How To Hire a CSO

The Chief Security Officer (CSO) is the C-level executive responsible for the security of all digital and physical assets.  Given this, they need a good understanding of cyber-security, physical security, and the protocols required to ensure assets stay secure.  Below we will explore what the role of a CSO is and what they can do for your business.  Then I will share my best practices on how to hire a CSO.

The acronym CSO also commonly refers to the Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Sales Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Chief Science Officer

The process you follow for hiring a CSO is not dissimilar from other executive positions.  You must clarify your needs, wants, and expectations for this particular role.  I plan to make detailed guides on these in the future, so sign-up for my newsletter to see those.  Alternatively, please contact me if you need help in your executive search for these roles.  I can help you find a partner who specializes in these roles within your industry and your region.

What is a CSO?

CSO is responsible for the security of physical and digital assets.  However, their main focus is primarily on cybersecurity.  This involves preventing data breaches, hacking, phishing, and malware attacks.  It also includes ensuring no unauthorized personnel enters the company premises or secure zones.

The difference between a Chief Security Officer (CSO) and  Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), is that the CISO is often a title used in tech companies to show a distinct focus on cyber-security.  While a CSO is a title focused on both physical and digital, the CSO generally will do the same tasks as the CISO in a business, but not in such a cyber-focused manner due to their need to ensure the security of physical assets.  Learn more about how to Hire a CISO

The competition in hiring a CSO today is exceptionally high.  Due to their specialized skill set and the risk of massive fines due to data breaches due to government mandates like GDPR.

Responsibilities of a CSO

The CSOs common responsibilities are:

  • Security auditing – They need to oversee day-to-day practices in the business to spot potential security risks.  They can then create systems to mitigate that risk.
  • Security systems – Develop, implement and maintain security systems, processes and policies. Considering the business needs and the threats it may face.
  • Enforcing compliance – Make sure everyone in the company is adequately trained and following the security procedures of the tasks they are carrying out.  Many industries must meet specific standards following local, national, and international laws where they work..
  • Innovating – They must be aware of new threats daily by leading the company’s security.  They keep abreast of news and reports of other breaches.  This knowledge will enable them to innovate and ensure protection from possible future attacks.

Who does a CSO report to?

The CSO reports traditionally to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). However, many businesses choose to have the CSO report directly to the CEO. This is to avoid the risk of the CEO being unaware of a vulnerability, threat or even a breach. 

Companies that want to show that they value security and risk mitigation often have a Chief Risk Officer (CRO) to whom the CSO would report.  They do this as the C-suite has two members pushing for risk mitigation and its value on their business.  Ensuring these risks get prioritized and addressed.

What qualifications may a CSO need?

I would recommend that your CSO has a bachelor’s and/or master’s in computing or data security.  Qualifications are often not required, but I would recommend you have some validation of your candidate’s claimed skill.  And qualifications are excellent for that, especially when it comes to the niche in which your computer systems may operate.  Be it: financial, cloud, enterprise server management, or medical.

Some qualifying bodies for cyber security are: ISACA or (ISC)2 or the EC-Council . But there are more that may be more applicable to your field and country.  Please conduct your research for your business or reach out to an executive search expert in your industry to help you.  Contact me if you would like help with this.

How to compensate a CSO?

CSO are generally a role which resides in larger companies.  In the USA the base yearly salary range for a CSO is:

  • 10% – $73,000
  • 50% MEDIAN – $150,000
  • 90% – $230,000

In the UK this the base yearly salary range for a CSO is:

  • 10% – £56,000
  • 50% MEDIAN – £98,000
  • 90% – £147,000

Keep in mind when hiring a CSO are offered Bonuses and benefits, which lift this a significant additional amount.

Best Practises on How to Hire a CSO

People new to executive search often miss these core parts of the process.  These are some of the most important pieces to ensure you hire a CSO that meets your business needs.

Start your search early

Hiring a CSO can take time, especially if you want a range of talented CSOs to pick from.  I am noticing that the demand for quality CSOs is high.  The talent pool is not as large, and as we read about companies experiencing data breaches, the demand will continue to increase. 

I suggest starting the process about 3-6 months before your desired start date.  This will allow you to carry out your search in a manner that doesn’t distract you from your regular duties too much and gives you enough time to find the most highly qualified candidates.  This estimated timeline can be shorted, especially with external assistance.  Working with executive search firms can enable more efficient searches and pose less risk to your company.  Please contact me if you would like to discuss help with your CSO search.

Develop a search team

Given the level and responsibility of the CRO, the recruitment will usually be led by the CHRO and either the CIO, CTO, or CRO (risk, not revenue).  Depending on the company’s size, the CEO could be involved as well.

Develop your list of needs and wants for your CSO

As you quantify what you want to see in your new CSO, the pieces required to create a detailed and accurate description will evolve.  Let’s explore some of the everyday things most companies are looking for in a CSO:

  • Rolling out and monitoring strategies to determine and mitigate risk in daily operation.  Keeping the company and its assets safe and secure.
  • Developing, implementing, and maintaining security policies and procedures and helping determine ways of reducing risk.  The goal is to limit liability for falling victim to the exposure or theft of assets.  This includes physical and digital information and identifying ways of reducing risks and limiting potential liability.
  • Conducting research and executing security management solutions to help keep the organization safe.  
  • Ensuring sure the company is compliant with local, national, and global regulations.  Think GDPR, CPRA, or CCPA as examples.

 Do you need to do a confidential executive search for a new CSO?

Work with an executive search Firm

You may be able to find a great candidate through your network but to ensure you don’t make a wrong decision because it’s potentially cheaper than hiring a search firm.  You need the best candidates available in the market from across your industry and possibly other compatible industries.

Executive search firms can proactively reach out to high-performing talent for you.  By using established networks, experience, and knowledge in recruiting CSOs, you will benefit from having better candidates to choose from.   Let the search firm do the hard work while you and your team focus on your core business.

Please get in touch with me if you would like help in your executive search for a CSO.  I have over 25 years of experience in global executive recruitment.  I am a Managing Partner at Boyden, a global search firm, and I have partners in 45 countries worldwide.  If needed,  I can help you identify an executive search expert in your country or lead a specialized team to help you find your next CSO.


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