Relocation costs now a sticking point for job-hunting security managers

With security executives and staff in such demand at many organizations today, is it possible that something like paying for relocation costs could get in the way of hiring a new employee to join the security program? Yes, according to a number of people in the industry.

"Companies are finally realizing that they need someone to lead their information security efforts. Unfortunately, [they're] settling for available local talent instead of hiring the experienced talent they really need" because they don't want to pay for relocation, says an information security executive who asked to remain anonymous because he's actively looking for another job.

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In some cases, it's made clear that relocation compensation is not an option. "If you start looking at director or above in the job boards, few positions will state that relocation is provided and many will explicitly say that relocation is not provided," the executive says. "Since I am looking for a new position, I have talked with several recruiters and heard the same story from them. Companies don't want to invest in relocation and are looking at local candidates only."

Recently, the executive talked with a large restaurant chain that is looking for a new CISO, and was told that the company liked him for the position, but did not want to deal with relocation costs. "They did finally find someone local who had one-third the experience and had never been a CISO before," he says. "I will give them nine to 12 months--or a breach--for them to be looking again."

It's not unusual for employers to ask recruiters to focus on the local candidate pool so they do not have to relocate someone, says Kathy Lavinder, executive director of Security & Investigative Placement Consultants, a retained recruiting firm that finds and places security management and financial investigative personnel.

"That's quite common in the larger metropolitan areas where the local candidate pool is likely to be sufficient," Lavinder says. "That directive eliminates some strong non-local talent, but that appears to be a price some employers are willing to accept."

Some of Lavinder's clients have been trying to contain relocations costs when possible. "Some have reduced the number of house-hunting trips to the new location for the potential employee and his or her spouse," she says. "I've seen them reduce the number of paid house-hunting trips to one, instead of two. I've also seen a few employers put a 30-day limit on the coverage of interim housing costs to spur the new employee to find permanent housing."

Some larger companies are expressing a desire to avoid cross-country moves, Lavinder says. "In one recent instance, a multinational company headquartered in the New York metro area asked us to focus on candidates east of the Mississippi," she says. "The company may have been concerned that someone from the western U.S. may not adapt to the New York area, but I suspect cost entered into their decision."

Larger companies have always had more generous and comprehensive relocation packages than smaller and mid-size companies, Lavinder adds, "but even some of our larger clients are trimming relocation packages a little. In one case, the company cut out some minor things they had covered in the past, such as the cost of a new driver's license and car registration. These are minimal costs and candidates would never know they had been covered in the past, so it's easy for employers to make a change like that with little consequence."

Another security executive recruiter, Wils Bell, president of SecurityHeadhunter.com, has encountered refusals by companies to cover relocation costs "on many occasions."

One example was a larger company that was located in a big city. "Their position had been open almost a year when I was contacted about working on their search," Bell says. "The position offered a good salary, career advancement for the right person, challenge, etc. What it did not offer was any type of relocation."

Corporate leadership had decided that since the business was located in a larger city, it should be able to draw from the local market. "They still were holding onto this policy even after a year of searching and interviewing several candidates through numerous sources," Bell says.

And among companies that do cover relocations costs, in many cases the offer is not as generous as in the past, Bell says.

"For the vast majority of positions, relocation has changed from years ago," Bell says. "Getting a 'Cadillac' relocation package is many times being replaced by a specific dollar amount [such as] $3,000, $5,000 or $7,500, and you move yourself. Of course, you'll need receipts to back up all expenses."

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These types of situations, with either no relocation packages or limited packages, have been on the rise, Bell says. "I don't see it as often at the C-level as I do the mid- to senior-level positions, but it is definitely increasing," he says.

Years ago, relocation packages and their perks were fairly standard, Bell says. "Over the years they have decreased in value," he says. "In my opinion, money is the main driving factor. Firms could spend a great deal of money moving someone. The actual move, closing costs, house hunting trips, temporary housing, etc. all added up. It is easier for many firms to just offer a flat dollar amount."

Some organizations are more likely to provide relocation packages only for the higher-level security jobs.

"Often, organizations see the value of finding the precise organizational and skill-set fit at or above the director level, making relocation necessary," says Domini Clark, principal at Blackmere Consulting, which recruits information security professionals.

"Below that level, however, it is often very difficult to find organizations willing to cover the costs of relocation," Clark says. "Unfortunately, the majority of the hiring necessary in any organization goes on at this level, which causes issues with positions being open much longer than necessary or not being filled at all."

Some recruiters, however, say they've not encountered any major issues regarding relocation costs.

"We have filled some of the most prestigious CISO roles as well as companies hiring first-time CISOs, and for the most part they understand the demand for these executives is very high and are providing relocation packages," says Joyce Brocaglia, founder of Alta Associates, an executive search firm specializing in information security and IT risk.

"We have filled over 20 information security positions in the first quarter, and the majority of companies were willing to relocate candidates," Brocaglia says. "The only times we see companies not wanting to fund relocation expenses are for junior level to entry level manager roles that they believe they can find local talent. Even in those cases, the majority of companies are willing to provide some type of sign-on to defer expenses."

As the demand for talent has increased the past few years, "I've had more companies offering relocation packages than I did in the 2008 to 2011 timeframe," adds Jeff Snyder, president of SecurityRecruiter.com.

[ The CSO Security Career Survival Guide ]

"It is safest for a job candidate today to be prepared for reimbursement for a pack and move where the company will pay for a rental truck and maybe packing and a month or two of storage on the destination end of the relocation," Snyder says. "If a company offers a relocation package that includes assistance with selling a home or even outright buying a candidate's home, this is what I would consider to be a package with gravy."

Nevertheless, containing relocation costs now appears to be a reality that recruiters, candidates and hiring managers must acknowledge and in most cases accept, Lavinder says. "This trend began during the recession and is ongoing," she says.

Unrealistic expectations by candidates

The unwillingness of many companies to pay for relocation costs when hiring security executives and staff is having an impact in several ways, according to recruitment experts.

"This can make the jobs of recruiters and internal talent acquisition personnel more difficult," Lavinder says.

"Candidates can have some fairly unrealistic expectations around relocation," Lavinder says. "They've heard stories from peers about deluxe relocation packages and do not realize those are the exception, not the norm. Managing the expectations of candidates, as well as the relocation discussion and process, is how a good recruiter can add value and help the employer find the talent needed."

One major effect of the decrease in relocation package offerings is that company's limit their choices and might not be able to hire the best candidate for the position, Bell says.

"This is especially true at senior leadership levels," Bell says. "When you consider what even a small breach can cost a firm in lost profits, reputation damage, loss of client's, remediation efforts, etc., then hiring the best candidate, regardless of relocation, just makes good business sense."

The trend means recruiters in some cases have to work harder to get companies to be more flexible if they want to bring in people with the needed security experience.

"Nobody ever wants to back off of their list of wants, needs and desires, but depending on the size of the local market a [company is] in, I have to convince employers that they have to find flexibility somewhere or lower their standards," Snyder says.

"The types of roles I work on are not roles where companies can afford to lower their standards," Snyder says.

Another consequence of the hesitance to pay relocation costs is that more and more work is being done remotely, Clark says.

"In many cases, the technology is there to make this effective," Clark says. "However, leadership is often uncomfortable with this shifting tide. It 'feels' less like they have the control they need to know what's happening with their department if they can't do a walk through or hold an in-person meeting. If companies are unwilling to assist the right talent with meaningful relocation offerings or remote work possibilities, their positions will remain open or they will compromise on candidate quality."

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