Like it or not, Canadian governments, law enforcement agencies and armed forces are in the information technology security business. And like every other organization, they need qualified people to manage and operate their security systems. Hiring organizations with a need for IT security staff are looking for people with subject matter expertise.

As with any other IT skill set, there are recognized standards and accreditations, but hiring executives also want a track record. They look for candidates who have already been involved in the provision of IT security products or services to organizations that have information, people or networks that must be protected. The roles are typically technical in nature with skill sets that include highly analytical, information seeking, and problem-solving attributes. Candidates also have to have an appetite for working long hours and shift work.

In today’s world, public sector organizations are competing for personnel with private companies and institutions that may offer inducements beyond their ability to match. The corporate world is significantly different from government, from compensation through to scope of the role and entitlement. The private sector simply has more ways to meet candidates’ expectations.

Despite that, the armed forces and police forces can find and keep top IT security people, even if the lifestyles they offer are somewhat restrictive, because I believe that both institutions are a calling.

Recruits with IT security skills or the potential to acquire them may not be completely altruistic when they join up, but if they didn’t believe in the mandates, why would they enlist in those organizations? As well, to a great extent, Canada’s military is an entity onto itself, without many of the personnel and process constraints that restrict other government departments. People who enlist know what they’re getting into.

Issues of personality type may also come into play. I believe military and government will be able to retain people largely because of entitlement in terms of tenure seniority and pension. You get neither of those assurances in the corporate role but you likely get paid more.

People do not choose a corporate role over a government role because of money. It’s about hunter versus farmer, risk versus entitlement, initiate versus assigned. Bridging the compensation gap will not attract those who are not pre-destined to the government world.

What could attract IT security people to government and military positions rather than making money or pursuing the lucrative start-up exit strategy is the significance of their roles, making a difference on the battlefield or fighting terrorists. In essence, a direct and personal involvement in the greater good.

Another card that military and government recruiters might put on the table is technology. While the government and the armed forces might not be developing the latest and greatest in cyber security technologies, they are certainly acquiring and deploying them in advance of most of their corporate counterparts.

IT security specialist candidates might not look like detectives, fighter pilots or special forces operators, but they may be looking for the same kinds of intangible rewards that often motivate people who perfect those skill sets – the desire to work on an elite team, to right the wrongs of this world, and to measure themselves against the biggest challenges of their chosen profession. When recruiting for government and military positions, those factors could be decisive.

Greg Boyle is a partner in StoneWood Group, a telecommunications and technology executive search firm.