One of the most important tools used by security professionals as they pursue career development is the opportunity to network with peers. The global lockdowns, travel restrictions, expansion of remote working arrangements and numerous cancellations of professional programs and events we are now experiencing will have a profound impact on the opportunity to develop your security career through networking.
These challenging times show little sign of abating anytime soon, and some of the programs that normally bring in hundreds or even thousands of participants are being revamped to be virtual. Some have been more adept at making the leap than others. Some will simply fail.
Virtual events can disseminate the information at the core of a program, but they do not provide the same opportunity to meet with peers, be introduced to new friends and colleagues or have spontaneous side bar discussions. While you can break off into groups during a virtual event or message individually with questions, career networking is often done in a more personal manner and would be inappropriate for an open or online forum. There is also something to be said for being observed in a Q&A discussion.
I have often expressed concern over the proliferation of individuals, suppliers, associations and startup groups whose primary business purpose is to profit from the sale of sponsorships. Selling access while gathering personal data and assembling mailing lists for repurposing is a core issue. The marketing façade for many has been to publish highly recognized names and organizational affiliations with the implication of endorsement to enhance credibility.
I feel this cottage industry will struggle for relevance in the future. Further, it is highly likely there will be increased scrutiny by companies as to how much benefit in-person attendance brings to the organization or their employees who participate. Less conference options with lower attendance levels will preclude or diminish any actual networking opportunities they may have afforded.
In the short term, it is unlikely we will be seeing events hosted on the same scale previously by even the large, well-known and historically credible professional association and trade groups. There will be a reluctance of attendees, staff, suppliers, vendors and supporting businesses to engage. It is also too soon to completely understand what legal liabilities may need to be addressed and mitigated. It causes me to wonder how many of these organizations will still be viable two years from now.
Your internal network is also important for your security career. This slowdown is limiting opportunities for security departments to host internal meetings and training sessions for their teams who often travel in from around the world. This limits your ability to network with team members and others.
We will eventually see some form of a return to gatherings hosted by various entities. However, convergence technology, the expansion of high-speed communication into less well served parts of the world together with the emerging realization that not every job or activity requires daily attendance in some centralized location will change how we interact and network with colleagues and stakeholders. It will also change how success and value to the enterprise is seen and measured.
Crisis builds opportunity, and the future holds tremendous potential for the security profession. You will be required to operate out of your comfort zone and rethink how you manage your reputation and brand absent of in-person networking opportunities.
There are things you can do to engage and build presence: participate on virtual panels; develop and conduct substantive presentations; learn how to engage audiences without the interpersonal feedback that comes from being in a room with others; develop meaningful relationships with stakeholders in your organization without physically being present; understand the effective integration of your message into the use of video conferencing tools and observe best practices. These are just a few of the new skills you will have to hone as we all reframe the possibilities to network for career success.