Career Advice Tuesday – “When Good Mentors Go Bad”

May 25, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

I am writing you because I recently have been placed in a difficult situation by the person who I least expected  – my mentor.

Here is the back story – my mentor is someone that I have known for about 10 years.  When I was first starting out in information security, he was my a client of mine on my first consulting job.  After about a year of working together, he offered me a position for an entry level position on his staff.  For the next eight years, I have been working for him – initially indirectly – and now I am a direct report who manages  5 other information security engineers.

As our relationship progressed, we developed a closer relationship.  I was a sponge, and he was willing to teach me.  He is quite credible within the industry and was well respected.  He helped guide me in my career, and supported my training and my professional development.   Everything was going great.  Our relationship became more than professional – we often socialized with each other outside of work, and invited each other to family functions.

Everything was going smoothly at work and recently a problem arose in our information security function.  When the problem had surfaced, my mentor (manager) directed me to handle the situation in a specific way.  I did not 100% agree with his direction, but I proceeded as directed  – both out of respect and because he is my manager and mentor.   In the end, his direction proved wrong.  As a result, the situation escalated and his manager (the CIO) became involved.   As a note, my mentor has a very close relationship with the CIO (quite similar to my relationship wtih my mentor).

When the subject was addressed, my mentor told the CIO that I acted “on my own” and disregarded his directions as it related to the problem.  Not only did he make the argument during the meeting – but he was quite persuasive.   During the meeting I did not defend myself (I basically froze).   I just accepted the wrath of the CIO – thinking that if I did not take responsibility I could be fired on the spot (it was that grave).

The good thing is that I still have my position but nothing will ever be the same.  I have not even spoken with my mentor about this – considering that I believe that he does know the truth.

Do you have any advice for me?  How can I remain in my current position when I can no longer trust my mentor?  I have been questioning all of his guidance that he gave me through the years – I do not know what I should believe and what was self serving.

Any help would be appreciated.


“Mentee Interrupted”

Dear Mentee:

Wow!  How can we possibly answer a question that is rooted in deception of someone that you have respected, admired, and trusted.  I can tell that you have valued this relationship beyond the work environment – so this must hurt you both professionally and personally.

At this point, my best advice to you would be to separate the two issues.  I would prioritize the work relationship, considering that has the most impact to your career (and we are career advisers not psychiatrists).   Believe it or not, I agree with your decision to take the heat and not deflect blame during the meeting with the CIO.  By not saying anything, you avoided acting emotionally and saying some things that you may have regretted in what appears to be an “unwinnable” situation.  You have remained employed and now you have the ability to think clearly and act rationally.

I think that first you should replay the situation and see if your “mentor’s” interpretation of the facts are valid.  I would check for some e-mail or correspondence that would validate that you acted as directed and not outside of your mentor’s guidance.  Once you are sure that this is the case, my advice would be to begin looking for another suitable position.

The reason for this, is that you have the ability to go out on a relative  high note and at the same time remain in your mentor’s good graces.  Although the two of you will know what actually did go down, you would be better served in your career to have your mentor on your side (since he is well respected in the community) and to be able to utilize him as a professional reference.

I also think that you should go back over ther guidance that your mentor has given you during your career development and reassess if any of this advice could be construed as self-serving to their best interests (as opposed to yours).  As you go back, what you will most likely find that your mentor most likely advised you with good intentions through the 10 years that you know him, and this was an isolated incident.   At some point in time, when you look back on the situation, you may even realize that your mentors action (albeit self serving) may have protected both you and he.   However, I still would not stick around to find this out first hand.

In closing, there is not any way to guide you through your bad feelings towards your mentor.  You most likely feel betrayed, taken advantage of, and misguided. All of your feelings are valid.  Over the course of time, your disappointment will probably dissipate.  However, you should never forget that this happened and you should not stick around long enough to see if it happens again and potentially has a bigger negative impact on your career and your life.

I realize that you have seen the worst in your mentor, hopefully one day you will again see the best in them – and he will have a chance to somewhat redeem himself.

Unfortunately, please accept that your relationship will never be the same.   You can never fully rebuild the trust that you have lost.

There are more mentors out there – apply what you have learned and choose wisely.

Hope this helps,

Lee and Mike

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Career Advice Tuesday – “What If I Am Late”

May 18, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

I have a simple question – what can I do if I am late to an interview?  Is there anyway to save myself?  I am not going to make excuses – (traffic on the beltway was horrible) but that is not an excuse, I have lived in the Washington DC area for some time now and I should have anticipated it.

Fact is, I really think that the information security role that I interviewed for is the right job for me and I am the right person for them.  It has been a week since my interview, I have not had any feedback and I am kicking myself.

Any words of encouragement?


Big Ben

Dear Ben:

Unfortunately when you arrive late for an interview, you are basically at the mercy of the company that is making the decision about your future.   Some employers will unilaterally disqualify you from consideration based on this criteria alone, for that you will have no defense. 

You should be hopeful that your new employer has enough insight,  sees the big picture and  understands their  ultimate goal of their interview (to hire the best person).   Most important you should hope that the skills that you bring to the position are different than all of your competitors. 

For example, if you were hiring for a position and two people were equally impressive – but one of them arrived on time, and the other was 15 minutes late – whom would you hire?  See my point.

I give you credit for not making excuses (sort of) and taking responsibility for your actions, which is definitely a good thing and can be viewed positively.  You should hope that some of the decision makers that you met with have experienced the same problem and that they are understanding.  If you are really lucky, maybe one of them were late to an interview, and can truly relate. 

If you do receive a call from the employer – please make sure that you arrive 10 minutes early for your next interview, and be prompt with every action item that goes along with the interview process (completing applications, background consent forms, etc.)  You will have to start rebuilding your internal brand right away!

Good luck.  Let us know how this turns out.


Lee and Mike

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Career Advice Tuesday – “A Tale of Two Cities”

May 11, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

I am hoping for some advice on how to handle my current employment search.  I am an information security professional with a technical background in computer science.  I have done some penetration testing, some technical security assessments, and have a good background in developing and securing web applications.  Currently I have a position where I travel a great deal across the country performing this work.

My situation is as follows.  I currently live in one city and my girlfriend (we are quite serious) lives in another city where she has a solid career that is dependent on her current location (she can not relocate).   I am thinking about changing positions, where I can find work in an organization that will help me develop additional skills that will help me on the path to my career goal, of chief security architect.

Right now I am not sure if I want to move to where she lives considering that I am not aware of  many information security opportunities that will help me take the next step in my career.  Basically, I am trying to figure out how to search for a new position.  I would like to explore opportunities but I do not know where to search, my current city or hers.  I want to be fair to myself and potentially my future employer.

Can you provide me with some guidance on how to handle my job search?


Charles Dickens

Dear Chuck:

At some point in many people’s career they have to make choices between their personal life and their professional life.  Without knowing your currnet situation in depth (we provide career advice not relationship counseling) it is difficult to offer advice without potentially damaging your personal relationship with your girlfriend.

What I will tell you is that before you embark on a search for a new position, you need to figure out where you want to live.  I think that if you begin to search for a position and then you decide that you do not want to live there, you can lose a great deal of credibility with the companies that you are pursuing.  This indecision will definitely come out in the interview process, and it may effect how these companies view your candidacy and will most likely reflect poorly on your ability to prioritize your career.  Plain and simple, you do not want to give the impression to potential employers that you are on a “fishing expedition” and lack the commitment necessary to pursue your next career opportunity.

I think that the best advice is to come to a conclusion on where you want to live and then focus your job search on that geography.  If you delay your job search, the worst thing that can happen would be is that you would gain additional experience and become a more proficient information security professional within the framework that your current job provides.  In the big picture, this is not that big of deal.

This extra time may also provide you with the necessary time to figure out the level of your relationship with your girlfriend and if your current relationship is worth the short term career sacrifice.

Speaking from our own personal experience, we can tell you that finding the right life partner is much more important that finding the right “next job”.  I can say with great confidence that there are many more good jobs, then there are great life partners!

Good luck in the pursuit of both of your passions!

Lee and Mike

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4 Information Security Career Planning Steps To Follow

May 10, 2010

As part of our ongoing relatioship with Tech Target, please see our recent article in the May issue of the magazine.   In this article, we oultine 4 key steps to follow as you develop your personal information security career plan. 

Like to hear your thoughts, comments and questions


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Career Advice Tuesday – “Interpreting Compensation Data Found on WebSites”

May 4, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

I recently was offered a position that is truly exciting to me and represents a good logical step in my career progression as an Information Security professional.  The opportunity will enable me to leverage my current skills,  develop new ones, and attain certifications and receive training that should benefit me as I progress toward my ultimate career goal.

During the interview process, when asked about compensation, I provided the new company some information regarding my desired compensation.  To my new employers credit, they prepared an offer for me that was equivalent to my request. The offer was about 20% greater in total compensation (base and bonus) then what I am currently earning.

I wanted to reflect for a day or so before formally accepting the offer to join the new firm (although my decision was basically made).  During that evening I went on some websites that offered position descriptions of what I believe corresponded to my new role.  What I discovered in my research was that the salary listed for these positions were more than the offer that was made.  Learning this provided me with some second thoughts.

I decided to accept the offer, but I kind of feel that I may have left some money on the table.  Quite frankly, since I accepted the offer, I have not slept that well.   Did I interpret this data correctly?


“Rip Van Winkle”
Dear “Mr. Van Winkle”:

The first thing that I can say to you is that the web is full of information, some of it is valid and some of it is not.  Many websites that quote compensation with under broad titles are poor sources of information due to the fact that they make broad generalizations about compensation without proper context.  The data associated with these position descriptions may not take into consideration the specific information about the position that you are applying and the value that you, yourself, bring to the new role.

Some of the variables that are not factored in include, the  amount of experience that is necessary for the position, the type of experience that is of value to the employer, the nature of the work that would be performed, the training and education experience, and most important your career development.   Also, many of these sites do not take into consideration the industry that you would be working in.  For example the same role in financial services will more than likely pay more than it would in health care.  In addition, the job titles linked to these roles, may mean different things to different organizations (a Vice President position in one organization may not equate to a Vice President role in another organization).  In conclusion, there just are too many variables that are not known to the provider of this data to properly relate it to your personal  situation.

What I think should be most important to you is that your new employer listened to your initial request, extended an offer that met your demands, provided you a meaningful increase (20% is a huge number in the current economy.  In addition, the new role that you have accepted is going to help you develop the skills that you have recognized as important to your career development.

The positions that you researched on the website may pay more, but they may offer you less.  Sometimes more money, does not equate to greater growth and long term development.

Good for you for doing your research.  But, please feel good about accepting your new role and this new opportunity.  It appears that you have made a very good decision and that your new employer has demonstrated their desire to have you be a part of their team.

Hopefully, after you have developed your new skills, you will make yourself significantly more marketable in the future.  If this is the case, the money will come.

Good luck in your new role.

Pleasant Dreams!

Mike and Lee

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