The public sector continues to provide a significant talent feed to the corporate security profession. These qualified professionals often have the competencies, skill sets and experience that would position them to successfully transition into private sector roles. However, transitioning professionals frequently ask us if a particular certification could improve their marketability in a corporate setting.

There is no easy answer.

Historically, as a profession, our industry has not done a good job of defining various security-related job functions in a realistic fashion. This is further complicated by the arbitrary nature of position descriptions for security leadership roles that are often simply a list of operational activities.

Requirements in security job listings often have no relevance to the role they are recruiting for. As a result, certifying agencies have created exams that measure memorization of knowledge in areas that are not in alignment with the true essence of the accountabilities expected of a security executive.

We track more than 60 certifications related to corporate security and investigations, an additional 15 related to business continuity, crisis management and disaster recovery, and 20 related to cybersecurity.

Which one of these certifications would set a candidate apart? Most hiring managers do not know, and that is why industry professionals often see security jobs advertised with a long string of unrelated certifications required.

Certifications in general were designed to measure someone’s knowledge in a specific practice area. These tend to be in narrowly defined areas of expertise and require a specified level of continued education which may or may not be relevant to the certification awarded or points required to maintain the credential.

Continuing education through certification programs is a viable way to advance the sectors these programs support. Those solid certification programs that have become standards within specific professional fields contain elements that:

  • Are integrated into the recognized degree and/or certificate program;
  • Have a specifically defined body of knowledge they seek to measure;
  • Are focused and current in that specialty field;
  • Are used to measure knowledge in practicing or operational level positions within a field or career path;
  • Are widely accepted by hiring organizations because their materials are relevant to position-specific job requirements.

Certifications can help set security professionals apart from other candidates if they are at the beginning or mid-point of their career. However, no certification is an indication of the ability to lead a program at a senior management level. Any certification program that claims it will ensure that is misleading.

Consider how frequently leading private-sector organizations require their non-security, C-level executives be certified in a particular field. Rather, they look for qualified individuals who have a solid record of accomplishments, related soft skills and the underlying leadership competencies that are relevant to the position.

We often see organizations recruit senior-level government executives to head security organizations. Like their non-security C-level counterparts, they are not less capable leaders because they do not have a particular certification.

If you choose to pursue certification, our recommendation is to select your educational programs carefully. Ensure they have clearly defined course materials and test objectives that realistically measure relevant knowledge in a given practice area.

There is no one certification that will guarantee advancement of your security career. Lots of initials following your name on a resume will not be influential in a hiring manager’s decision if you cannot demonstrate a record of accomplishments, maturity, competence, and a wide range of interpersonal and non-technical skills. The higher up the security career ladder you go, the more critical the experiences become.