If you are interviewing for the top security position in a company, you need to know if the role is a true executive-level Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) role or just a technical “Head of Security” or Director of Security position.

More often than not, it’s not a true CISO Position.

Most security leadership positions are still technical leadership positions. Firms and leaders will often label the position as a CISO role, but when you dive into the details, it is not a true officer of the company, it doesn’t have direct access to the Board of Directors, and it often does not set its budget or strategy.

The difference is significant and can get you in both financial and legal trouble if you head down the wrong path unknowingly. If you are already sitting in a security leader seat and want to evaluate if your position is a true CISO level role or more of a “Head of Security” position, then substitute the “Will I be” with “Am I or Do I.”

Here are the questions you should be asking to evaluate a security leadership role:

Strategic Involvement and Decision-Making:

  • Will I be involved in shaping the overall business strategy of the company concerning cybersecurity?
  • Will I be responsible for aligning the cybersecurity strategy with the business objectives and risk management?

Reporting Structure:

  • Will I report to the CEO, CIO, or another high-ranking executive?
  • Why is it structured this way and what are the potential conflicting interests?
  • Will I have direct communication with the Board of Directors regarding cybersecurity matters?

Scope of Authority and Responsibilities:

  • Will my responsibilities include developing and updating the company-wide cybersecurity policies and standards?
  • Will I oversee and manage compliance with legal and regulatory requirements related to cybersecurity?
  • If it is a public company – Will I be on the Disclosure Committee or involved in the Disclosure process? 

Leadership and Team Management:

  • Will I be responsible for the broader vision and direction of the cybersecurity department, beyond just operational tasks?
  • Will I have the full latitude to build my team as needed including hire, fire capability, plus, a training budget?

External Interaction and Representation:

  • Will I represent the company in external forums, conferences, or industry groups related to cybersecurity?
  • Will I be the primary contact for regulatory bodies and external stakeholders on cybersecurity issues?

Limiting Personal Liabilities:

  • Will I be covered by Directors and Officers insurance?
  • Will I be a named officer of the company to ensure I am covered under D&O insurance?
  • Will I be covered by Error and Omissions insurance?

Crisis Management and Incident Response:

  • Will I be responsible for leading the response to significant cybersecurity incidents and crises?
  • Will I have a role in strategic discussions on how to manage and mitigate the impact of security breaches?

CISO Executive Forum: How to Lead Like a Fortune 500 CISO

Influence on Culture and Training:

  • Will I be responsible for shaping the security culture within the organization?
  • Will I be responsible for educating and training employees at all levels about cybersecurity practices?

Innovation and Future Planning:

  • Will I head up assessing emerging technologies and trends to plan for future cybersecurity challenges?
  • Will I be a key decision-maker on the adoption of new technologies or practices that impact the company’s security posture?

Level of Autonomy:

  • How much autonomy will I have in making decisions related to cybersecurity?
  • Will I have the authority to make changes or implement new strategies without requiring approval from higher-ups?

Budget Management and Control:

  • Will I be responsible for developing and managing the cybersecurity budget?
  • Will I have the authority to make significant investments in security technologies and resources?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, then this will be or is a CISO role. If many of the questions were answered “No” then this role is more of a Director level or “Head of Security” which is likely a technical position, instead of a strategic position.

Reflecting on the nature of these responsibilities, the scope of your influence, and your strategic involvement can help clarify your role and set the proper expectations before accepting a position.

If you are evaluating a position or employment agreement, check out this resource to help you negotiate the best possible agreement for you and your company.  SINET – Security & Risk Executive’s Employment Agreement Handbook

For more helpful tips here are a series of articles to help you walk through the Job Hunting to the Hiring Process.

Powerful Tips on How To Land Your Next Dream Job

About Tim Howard

Tim Howard is the founder of 5 technology firms including Fortify Experts which helps companies hire the Best Cyber Talent on the Planet, provides vCISO/Advisory consulting, and NIST-based 3rd party security assessments

How I can help you:

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