternative benefits that we feel allow our employees to balance work and life in a way that makes sense for them.

What’s the timeline and cost consideration for offering a program like this?

The conversations around the parental leave program started for us a few years ago, though the recent moves from Facebook and others helped to serve as a validation point as we worked to firm up our plans and recognize that now was the time to move forward. It’s important to note that this wasn’t a policy that was rolled out overnight, it took years of planning, listening to our employees, and really reflecting on what we could offer as a company that would differentiate us as an employer of choice.

The overall cost of the program, in terms of employees not contributing to the work efforts of the leave period, is going to be offset, in our opinion, by both the ability to retain these talented, valued employees and also our ability to attract new talent. When you look at the costs associated with turnover, we feel those are significantly more powerful. We believe this program will support our retention to such a degree that any lost time will be more than overcome by our loyal employees and also the new talent attracted by this policy.

Is it possible to meet the needs of everyone when offering programs like this?

In an ideal world, employers would be able to offer benefits to accommodate the specific needs of everyone in their company, but we know that this just isn’t the case. What companies can, and should, do is think very carefully about the ways they can reach the broadest range of their employee demographic while also providing value to the business. We believe that companies shouldn’t go too heavily in one direction; they should focus on casting a wider net of benefits that both aligns with their corporate philosophies and resonates with their employees.

In this context for us specifically, we wanted to roll out a program that would be appealing to male and female technical talent as we’re looking to grow that population of our company. We knew the policy would also be huge from a retention perspective and valued by most, if not all, employees because it provides them with the flexibility to spend time with their families. At CSID, we feel talent that shares this set of values makes the best fit at our company.

How do you measure success?

One of the biggest indicators of success will be retention: does this policy have an impact on employees making the decision to stay with us? We’ll also look at program utilization: how many of our employees are actually using the 12-weeks and distributing it over six months? We’ll also look, in a broader business sense, at how we’re doing as a company and the extent to which we might be able to tie company success to the program.

We also poll our employees formally on an annual basis, and informally as much as possible, so we’ll be looking for direct feedback from them on the perceived success of the program.  

Our applicant pool for our technical positions increased by 26% per position versus last January and we believe part of this increase is due to the policy change. In fact we received more applicants in January than ever before. Many of the candidates we speak to mention that this policy attracted them to the company, and also brought their attention to our other program offerings like flexible, open vacation policy and 401(k) match. We think this a huge indicator of early success of the program, and love that it’s brought new tech talent our way.

Based on your experience, what advice can you offer to security leaders on a first step to create the culture that attracts and retains the talent they seek?

The first step is getting executives aligned around cultural beliefs and values for the company. Getting everyone on the same page, or at least, as close to the same page as possible, is critical. What do we stand for as a business? What type of people do we want to surround ourselves with? What are our values? We need to ask these questions before trying to define our culture. Your corporate philosophy needs to be baked in to your company culture, and the benefits you offer to your employees should be an extension of this.

On a more micro level, as an HR professional, I see so many amazing, and often free, programs and resources offered by healthcare providers that are often overlooked by businesses. Executives should invest the time in tapping into these relationships and identifying what might be valuable to their employees. For us, it’s meant the opportunity for our employees to connect with a wellness consultant who can offer them the latest in health, nutrition and fitness offerings, among many other items.


Michael Santarcangelo develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success. The founder of Security Catalyst, he draws on nearly two decades of experience of success advancing security in variety of operational roles. He guides leaders and teams on the best next step of their journey.

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