DIB: Do IT Better

Sandy Silk

Director, IT Security Education & Consulting at Harvard University

Learning Objectives

Please Join the Director, IT Security Education & Consulting of Harvard University, Sandy Silk in this Executive Interview where she will discuss how to recruit strong IT candidates and give great insight on setting employees up to success.

"Actions speak louder than words, so practice the culture that you want to have so that you can attract more people to join it."

Sandy Silk

Director, IT Security Education & Consulting at Harvard University


Hello and welcome to the CIO vision cybersecurity virtual summit hosted on quartz network. My name is Britt Erler QN executive correspondent, thank you for joining us, I would like to welcome our executive speaker, Sandy Silk DIRECTOR OF IT security education and consulting with Harvard University. Welcome, Sandy. 

Thank you for having me. 

Pleasure to have you here. In today’s interview, we will be discussing how to create strong it candidates, and how to set up your employees for success. With that, I want to start by talking about what makes a successful job posting, as I’ve noticed that there is a lot of controversial opinions on this topic. So Sandy, in your experience, or words in a job posting truly important for attracting strong candidates?

I’m going to say yes, and I think most people look at it for how do we attract strong candidates. And I’m going to say in my experience, in discussions with people, it’s not so much attracting the good ones as not repelling the good ones. I’ve found if someone’s looking for a job, they’re attracted to a listing to go look further to see what’s going on. It is when we’re using words that are in they’ve typically been coded to be masculine, warrior, Ninja, aggressive sports terminology. competitive, that suggests a somewhat aggressive workplace high stress workplace, where if you were to use the what we would say either the more feminine term or neutral term that would be collaborative, protective, nurturing, you are going to repel far fewer people. So it’s not just the women who would be turned off, and not all but typically that that standard, diverse bifurcation polarity there. But when I’ve presented this topic in conferences, I have many men in the audience who would say, I would not apply for that job either. That’s just a bit in that workplace, I don’t want to be in that workplace again. So it’s really not so much if you think of magnets, not so much the attraction, as much as if you turn them around, that you’re not repelling the really good applicants who just the words are going to make a difference.

I completely agree. You know, I think back to my days when I was applying for jobs, and it really does make a difference, because it gives you some sort of insight into what you believe the culture of the organization is going to be. And sometimes it might be subconscious, you know, you may not really realize what the words are specifically that are bugging you or causing you to not be interested in the opportunity. But I can absolutely see where that would really turn on or turn off a potential candidate. Now have you noticed that there are key areas or key terms that IT professionals looking for jobs tend to steer to that they find are best suited for them?

Well, and it’s going to depend on your personality and what kind of environment you want to work in. But, you know, and I always say about it and cybersecurity, it’s a team effort. You know, we’re not the people in hoodies in a basement pennyweight keyboard, although during pandemic, perhaps you might be in your basement, not not by choice. But you need everyone on the team to come up with problem solving. So if that’s the way you do work in your organization, you want to get across that we’re collaborative, we’re a team. We listen to each other, we bounce ideas off each other, and you want that to come through instead of hackers and MacGyver overs, although I liked the show MacGyver, but you want to avoid those kind of firefighting hero terminology because then you think like, Oh, my gosh, the adrenaline is never going to stop at this place. It’s going to be one crisis after another. I’m already getting nervous thinking about exactly and and if you’re not aware what the terms might be. A quick online search of gender decoder job ad will pull up a range of tools that most of them are free to use that you can just copy and paste your job listing job app, job advert in there and it will point out, these are the words that you might want to change. And here’s some possible suggestions on alternate. Don’t misrepresent your culture, though, if you’re truly an aggressive, competitive agriculture,

honesty come through. Exactly. And you know, my next question actually, I want to talk about is something I just had a conversation with a colleague the other day on it. And it has to do with the idea of requiring certain certifications and degrees on a job application, or even a posting. Now, for me in my career, personally, I haven’t really seen a big difference in the jobs I’ve applied to with what type of school I went to, or what types of certifications that I’ve had. But I know that this is not the case for other industries, what have you seen in regards to this, this is,

this is a hard sell to say, perhaps you don’t need a certain type of degree, let alone any degree. So I happen to have a master’s degree from Harvard, in Germanic languages, and literature’s it’s the wrong degree to have for it or cybersecurity, although it’s got a lot of a lot of skills that came with it that worked really well for translating between business and technology or analysis, pattern recognition. But be aware, as soon as you put certain requirements in, first of all the current staff, you have better meet all those requirements, or you’re saying your incumbents are not qualified, that there could be a lawsuit if you don’t let other people in. But also, if if you’re looking specifically to get more diversity, if as soon as you say I want someone with a computer science bachelor’s, you’re already ensuring only 19% of those degree holders are going to be women. Only 9% of those degree holders will be black. Will they be women too? You don’t know. So you’re already cutting down just for a specific degree? Why? You know, and what is it about that degree? That’s so special? What are the skills you want, Matt? The pedigree, I think of it as Westminster Kennel Club. I’ve watched the dog shows a few times now at home, and I’d love dogs. So I mean, this is a good comparison, comparing professionals to dogs. As you’re looking at the working group of dogs competing, and we’re looking at applying specimen of whatever kind of terrier, this is great. This is beautiful with got pedigree? Am I actually going to put it down a hole and have it get rats out of a hole if it’s a rat tear, right? You know, or do I want some dog? It could be a mix could be a mongrel doesn’t have pedigree, but boy, it’s going to get rid of those rats for me. So is it a working dog that’s being held up for pedigree or working dog that can do the work? So which is what kind of a team do you want?

It’s a great comparison. And, you know, as you mentioned, if you require those certifications, those degrees, you’re really limiting your candidate pool of diverse candidates that you know, are could possibly interest be interested in this opportunity. They may not have the exact background that you’re looking for, but they still may do a great job at whatever duties and responsibilities you put in front of them. So I think that’s a really great example.

Right? Yeah. And think of even if I had a computer science degree, if I got it 15 years ago, or is it any any technology I learned them to be Tuesday

might be the same. Such a good point, everything changes and, and I think also with that is every company is so different. So even what you may have learned for that degree or that certification, it may completely change when you’re actually at the organization.

Right? And is a computer science degree? I keep picking on that one? Is it the same curriculum, every university, your school? things that just don’t know? What are the skills they want hire for the skills, not the piece of paper?

I completely agree with you now what you’ve seen for job postings that you’ve put out there, do you believe that there is the perfect number of job requirements or is there a target that you aim for?

So so the target that we aim for, that I aim for, is exactly the number that I can actually that every single candidate to have. If I’ve put on there, it’s a requirement or a desire, I better be able to evaluate a candidate in that area. And I have to evaluate every candidate equally in all areas. So I can’t pick and choose this. I’m going to ask these questions as candidate gets evaluated here, I have to ask every candidate the exact same questions in the exact same way. And if I put something on the job listing that I don’t know how to evaluate, or verify, what’s the point of having it out there, you know, and also knowing as a hiring manager, I’m typically thrilled if I can get someone with 70, maybe even 75%, on a lucky day of all those, all those desired things. And then I have to decide what’s most important. So which one’s waited at the time? What can I train later? But, you know, for those who are looking to apply to jobs out there, there’s nobody with 100%? And if they did, why would they apply to that job? They’re, you know, they have no development left. No growth?

Yeah, absolutely. Now, have you noticed that the job recruiting environment has become easier or more difficult with this new virtual environment that we’re living in?

You know, I,

I think this gives us a little more equity, in the sense of, when you’ve when we’ve established norms for this, I could turn off the video for every single candidate. So I’m not assessing them based on looks, right? gender, skin tone, whatever, that I could just have them in there if I wanted, which is kind of the equivalent of the orchestra auditions when everyone’s behind the curtain. So you can’t see that a male or female or whatever. So you could have equity that way. But also, I think it’s given us much more repetitive format, because we had to think how to do this. So we came up with process, and we follow that process. And there’s a certain amount of politeness or the way that we interact, whether it’s we raise our hand to speak or we can chat, it’s much more accessible to in that sense for people who need special accommodations, which has been one of the benefits of working virtually and everything electronic, we’ve got digital accessibility, which is bringing more candidates into into the mix, because we can we know how to do it well, in equally in this environment.

Right. And now we saw obviously a lot of change last year, and even going into this year all over the world, which has made the recruiting, hiring, even job application process change significantly. And there are now a lot more IT professionals out there looking for work, just there are just as many job postings. In your experience. What do you look for as a recruiter in terms of attributes for people that are applying for positions? Oh, four. So when I’m hiring, and we’re if I’m on the interview team, big things to look for ongoing curiosity, open mindedness, ability to work with other people and communicate well, I mean, these we can have technical skills. They’re much easier to teach them, how to be collaborative with somebody how to respect someone else’s ideas, how to have an open mind and think about other people’s opinions, experiences, perspectives. But certainly, especially in it, everything changes so quickly, and in probably medicine is going to be the same way. You can’t just come in and think this is it. I don’t need to learn anything new. Like there’s always more to learn. So also, are you resilient in that that you’re not going to think you’re a failure, because you don’t know this new technology, but that you’re going to say like, I can learn it, I can learn anything. So let me learn this and I want to learn more about data science, or wearables, telemedicine, whatever that it will support.

So what I’m hearing from you is almost that personality, culture drive, a willingness to continue to learn are almost just as important as some of the technical skills that a candidate may have.

Most definitely. And you should have questions that are going to draw that out of somebody and ask that of all your candidates.

Now, once you have hired brought this new team member on board, both you and them are so excited to get started. How do you help them move through the process, get trained up and also thrive in the new environment?

Sure, short Well, I will say first and foremost, as a people manager, I think my primary responsibility is to communicate my expectation. Clearly, and I guess I’m saying two things, communicate manifestation and remove obstacles for theirs that would hinder their success. So I need to let them know what it is that needs to be done. And ask them, What do you need in order to be successful. So that might be, maybe they need to learn how to present data better to sway someone to make a decision, maybe they need a certain technical skill. So we’ll, we’ll step certainly set them up with that. But I think there’s a constant reinforcement, especially if you’re hiring an underrepresented group that’s going to be maybe the first on your team and feel maybe alone, that I didn’t hire you because of your gender, or because of your skin tone, like I hired you, because you were a fantastic candidate for this position, and you’re going to bring a lot to the team. And so I need to practice in all my meetings, making sure I’m asking everybody for their opinions and making sure everybody has a voice. So that person feels that, okay, I’m being respected, everybody’s being respected here. So really demonstrating what it is that you expect the team dynamic to be, and that everybody’s opinion, experience matters.

It’s really the idea that we are seeing as a major key theme here in 2021 is inclusion, you know, really a communication and listening to your people in your organization to make sure that they’re happy that they’re productive and moving along in the right direction, because if they’re not, overall, you’re not going to see the success with them in the organization as a whole. So I completely agree with you there that that is so key. And it starts with leadership as well, right, that mentality, and it trickling down to the rest of the team.

Oh, absolutely. And it’s also all of these kind of cultural people skilled things are going to attract new candidates to come to your organization to I can, one of the people that I have on my team was not actively looking for a position at the time. But we had met at a conference and I’m active on LinkedIn posting in a whether it’s working with a women in technology mentoring group or helping with a greater Boston organization that trains people, technically, who didn’t have the privilege to go to college or pay for it certificate programs. When I posted that I was hiring. If she sent in her application and said, You know, I want to work with you, I want to work with your team, because I’ve met you and I met your team. And that’s the environment for me. So actions speak louder than words. So practice the culture that you want to have, so that you can attract more people to join it.

I completely agree. And and that’s really cool to know that you have put together such an incredible culture with your team, that other people are willing to leave their current roles to come work for you. And I feel like that’s really inspiring, is something that a lot of leaders really need to take a look at internally, with their own teams, their own organization, to make sure that they’re really propelling in a direction that is right for not only the company, but the people that work for them as well. So incredible advice. And I want to sum up this entire discussion by talking about leaders as a whole. We’ve seen so many changes in jobs in duties and daily responsibilities, that a lot of them are just trying to make it through day to day, what would be some of your final piece of advice for other IT leaders in a similar role as yourself.

For let’s see if we’re making it through day to day. And to go I’ve got to save to go from surviving to thriving. Remember that these are all people who work for you that they have their own most more. So in this current environment they’ve got we all have stresses on us that are not have not typically been here. And we need as leaders to really prioritize what the work is. So that especially your type A personalities or a strong team teammates who don’t want to let someone else down on the team know, I’ve worked on what was of highest value today, I need to take care of myself now. And my team wants me to take care of myself. So if you take care of them, they’ll take care of the organization but you really have to prioritize the work for them so they know when they can disconnect. Take a day for themselves and your organization will still be there and it will still welcome them back and not make them feel guilty. taking the day off.

antastic advice, Sandy and I think really everything that you’ve provided today is not just beneficial for the IT industry itself, but also for other departments across the board that are really looking to change the culture of their team, and also the change in culture of the organization as a whole. So, Sandy, thank you so much for being here. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And thank you to everyone who has joined us as well. If you have any further questions for Sandy. There will be a discussion forum underneath this presentation. Please be safe, be healthy and enjoy the rest of the CIO vision cybersecurity summit.

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