Career Advice Wednesday (oops): Getting Off the Horse

June 8, 2011

Lee & Mike,

I came across your names while watching old Defcon videos and I thought you might be the guys who can help me.  I’ve spent the past couple of years learning everything there is to learn in books.   I’ve worked in IT for a few years and I have security certifications, but I still can’t get a job in the industry.

I’m finding myself at a bit of a crossroads.  I’m trying to determine whether or not I should continue to pursue a job in security or just stay in the career path I’m in now.

Making it harder is that the jobs I do seem to find that I think I could get, I would have to take a major pay cut to get.  And I can’t really afford that.

What should I do?


Mr. Crossroads,

First of all, we have to apologize for being late on this one.  Sometimes life gets in the way of our weekly advice entry [Aside: though not nearly as often when it's Lee writing the entry].    But better late than never (we hope).

I remember a movie from a few years back called “Wag the Dog” in which a politician character was running on the slogan: “Don’t change horses in midstream”.  The idea was that even if you’ve made a decision you’re not happy with, you should stick with it.
There’s a reason that movie was a parody.  Life’s too short to spend a large part of it wishing that you had made a different decision.

Clearly, you’ve spent the past couple of years preparing (especially if you were watching through old Defcon talks) for a career in security.  Now, it’s time to prepare yourself for the next step.  If all you can get is a junior level job (with the corresponding pay), perhaps you have to spend the next few months (or longer depending on your financial situation) putting away cash in a savings account so that you have an extra cushion while you’re making the transition.

The other thing you can do is attempt to get a job that’s aware of your talent and dedication and compensates you based on that (even if your skill level isn’t quite there yet).  How do you do that, you ask?  Well, that’s not usually possible through the standard “send in a resume, get a job” process that most people do.  You need to reach out through your network and find people who get to know you for who you are, and who also are looking to hire high-potential people and grow them.

Those jobs aren’t ever advertised for.  You have to go find them in your network from people who know you .  And the more people you know who are doing the things you want to be doing, the more likely you are to find someone like that.

A great piece of advice on how to get better known in this way is in a post that Martin McKeay wrote yesterday about Twitter.  It’s some great advice on this kind of networking.

I know we rambled a bit there, but the short answer is simple:  life’s too short not to go for what you want.  If you can’t do it now, prepare yourself to do it later.  Or reach out to the people who believe that you’ll get there, and see if they can hire you today.

Mike & Lee

P.S. As an aside, in case you think that I’m making this up: I’ve hired a whole bunch of people throughout my career as a manager and business owner with this intent – all of them have been hired because I knew them rather than because I knew their resumes.  And almost all of them didn’t have the skills on paper for the jobs I hired them for, but rewarded me as a hiring manager handsomely for taking the risk on them.  I know that Lee has done the same with many people that he has hired over the years as well.

Posted by mmurray | Filed Under Career Advice Tuesday 


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