Kathy Lavinder is the executive director of Security & Investigative Placement Consultants, LLC. She has more than 10 years of recruiting experience that has focused on placing high level security managers and investigative specialists in corporations, financial institutions, accounting firms, law firms, insurance companies, academic and health care institutions, nonprofits, and consulting firms. Lavinder’s career has bridged the worlds of corporate investigation, risk mitigation, and journalism. Prior to turning to executive search, Lavinder was with Investigative Group International (IGI), where she served as managing director and head of the firm’s headquarters office in Washington, D.C. As IGI’s director of complex investigations, Lavinder directed teams of investigators working on long-running, multifaceted engagements, including fraud and financial misconduct investigations, theft of intellectual property, anti-competitive practices, and anti-trust litigation matters. Prior to IGI, Lavinder was with ABC News in New York. She has a Bachelor of Art’s degree in Journalism from the University of South Carolina and a Masters degree from Georgetown University. Lavinder is a frequent speaker on security and investigative issues.
On October 11 at 1:00pm she will join the panel discussion “How to Promote Yourself” to discuss how security professionals can wield their influence inside a company or find a job during a tough downturn.
Economically speaking, things are rough out there right now. With your unique experience, what are you trying to impart to attendees during the session?
My goal on the panel is to be a real world, front line resource for people. I interact with a lot of different clients and I always feel like I’m kind of 30,000 feet above the landscape. I hear from a lot of people about what their needs are and I also hear from a lot of people who need to find a job. And there’s a disconnect with some people.
One of the things I think candidates need to learn to do is to self-promote. You know self-promotion can seem like a bad word, and if it’s done badly it is ill-advised. What I mean by how to promote yourself is how to get the credit and recognition you deserve. My goal is to provide some helpful practical guidance and tips based on what I often see people do incorrectly. I want to share with them the things that I see and be very candid about that in this session.
What are the worst mistakes job candidates can make?
There are a couple of mistakes that are very common. One is that they talk about their responsibilities not their accomplishments. Not everyone needs to read or hear a recitation of what you’ve done in terms of actual job descriptions. I would say to people just tell me your title and I can figure out what your responsibilities were. People fail to see that the key to getting another job is to talk about how you are a results-oriented individual who has made a positive impact on an organization. It’s all about value added.
If you just tell them what your responsibilities were, you haven’t been able to shine a light on what your contribution was. If you just talk about what you did, it’s almost like you were a placeholder there. But if you say you accomplished this. Here are my results. Here are my initiatives. Here are the things that I got recognized for. Here is how I was able to add value. And here is how my organization responded by giving me additional responsibilities or additional compensation or promoting me ahead of schedule. That’s what true self-promotion is.
How does a job seeker promote themselves best in their resume? How long should a resume be?
I would say two pages is about right if you have a significant amount of experience. If you have less experience, a page and a half is about right and maybe one page if you’re early in your career. The bottom line is that it has to be a marketing document. A resume cannot simply recount your responsibilities. You have to spin it to the readers’ interest and capture their interest. They’re only reading it for one reason: to figure out if this person has anything that I need.
How do you do that in such a short document?
You start with a narrative, which is connecting all the dots. It’s three or four sentences that I call an executive summary, but of course it’s not labeled an executive summary. It should be three or four opening sentences that, in a nutshell, is your message to the reader. It describes what you could bring to that organization. So it’s connecting the dots that are throughout your employment history and giving them the short version of what you can do. So that is critical. Some people can put it in bullets, but I really think a narrative is best because that way no one has to read through and parse the resume.
When you write that, should it feel personal? Should the person reading it get an idea of who you are as a person?
I would say be careful about that. You don’t want to have a lot of personality in it. I think what you want is competency, a range of skills, and what I would call the softer side—which are personal attributes that you want to emphasize, like self-starter, unflappable, flexible, adaptable. Those are the softer aspects of any job seeker and I think it’s important to include some of those. At the same time, it has to be more direct in what competencies you offer. Like let’s say security management in a particular environment or industry sector. So you blend the two. You blend the hardcore capabilities with the softer, positive attributes.
Am I right to think that the security industry has a large surplus labor supply right now?
Very much so: the security arena is a microcosm of the larger economy right now, particularly the candidate pool. There is an oversupply and we have a demographic overlay as well—the fact that the first baby boomers will turn 65 next year and are moving into retirement. And what that means in security, in particular, is there are a lot of former law enforcement and military people who had lengthy careers in both of those environments and they tend to gravitate toward security in the private sector once they retire. So they’re also hitting the labor pool and that’s another complicating factor for any job seeker.
So you have all these very well-qualified, professional people out there with remarkable resumes. How do they stand out then? How do they get their foot in the corporate door?
The one thing that you have to emphasize in the resume and the interview is that you understand the business objectives of the private sector. It’s not about arresting people. You’re not a company cop. You are a person who is a member of a senior management team. You have to stress that you bring business acumen as well as an orientation toward accomplishing the profit mission while being held accountable for results. You should understand business terminology and concepts.
How often do you recommend advanced degrees such as MBAs?
I do recommend them. I really say that if you’re going to go get an advanced degree, make sure it has value for your long-term career objectives. Otherwise, you’re going to waste your money. You may have an interesting academic experience, but these days it’s not going to help you unless it’s directly relevant.
So business degrees are great. International business is very good. It’s so in demand—international experience, international capability. It’s very important, it’s probably the thing I get asked for the most. So if you’re going to go get a degree in anything, make sure it’s directly relevant. Get a degree in something that will ultimately be of value for the longer term and will give you credentials and credibility in that regard. It could be a number of things. But make sure it’s going to impress those looking to hire you and advance your career.
Do you have any unorthodox tips? Most people understand that they have to have a good resume and a good background and that they have to make a great impression during an interview.
Well I think it’s not so much that it’s unorthodox, but I’m prepared to say that at the end of the day you need to look like someone who would fit into the organization. I’m not afraid to tell people that they have to dress for success. They have to dress for the position that they want and possibly the next level ahead in order to get it. Their appearance has to be very carefully considered. They need to take care of themselves in that regard in terms of grooming and presentation. People are judging you from the very first minute they lay eyes on you. That’s one area where there is a lot of weakness. People in the security arena think their knowledge and their functional expertise or experience will get them the job, but they may not look professional enough. They ought to look like they’re in there to interview for an executive position even if it’s a manager's role. They ought to be better prepared in that regard.
I know you’re principally a recruiter, but do you provide direct advice to job seekers?
I’m not a career counselor by trade or training, but there is a lot of that inherent in any recruiting effort. Even good candidates need guidance and assistance. I’ve had to do that quite a bit during the recession because people seem to be lost in some regards. They don’t know how to tackle this. It’s so daunting. We know that candidate pools are overflowing and we know that there are a lot of qualified people for every single job. We know that most people who get laid off are off work for like 32 weeks, so it’s a long difficult process to get rehired.
Basically I tell people to get over it. It’s a body blow to get laid off. It’s a body blow to see your career go off track, but you have to have a positive attitude. I guess the other thing I would say to people is to get rid of all the baggage. So many people come to me with a lot of baggage. They’re bitter or they’re damaged in some way. It’s really sad to say that, but it’s true. They have been negatively impacted by this economy, this horrible turn of events. And so they need to project confidence in themselves, confidence in the future, be optimistic, be positive.
Of course we all know that you never bad mouth a former employer or your former boss or your coworkers or anything like that. I just see this emotional weight over people. It’s almost like they have a black cloud over their head. They need to get rid of that. I always tell people when they have been laid off and they call me the next day that “You need to decompress. You need to process this. Call me in a few weeks when you’re in a better place to talk.”
How much market research should an unemployed person do while laid off?
A lot. Looking for a job is a full time job, particularly in this environment, particularly when you’ve been laid off. There’s always some suspicion about people who have been laid off, even if it’s through no fault of their own. But there’s always a concern that they got rid of the weak links and that a company is cleaning house at the same time as it was cutting overhead. Job seekers have to be more aggressive and smarter about their job search; because, otherwise, if you go through the motions, you’re not going to get a job.
And the one thing that I always tell people is stop editing your resume incessantly. That’s not going to get you a job. Prepare a good, general catch-all resume. Tailor it to particular opportunities that come along and then move on. And start prospecting for companies that may be hiring, contacts that may help you, and look at opportunities that are out there in the marketplace to figure out how you need to change your profile for the longer term.
How much knowledge should job seekers show a prospective employer that they know about the company?
I’m impressed when people have read SEC filings, when they have looked on more than just the company’s Web site, when they have looked at other trade magazines and journals and online publications that talk about the sector that this company is in, as well as competitors. It shows a depth of research. One thing I would have to caution is that you don’t want to research your particular interviewer in a way that you tip your hand and show that you really dug into them. I’ve had candidates go in and give the hiring managers the impression almost that they have investigated them. And that is the biggest no-no I can think of. It’s completely off putting when someone says “I’ve looked at you.”
There’s nothing wrong with looking for that person’s bio and trying to figure out where they’ve been and checking their profile on LinkedIn. Definitely do it. But don’t go into their personal life and try and suggest that you know things about them. It’s almost creepy.
Looking at the market, do you see it getting better or worse for security professionals?
There are a lot of negative statistics out there because we’re in a recovery phase. And a recovery is never steady, it’s always bumpy and we’re going to continue to see some bumps. The good news is the economy will rebound. What goes down will come up. I already see signs of a recovery. I’m actually very, very busy at this moment in time. I’m getting inquiries about potential assignments in the fall or after the first of the year. And it’s very encouraging. We’re tracking upward and we’re digging our way out of a big, deep hole—but we will have rehiring and rebuilding. I’m already talking to hiring managers about what they want to do when they get the green light.