Job Hunting During COVID-19

May 7, 2020

COVID has resulted in massive unemployment in nearly every industry. Many newly unemployed workers are likely well-suited for the cybersecurity industry, which continues to face a huge talent gap. Optiv’s Senior Director of Talent Acquisition, Barry MacLaughlin, discusses the cybersecurity careers landscape in the wake of COVID and offers advice for those interested in the industry.


Sam Smith: Hi, I'm Sam Smith from Optiv Marketing here in Denver. We're talking with Barry MacLaughlin. He's Optiv’s senior director of Talent Acquisition and is responsible for global hiring. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.


Barry MacLaughlin: My pleasure. Sam. Appreciate the opportunity. Sure.


Sam Smith: So let's start right in. The COVID-19 Pandemic has sparked what may be the greatest unemployment crisis most of us have ever seen. Layoffs, massive layoffs… We've recently seen the previous record for unemployment claims set back in 1982 more than quadrupled. I think that happened a couple weeks ago. What are your general impressions of where the job market is and where it's going in the coming months. And also what advice would you have for potential cybersecurity applicants who are interested in the field as they plan out their searches.


Barry MacLaughlin: Excellent questions. Let's start with the first one. The job market today is extremely unsettled. You know, there's so many unknowns surrounding this virus, this pandemic, that there's a ton of uncertainty and fear. The vast majority of industries today and corporations are facing a sharp decline in their business due to the economy. And as we've seen, companies are slashing jobs and putting hiring on hold. Today, similar to other economic challenges in the past, companies are making money by saving their money, and that includes in hiring specifically. So if you look at the job market unemployment rates today, for example, in comparison to the 2008 recession, you know the rate of job loss due to this virus pandemic has just been astronomical. For example, in 2008 the total recession resulted in 37 million unemployment claims. That period time was over 18 months. As of yesterday the number was 26 million unemployment claims have been filed now as a result of this health crisis. That's in 45 days. During the 2008 recession unemployment peaked at just over 10%. 10.2%. The forecasts today are showing unemployment will land somewhere between 15 and 20% as a result of this health crisis. The job market varies to a wide degree based on the industry. You're in the economy itself and also the confidence not only of business but consumers. But there is good news. The good difference today versus 2008 is that the unemployment rate will come down much more quickly than during you find in a normal economic recovery, and so layoffs will be much more temporary. Your other question about where the job market's going in the coming months… I know eventually this outbreak will diminish. Economic conditions will and improve companies will begin to rehire. But, some employers are going to use this opportunity to replace some of their former workers with cheaper and even more contingent labor rather than hiring back full time. So corporations are going to look for an opportunity to cut costs, and I think we're going to see as a result of those opportunity-cut costs, we're going to see two big things that are going be trending upward. One is an increase in outsourcing. You know, a lot of opportunities for organizations to outsource what they don't need to consume by themselves will be more prevalent. And also offshoring. A lot organizations will look the offshoring as an opportunity to save costs as well. On top of that you're going to see a lot of industry Consolidations. For example, in our industry, cybersecurity is is going to change from just not just competing for talent but competing for the best talent. There's going to be a lot more people on the market to choose from. And so, for the first time in our industry, we're going to be able to be a bit more picky and hiring the best town that we can find. I also think in the coming months we're going to see the job market shifting to more automation. You know, that's just a practical matter. Remote jobs, for example, will increase. We've shown one thing through social distancing is that we can work remotely rather than in a brick and mortar location and without incurring heavy travel budgets. So that can be a benefit to this, which traditionally before, in our industry and others, travel was a big requirement. So, to our benefit, I think the job market in cybersecurity will increase, and even more critical jobs will be needed by corporations as remote work expands. The point about advice for potential cybersecurity applicants interested in the field. You know, it's always one of the [?] with the training or industries that people come from experiences that make a good fit. You know, becoming skilled in cybersecurity products and services is going to be… that skill in that in that domain is going to be much more critical to have to compete for these jobs. That could be certification programs. That could be other industry specialization. It doesn't have to be necessarily a formal degree. So focusing on certain segments of cybersecurity offerings and programs is very important. You know, being more of a not a jack-of-all but a monster-of-one… For example, security operations, where we've done very well at Optiv… into that outsourcing effort to take on an organization’s security operations and develop a center to reduce their threats and remediate risk… That's a big increase in our field. Incident response. Identifying threats, remediating those threats. Incident response will be a big field as well. And likewise will Web security. I think those three areas are great for cybersecurity applicants to focus on in this particular field. And I think those are probably the keys, at least from your last question about, you know, applicants’ interest in the field.


Sam Smith: That's important. Let me follow up on that just a little A little bit. Last year we did a two-part series on careers and cyber cure cybersecurity. And in it we talked about the talent shortage in our field. Which is massive. It's what, roughly the population of Arkansas, or so I think, was the statistic. I'm assuming that a lot of the people who have lost their jobs and other sectors might be good candidates for security. And so, maybe more specifically, what kinds of qualities, qualifications for those people would be important as we come out of this?


Barry MacLaughlin: Yeah, you know, technology, telecommunications and I'd say network sectors work extremely well for cyber security. Can you program? Are you a programmer? Can you configure a network or a system? Do you have knowledge of an open systems model? A lot of these conceptual skills come from educational learning, and that's through somebody’s own time. That's not necessarily getting a formal training. That education is not necessarily through schooling or certification, so conceptually understanding those components of a network for open systems it very important. You know, there's other things, too, that there are extremely important for cybersecurity. Troubleshooting research ability, very helpful skills. And you can’t forget about the soft skills, Sam. Critical thinking, being a quick learner. Understanding customer service, because that's what we do in solving clients’ issues. Time management, as well as written documentation skills, and verbal. I mean, those are all soft skills that are really important in our industry to be able to have it bring to the table.


Sam Smith: Excellent. Uh, let's do one more. Specifically Optiv. How are we focused on hiring right now?


Barry MacLaughlin: You know, we've been very busy recruiting in a few key areas. And quite frankly, those areas are to our advantage right now because of this global pandemic. The team that I have globally in talent acquisition is focusing on three key areas of head-hunting talent that I'm truly looking to take advantage of during this time. The first is consulting firms. Traditionally, consulting firms have a very heavy travel component of the job. Now they have a road warrior mentality of heavy travel. Some of those people in those firms, and certainly the firms and their employees, or their customers, are not going to want to do heavy travel. They're not going to pay for travel and employees themselves. So consulting firms are a great target for us in our space because we offer a great remote model. We don't travel consistently as some of the firms in professional services, so that's a great, great target for us. The second, Sam, is smaller niche firms in cybersecurity, whether that's on the product side or on the implementation of cybersecurity products. Smaller firms, for example, you know, live and die by one or two deals. A lot of these deals right now are being pushed into further Q2 or beyond. Some of these firms are not being able to keep their employees engaged. So they're a great target for us. As a large organization we’re in a pure play environment for them to consider Optiv… an employer of choice. And then the third area that's really the focus for the team that I'm putting forward is independent contractors. A lot of people left full-time jobs for the gig economy for a variety of reasons, and that that economy will still be prevalent. You know, the future for independent contractors. But we're seeing a lot of independent contractors that were traditional, full-time employees wanting to come to an organization like Optiv because we do have a lot of projects, a lot of opportunities and a broad reach of industries where we deliver talent. So that's the third area, Sam, independent contractors.


Sam Smith: Thanks Barry. That's what I have. Do you have any final remarks?


Barry MacLaughlin: No, I appreciate the opportunity to connect on talent acquisition, Sam. You know, this is a people-based business in a highly competitive industry. Optiv’s success and revenue comes from talent, you know? So sourcing and recruiting and pipelining that talent is vital to keep in our competitive advantage in the marketplace.


Sam Smith: Barry. I can't thank you enough for being here. With luck I hope some of what you've had to say here today will be of use to all those people who are searching and with luck, good people will come find us. Thanks. And for everybody who's joined, we'll see you next time.