I’ve been asked the question several times and the answer I usual provide is: “it depends.”
Many job announcements in the industrial security / security specialist / facility security officer (FSO) career field list the duties to be performed, and then jumps into qualifications. The job descriptions center on working within a security program designed to protect classified information at a department of defense or other department or agency and their supporting contractor location. The qualifications usually require a minimum of a predetermined number of years’ performing security tasks and a four year degree. Most of the time the four year degree can be substituted for demonstrated experience. Rarely if ever is demonstrated job performance able to be substituted.
So, in this scenario, I would answer that the certification weighs heavier than the college degree.
As an example, let’s look at an applicant for a new FSO position. She is a veteran who had received an honorable discharge after four years of service. While on active duty, she was awarded a security clearance and performed duties requiring her to protect classified information. Additionally, she wrote local policy to protect classified information and received glowing comments of her successful security program during Inspector General audits. These comments were translated to positive bullets in on the spot awards and performance evaluations.
Once discharged, she accepted a job with a cleared defense contractor. For the next three years she supported and learned from an experienced FSO while managing personnel security tasks, assisting in the SCIF, and running the information security program. These challenges gave her the confidence to register for and take the Industrial Security Professional Certification exam. She also applied for a new facility security officer position opening at another cleared contractor facility across town. Though in night school, she hasn’t yet earned her degree. However, her military and contractor experience and ISP Certification credentials make her a competitive candidate for the job.
The value of skilled job performance paired with ISP Certification demonstrates the ability to develop and implement security practices to protect classified information. Hiring managers are looking for candidates who are ready to go to work. These candidates must be able to show they are ready to do the job asked of them.
There are a variety of certifications that help demonstrate the skills: FSO Certification, Security Fundamentals Professional Certification, Certified Protection Professional, ISP Certification and more. Always sharpen your skills and continuously prepare yourself for the next move. Sometimes that dream assignment becomes available. Your skill combined with timing and opportunity can make it a reality.
Jeffrey W. Bennett, ISP is the owner of Red Bike Publishing Red Bike Publishing . He regularly consults, presents security training, and recommends export compliance and intellectual property protection countermeasures. He is an accomplished writer of non-fiction books, novels and periodicals. Jeff is an expert in security and has written many security books including: "Insider's Guide to Security Clearances" and "DoD Security Clearances and Contracts Guidebook", "ISP Certification-The Industrial Security Professional Exam Manual", and NISPOM/FSO Training".