In season four of the TV show “Parks and Recreation”, two of the characters founded a company named “Entertainment 720”. There was a lot of hype and buzz around this new company, though no one seemed to be able to understand exactly what the company did. Not surprisingly, after rapidly chewing through all of its funding, “Entertainment 720” shut its doors.
What does the fate of “Entertainment 720” have to do with security and fraud? I believe that as security and fraud professionals, we can learn an important career lesson from this fictional company. It is the lesson of ensuring we do not “Entertainment 720” our careers.
In the TV show, “Entertainment 720” soon became synonymous with the work identities and careers of its founders. They knew how to play the hype game and make a lot of noise. They had the cool office, the hip merch, and a PR machine. There was only one problem – the company had no revenue model and quickly ran through all of its funding. Once the company was gone, so were the work identities and careers of its founders. Just like that – in one day.
In the security and fraud fields, there are a few popular social media platforms that people strive to become celebrities on. There are those in our fields that know how to play the game and amass large followings. Perhaps they strike a chord with populist rhetoric or they dabble in politics. Perhaps they sound alarmist bells or reiterate popular cliches. Perhaps they have a catchy gimmick or phrase.
One thing is for sure – these security and fraud celebrities know how to capitalize on and monetize their followings. To be clear, I am not referring to those in our fields that have amassed large followings due to outstanding professional work. Rather, I am referring to those that have garnered tremendous followings without that.
The problem with this latter group is that the moment the social media platforms go away or change in any way, so do their work identities and careers. Contrast that with those professionals who have built strong professional records based on their skills, experience, and relationships. No matter what happens regarding social media platforms, their work identities and careers are unshakeable.
So how can we as security and fraud professionals ensure our careers don’t go the way of “Entertainment 720”? It is perhaps helpful to consider these professional development points:
● Strive to learn every day: Learning something new at work each day is not easy. It requires effort. It may be uncomfortable. It may require finding a way to set aside time for it. But if we are learning, we are growing and developing as people and as professionals. Each day we do this makes us better and more qualified professionals.
● Feel overwhelmed occasionally: It may sound crazy, but we should feel like we are overwhelmed occasionally. It is good for our careers to feel like we can’t keep our heads above water sometimes. Not all the time, of course, but periodically. Why? Because we will overcome the challenges and learn to manage what initially seems unmanageable. And that will make us better employees.
● Take risks: It may sound radical, but we should take risks at work each day. Not stupid risks, of course, but calculated, measured risks. Sure, there can be a downside to taking risks, but there is also huge upside potential. I’ve taken risks – I do so each time I put my thoughts down here on paper. I’ve been wrong. I have my critics. But hopefully I’ve also contributed to the pool of security and fraud knowledge that is out there.
● Offer information: Share collaboratively and in good faith, until someone gives you a reason not to trust them with information. Holding on to information gives a person short-term power over another person, but in the long-run, it limits their ability to build trust and develop relationships. That, in turn, harms their career prospects.
● Go on the record: I once worked for a boss who repeatedly stated, “if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” He was absolutely correct. If we put things in writing, we run the risk of being criticized, called out, and/or mocked. Yet, if we never put anything in writing, what record is there that we worked? It is important to remember that while there is a risk in putting things in writing, there is also a reward – namely that people have the chance to hear our ideas, process them, and respond to them.
● Provide value: I am a firm believer in providing value to the security and fraud fields In the form of content – ideas, suggestions, techniques, and/or methodologies. How this value is provided – articles, blogs, webinars, or otherwise is less important than that it is provided. Sure, it requires an investment in time and energy, and yes, there is not always an immediate reward. Nonetheless, it is worth doing, and people do take notice of it.
● Engage: Do not pick and choose with whom, when, and how to engage. Withholding engagement until a person says the “right thing” is manipulative. It stokes people’s fear of missing out, and it isn’t a nice thing to do. If you put yourself out there openly and transparently, live that in the way you engage with people – whether they like what you’ve put out there or not. People will see this, and it will help your career.
● Build relationships: It sounds obvious, but don’t burn any bridges. Focus on building relationships, even if there is nothing to be gained from them immediately. Ultimately, relationships are what get most people their next gig. It is important to remember that building relationships is the best professional development tool most of us have access to.
Make no mistake, the social media celebrities in our fields are not in the security or fraud business – they are in show business. I may be wrong, but I surmise that their unspoken, unarticulated, deep-down fear is that it may all go away one day. If they haven’t focused on real professional skills, experience, and relationships, that fear might be spot on. Those who have focused in the right areas will have nothing to fear of course.
I believe that social media may already be past its prime – time will tell. Whereas it was once a strong factor in hireability, the pendulum has begun to swing back towards putting professional records first. Over time, security and fraud professionals have learned to see through those that have amassed a large following but aren’t coming up with original content, providing value, and/or don’t have the right skills for the job.