As demand rises for cybersecurity professionals, so does their pay

September 30, 2012

The demand for cybersecurity professionals far outstrips the supply of these highly skilled workers in the Washington area, a dynamic which experts and recruiters say is driving up compensation for qualified individuals and fueling fierce competition among employers to land top talent.

Pay for cybersecurity analysts in the region jumped 10.1 percent this year, according to data compiled by consulting firm Akron on behalf of the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area. That exceeds the growth in compensation across all jobs in the region, which was 2.1 percent this year.

The scarcity of cybersecurity workers means that the job candidates “hold all the cards,” said Kathy Lavinder, executive director of SI Placement, a Bethesda-based recruiting firm that specializes in placement for information security jobs.

Because of that, “The compensation piece is the one piece where employers know they have to put something very attractive on the table,” Lavinder said.

Retaining existing workers appears to be particularly important. Though pay has risen overall for cybersecurity workers in the Washington area, it is lower for new hires in a given job category than for existing employees in that same role, the survey shows.

The private sector and the government face different challenges in trying to lure the best cybersecurity job candidates.

The federal government has had a pay freeze in place since 2011, and it requires many workers to go through the long and sometimes complex process of obtaining a security clearance.

“Federal government lags as an employer of choice because of that,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council.

Private sector firms can be more patient, but still have to navigate the government’s security requirements. And once workers obtain the coveted clearance, they don’t want to give them up by being assigned to non-security duties.

“If they have a clearance, they want a role where they can protect that clearance,” Lavinder said.

Demand for cybersecurity professionals among private sector employers “now goes across every vertical, no matter what industry you’re talking about,” said Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises, a Fairfax-based computer forensics and legal technology firm.

Experts said that financial service firms and utility companies have recently ramped up their focus on cybersecurity. Law firms and health care organizations also would benefit from better cyber protection, given their troves of private client records.

The need for cyber professionals across all industries is likely to continue to surge in the near future, hiring professionals say, and so, too, is the imperative to vie for talent.

“The foot is on the gas pedal, and no one’s letting up,” Lavinder said.

At McLean-based Booz Allen Hamilton, the company is making an effort to drum up interest in cybersecurity careers among students — including those who haven’t yet entered college.

The firm sponsors a robotics competition and a national chess tournament, both geared at young people, because it believes the skills needed to succeed at these events are useful later in building a cybersecurity career.

“There’s definitely a public-spirited aspect of it, but part of it is we’re going to need to groom cyber talent we’re going to need over time,” said Peter Brooks, a senior associate at Booz Allen.

Competition for cybersecurity workers has led some employers to reframe their approach to the hiring process.

“We’ve had clients who have lost money by paying individuals more than they will get back under the contract,” said Jenessa Hoffman, president of Arlington-based Potomac Recruiting.

But the companies are willing to take the hit, she said, because “in the long run, it’s going to help them.”

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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