There is no question that solid experience can foster long-term career success. However, when someone is just getting his or her feet wet, lack of experience can serve as a roadblock to achieving goals.
It was this conundrum that recently prompted (ISC)2 to roll out an industry-focused mentoring program, with plans to expand the pilot throughout the organization in the future. “The idea is to match people who have specific areas of interest with people who have expertise in those areas,” says (ISC)2 Director of Professional Programs Tony Baratta, CISSP-ISSAP, ISSMP, SSCP. “The positive exchange of real-life experience is the key to success. The people seeking this type of assistance are looking to strengthen their positions and go beyond mere book knowledge. The expectation is that someone with experience can offer insight on a regular basis.”
The pilot program has 10 pairs of mentors (primarily CISSPs) and mentees (mostly (ISC)2 associates). The first consideration has been to appropriately match knowledge seekers with experienced and credentialed information security professionals. For instance, if an associate or a newly minted CISSP wants to better understand the intricacies of deploying a new security platform in the financial services industry, Baratta’s team will work to find a mentor within that industry who has that or similar experience.
The next step is to find an amicable platform (e-mail, telephone, videoconferencing, in person, etc.) that encourages regular and productive dialogue. (Time zone is a consideration when matching mentor and mentee as well.) “It is important that there is a true comfort level that encourages ongoing interaction, which will obviously differ with each pairing,” Baratta says. “Also, we realize that this is not just security experience but the full gamut of business experience—dealing with people and situations. Ideally, I would like to see the more experienced CISSPs and other credential holders openly willing to offer their expertise so that others can grow along with them. And this is going to take a solid platform to facilitate communication.”
The interaction between mentor and mentee will remain confidential to encourage open dialogue.
According to Baratta, less experienced CISSPs have often asked where they can go for help, and this arrangement should provide that opportunity. “We know that public forums are one method, but this takes knowledge sharing to a new level,” he says. “One-on-one interaction helps put specific experiences and knowledge sets together in a way we otherwise cannot expect.”
In most instances, Baratta anticipates the mentor-mentee relationship will develop over time, and its formal structure will stay in place as long as the participants’ interests remain in alignment. If for some reason the relationship does not work out, (ISC)2 would work to make a change so that everyone has a positive experience. Still, says Baratta, “I see this as being rare, since people interested in participating in this type of program are not looking for an adversarial arrangement.”
As an initial incentive to participate in the program, (ISC)2 is providing mentors with one CPEper hour they spend engaged with the mentee.
Exactly how much the participants receive from their involvement depends on their willingness to give to the relationship. “Mentoring should be on-point with established growth objectives, requires extra work, and in many instances includes frequent and potentially uncomfortable critiques and challenging questions,” says Francie Dalton, a Columbia, Md.-based behavioral science consultant and executive coach. “Mentors also need to realize the necessary dedication of time. However, most mentors realize the entire experience is fun and more rewarding than anticipated. Obviously, as the relationship develops and the comfort level increases, mentors should anticipate a protégé’s scrutiny of and questioning of their decisions and methods.”
Mutual understanding of expectations is a crucial aspect to achieving a positive outcome, Dalton adds. “Amentee should be prepared to contribute time—probably more than they may initially think—and also demonstrate robust, eager participation, so that the mentor can see their dedication,” she says. While the dynamics differ with each relationship, she recommends that mentees welcome interim assignments from their mentors and take the initiative when it comes to learning objectives.
“At least initially, the goal for the mentor should be to facilitate the discussions while candidly and constructively critiquing the mentee’s work,” she says. “However, the best mentors should also be prepared to grant some degree of transparency into their decision-making processes. Doing so provides the mentee with irreplaceable insight into actual operations.”
Apilot run enables (ISC)2 to review the program before opening it up to the general population. “This will give us the opportunity to look at the pros and cons and sort out what we need to do to move the program to the next level. When we roll out the full program, we want to be as comprehensive as possible,” Baratta says. “To help us learn, we are asking the participants to rate each other and provide us with as detailed feedback as possible. We want to know that we are doing a good job and making solid matches. This is really an academic concept to garner insight. After all, how does someone know that they are doing a bad job of helping if there is no feedback?”
After (ISC)2 opens the mentoring program to the membership at large, the hope is that positive experiences will draw more people from within the security industry into the group. “We know that, done right, our mentoring program will be a powerful program with exceptional value,” he says. “Participating in a mentoring program is an early introduction into the field for those who are not yet there. It is a vehicle to offer assistance to those who don’t have the corporate experience, even though they may have one or two years of working experience.”
Long term, Baratta hopes that mentees will eventually become mentors. “Quite often when someone receives help, they want to give back,” he says. “And these individuals are usually more than willing to help the institution that has helped them. Obviously, I do not see this ever being a requirement, but the continued participation of people who value their experiences would be a solid way to grow the program.”
Baratta would also like to see the program expand and offer opportunities for mentees. “If you are mentoring, then you probably are managing or directing, and this may be a way to provide people the practical means of garnering the valuable experiences,” he says. “There may be some [mentors] who would have internship opportunities. Knowledge and experience transfer from the day-to-day aspects.”
Understanding the potential pitfalls serves as a powerful tool in making a mentor-mentee relationship flourish. Below are some of the most common stumbling blocks:
Having Blind Expectations Both parties must understand the objectives from the onset. Discussing expectations early on helps avoid feelings of frustration. “Knowing what you are getting into makes the process more enjoyable for both parties,” says executive coach Francie Dalton.
Failing to See the End All mentoring relationships reach a point where they no longer bear a serviceable level of utility. “It is far easier to end the relationship when the two parties establish desired outcomes early on, explicitly stating and agreeing to them before the relationship begins,” says Dalton. “Setting deadlines to achieving the outcomes also helps bring a healthy, comfortable end to the mentoring relationship.”
Misjudging the Relationship The mentor-mentee relationship is intended to be a professional pairing designed to transfer and share knowledge and experiences. Since the two individuals tend to communicate frequently, there can be a tendency to become too informal, which can lead to uncomfortable or unwanted situations. Dalton recommends keeping the relationship in perspective so that it is easier to avoid blurred lines.
Case in Point
When South Korea-based Sung Won Hwang heard about the opportunity to participate in (ISC)2’s pilot mentoring program, he immediately volunteered to be one of the first mentees.
“It is a great opportunity to have this kind of guidance from a seasoned wireless sector veteran,” he says. “She graciously shares her experiences in answering my questions, which has helped significantly in my understanding of international security issues.”
His mentor, Sandy Bacik, principal of North Carolina-based Bacik Consulting Service, explains that the process has been equally gratifying for her. “This provides an opportunity to guide new blood with differing skill sets into the security field. Many security professionals focus on the technical aspects of security and forget about the soft skills and dealing with the business side of the enterprise,” she says. “Working with a mentee gives the opportunity to coach them in expanding their communication and business skills, while focusing on their technical skills to gain the experience in the field.”
Bacik hopes the program will allow her to share her enthusiasm for the industry. “This profession is an exciting and challenging field with a promising future,” she says. “I have had many experiences with my skill set and professional travels, and I want others to know about the stumbling blocks and the rewards you can personally achieve within the security profession. I see this as an excellent opportunity to train others in understanding and expanding their knowledge about risk and liability in a day-to-day working environment.”