Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Networking

It seems to be accepted wisdom that this time of year isn’t a great time to be looking for a new job as everything is shutting down for the Christmas period.

I have read numerous recruitment articles saying this isn’t the case....great opportunity to get ahead of others...process never stops...etc, etc  but I think this is pretty well nonsense.   Back in the real world, my view is that once the party season starts most Hiring Managers aren’t interested in too much formal recruitment, especially starting a new process if you aren’t already in the system.

So, off to the bar then for us all and a very Happy Christmas!!!  

As you may know, I am never one to argue against a trip to the bar but whilst there I do think this is a good time to actually do some informal networking.   I know, I know most of us who are more technical are put off by just the word ‘networking’ and would rather spend Christmas day with Edwina Currie!  Maybe I exaggerate a touch....

However, networking in this context is as simple as getting introduced to people from organisations you think could be of interest to you in the future for a five minute chat.  No mention of jobs or necessarily even work but just noting a name and making a contact that could be useful in the future.

This contact could be useful in many ways.  One of the most simple happens often and occurs when your department receives a job application and people are asked if they know the applicant.  If someone has just met you for three minutes at a Christmas party that could be the small edge that leads you to be invited to interview ahead of other applicants (and don't make the mistake of thinking that it is the 'best' people who get to interview stage, pure ability is usually way down the pecking order).  Sometimes it is these fine margins that are the difference between securing a great new position and another year of disillusionment.

Of course, when out partying, the most vital thing that you should always be aware of is that if you spot your favourite recruiter in the room their glass should always be refilled....Enjoy (hic)!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Gary Speed

It has been exactly a week since, in a state of disbelief, I heard of the tragic death of Gary Speed, apparently by hanging, at the age of just 42.

I don’t recall ever being as genuinely upset by the death of somebody I didn’t know personally but I think the real shock with his death is that on the outside it appeared that Gary had every reason to live.  
As a huge supporter of the Mighty Leeds United in the early 90’s when I attended most games Gary Speed - then at his peak in our midfield - was one of my real heroes for the way he played the game and, equally as importantly, the exemplary way he behaved off the field.  A really special man who was liked and respected by everyone.

RIP Gary Speed  (8 September 1969 - 27 November 2011)

The Samaritans can be contacted on:  08457 909090

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


I am staggered by many things, in fact, most things....but nothing bemuses me much more than unnecessary interview processes.

The process which always used to amuse me the most was Kent Police when they recruited forensic analysts.  To say it struck me as overkill is a complete understatement - suffice to say they had to hire half the office space in London just to cope with the masses invited for the initial assessment.  If successful in this task there were just another three hundred or so stages before a potential offer was made.  If you applied by age six you were potentially looking at starting work before retirement age along with the other ‘lucky’ applicants.

I am sure it was a thorough process (to say the very least) and to be fair, they did recruit some outstanding people, but was it really the best way to select candidates for a first role in forensics – or any role for that matter?  As you may just have gathered, I think it was way over the top and wasted the time of lots of people.  

However, recently I have seen an increase in never-ending processes for more senior people in both forensics and ED, including the dreaded panel interview.  Of course, for an important role you need to ensure you have found the person with the skills for the role blah, blah, blah.... but, surely, the key to the whole process is a frank discussion between hiring manager and jobseeker?

A jobseeker wants to work with people who really want to understand what they are all about and how they can contribute to the work that needs to be done.  This must mean that the main - and only genuinely significant - interview is a frank conversation between the hiring manager explaining the issues faced and the jobseeker explaining how they will successfully complete the work.

Anything else is purely padding, isn’t it?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Personal Relationships

Firstly, thank you so much to everyone who has sent their best wishes during my recent little batch of ill health – yes, I know that YOU didn’t but others of a more caring nature did...Never mind and don't feel bad, maybe you could make up for it with a particularly generous Christmas gift?

Back at my desk today demonstrated (yet) again to me THE key aspect of looking for a new role which is the importance of maintaining and developing personal relationships.  After way too long I finally caught up with two of my oldest friends in the computer forensics sector and both conversations as well as being hugely pleasurable also opened up considerable opportunities for me as a recruiter.

If you are seriously considering changing jobs the easiest way to do so is by utilising your personal relationships before you even think of doing anything else.  Really, it is so obvious but how often have you actually asked your friends in the industry who is recruiting?  On Facebook have you made it clear that you are looking for a new role and made public your experience?  Just doing these two things will massively increase your chances of securing your new role before your next course of action - calling your favourite recruiter...

So, which personal relationship have you let slip recently and will you call them tomorrow? 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


After my last dreary post today I intended to be upbeat and positive, but, like the England Cricket Team in India, I have reverted to form and failed miserably.  My topic today is bullying.

We all know the real human damage caused by bullying whether in the playground or the workplace.   Nobody reading this has ever bullied anyone, right?  Or stood by and watched a colleagues life being made a misery as that is the easier option?

I am not naive enough to think that bullying doesn’t exist in most workplaces to some degree but over the last few weeks I have been genuinely sickened by three specific cases in my sectors.   There are pages of literature on corporate bullying so I am not going to bore you with amateur psychological/sociological nonsense, but, I think in areas such as those in which I recruit the bullying often takes the form of intellectual harassment. 

The specific examples I am thinking of are where people have been made to feel a failure due to not having the knowledge or not being quick enough to pick up concepts/information that comes easier to others.  We see clear evidence of this behaviour on professional forums all the time but online it feels a little more removed – how would you feel if you were facing this every day?   One example I have in mind is a new graduate who moved to London for her first real forensics job.  Within a month this poor girl had her confidence totally destroyed by experienced practitioners who should know much better. 

This behaviour is so upsetting – how would you feel if this was your daughter who was trying to adjust to the pressures of the world of work for the first time in a new City and was effectively being laughed at and made to feel stupid on a daily basis?

In areas such as Computer Forensics/Electronic Disclosure some people will very quickly realise that they don’t have the technical/intellectual/investigative ability to be successful and will naturally leave the discipline very quickly.  However, if you see someone struggling in your organisation, please think carefully about how you behave towards them as a friendly arm around the shoulder can mean everything to someone feeling isolated.   Just on a human level surely we all have a duty of care to help to solve the problem rather than make it worse?

Thursday, 20 October 2011


A short, off-topic post this evening.

As I see it there is no doubt that Gaddafi committed terrible crimes and there are lots of people who are (probably) understandably delighted to see him dead.  On a personal level I really struggle with the media coverage here in the UK celebrating the death - for a variety of reasons it makes me very uneasy.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


I know, I know.  It has been a month since I last blogged and you have missed my incisive, witty, intelligent and informative posts.  You don't have to say it out loud, let's just leave it unsaid!  As today is my birthday I thought it was time to share some more random words with the world this time about autumn.
The month of my birth is in many ways as unremarkable as a senior member of the Cabinet taking his best friend everywhere with him (apparently David Cameron can't sack Liam Fox because, and I'm not making this up, he has a cat).  Talking of politics, I bumped into a friend of mine earlier who told me his wife had just phoned to say she's just gone into labour.  He told her it was bloody ridiculous to start a career in politics when they are expecting a baby.  

I digress.  Here in England the weather on this day is usually quite dull and dreary (please don’t even think of making the connection here) however, it is notable as it is one of the most popular times to change jobs in our sectors.

It is hard to give a concrete answer why the autumn is such a popular time to make a move, but looking back through my records from 2003 the shape of the graph is remarkably similar each year.  Immediately after Christmas recruiting levels are very low and this doesn’t really change until March. We then see a steady increase in recruitment through to September and this activity accelerates until late November before declining to a standstill by mid-December.  

According to one of my first bosses, the reason for the autumn peak was that people resigned after reflecting on life during the annual summer holiday.  Mind you, the same boss who shared this wisdom with me placed a £500 bet on England to win Euro 2008 the day Steve McLaren was appointed England Manager!  OK, so I think we can conclude my old boss is not exactly Nostradamus for the 21st Century but there is probably some truth in his thoughts.  I think it is also because appointments need to be pushed through before the party season begins in mid-December.

This autumn has been especially busy, particularly on the ED side where demand far exceeds supply at this time which means that some very attractive salaries are currently on offer to help persuade professionals to make a move.  If you are pondering new opportunities this is as good a time as any to make that call to your favourite recruiter!  

As it is my birthday I am feeling a little self-indulgent so will leave you with one of my favourite songs of all time by the incredible Nick Drake. Enjoy!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Get a Life....

In her excellent blog a clearly frustrated Libby (a recent CF graduate based in the US) asks the following:

I’ve always been told that after receiving rejection letters, phone calls,etc… that I  should contact the company via email or a phone call and ask in a polite manner what I can do to improve my interview performance or what would make me more employable… I do this after every rejection. I have only received a reply once offering constructive criticism and advice. Why is this? Why only one reply?

Libby is absolutely right to be annoyed.  I always advise people – however senior – to thank the interviewers and ask for any feedback and strongly believe this is the right thing to do when you have invested time and energy in any interview process.  Frankly, I find it impossible to believe that anyone is really too busy to spend three minutes typing out a quick reply: do you?  Maybe the people ignorant enough not to reply are the same people who bore us to death on twitter about how there isn’t enough time in the day/week/month/year etc, etc...Perhaps a time management course could help although I guess they are much too busy/important for that so maybe just some basic manners could suffice?

In recruitment it is sometimes quite amusing observing how situations/people change.   Going back to the often used car salesroom analogy, I appreciate that most people want to just buy a new car, not become best mates with the salesperson at the showroom – and this clearly applies to the recruiter/jobseeker relationship.  

However for me it should be different!!!  For those who don't know me I am a great guy: incredibly charismatic, witty, intelligent, attractive and look great in a fake leopard skin thong 'posing' on the beach.  Therefore, naturally I am incredibly popular (if somewhat deluded) and so most people I know professionally want to be my friend (although not at the beach, surprisingly)....However, hard as it is to believe, some people I have dealt with on a professional basis can be just plain rude when they secure a role and never again have time to take my call.  Of course, when they are then looking for a new role again we are best pals in their eyes....But I don't forget.  Ok, I don't keep a little black book and a wide selection of voodoo dolls (well,  maybe just a few) but often for more experienced people I am asked about their personal characteristics and in discussions with Line Managers their inability to maintain a relationship is always noted.

It is no coincidence that the best and most successful people in my sectors - many of whom I have dealt with for years - make time for all their contacts.  I guess this is networking.  One Global Head of Investigations I have known for 10 years calls me maybe once a month just for five minutes to catch up on the industry gossip and I know he actively maintains other relationships not directly relevant to his daily job.  In terms of our relationship why wouldn't he stay in loose contact as he knows that as a recruiter in his area I often have access to information unavailable elsewhere.  It is human nature that whenever he has asked me (or anyone else in his network) a favour I don’t hesitate to make the time to help.

Going back to Libby, I look forward to the day when she is running a successful Team and treats all people – not just those who can help her short-term career - in the correct way.  By doing this she will reap all the professional benefits and, more importantly, do the right thing by treating people correctly.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Current Opportunities

I know what you are thinking...In the summer  us recruiters spend our time either at major sporting events or ‘posing ‘on beaches in just a thong whilst you are hard at work?

Well, much to the relief of everyone where I live, the latter certainly isn’t true as I am busier than ever working  this summer!  Due to this, rather than ranting about the wilting Leeds United or delighting you with amusing anecdotes (ahem) I thought I would instead let you know about four of the roles I am actively trying to fill at this time.

By the way, do you know someone who could be interested in a new position at this time?  If so, please do ask them to call me on 07789 633926 or email me at:  and I will happily show my appreciation by transferring  £500 to your account if the person you recommend is successful in securing a position.

Without further waffle, below are the top four items on my ‘to do’ list:

1, Project Manager Electronic Disclosure Computer Forensics – no sector experience needed
London.  To £60k + package

The demand for Electronic Disclosure Project Managers outstrips supply at this time.  However, this is a rare opportunity for someone with NO PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE in the sector – so it is all about Project Management ability.

2, Electronic Disclosure / Computer Forensics Senior Manager
Birmingham.  To £70k + package

All the best paying roles are in London right?  Wrong!!
Are you currently working in London but want to move back to The Midlands?  Call me today (in the strictest confidence) on 07789 633926 to discuss this role.

3, Computer Forensics Technical Specialist
London.  To £55k + package

No sales skills or ED needed here as this role is all about technical computer forensics ability.  This company want the very best – interested?

4, Electronic Disclosure Consultant
London.  To £75k + package

Do you work for Big 4 and hate the culture?  Maybe you work for another Consultancy and just want to work for another organisation where you can actually take the lead on major assignments without having to hand the juicy pieces of work to others?   Please call me to discuss.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Musings on events

Like you, I have been glued to the coverage of the riots here in the UK these last few days.  Also, no doubt like you, I have been appalled by the plight of the innocent people who have either suffered physical injury or who have had their homes and/or livelihoods destroyed.  I can't offer any amazing social analysis (no surprises there, huh) but I do increasingly worry about the implications for the future when we have a society seemingly split between those who have opportunity and those who are seemingly left behind without the same opportunities.

Like everyone I know I am alarmed by what is proposed for policing in the UK.  I personally know lots of police workers through my work in the computer forensics industry.  Almost without exception they have a real passion for their work but over the last few years I genuinely don't recall one who is happy with the way the police force is progressing at this time.  I appreciate the necessity of public sector cuts but surely recent events have once again demonstrated the folly in cutting police numbers further?

Where I live in the sleepy coastal town of Brightlingsea in Essex (pictured) we actually have an unmanned police station and I genuinely don't think I have ever seen a police(wo)man in the town.  As someone who grew up with the local bobby being a regular face in the community and at my school I find this quite hard to accept - I like to see a police presence on the streets, even here in Brightlingsea.

From a recruitment point of view recent events haven't really affected our work (so far, anyway).  I am, however, reminded of the terrible events in July 2005 when terrorists bombed the London Underground.  That day, we had an ex-policeman on interview for a forensics role at Control Risks Group who were based very close to where the bomb on the bus was detonated.  He arrived maybe twenty minutes after the explosion and although unable to access the offices where the interview was due to take place he spent the rest of the day helping the Met police maintain order around the scene.  I have come to expect this hands-on attitude from people I know who work for the police service.   Incidentally, he returned a week later and was offered the job.

Moving to less important matters, sadly, my pessimism about the prospects of the Mighty Leeds United is proving well-founded after we were humiliated at Southampton on day one of the new season (thank you to the 4,000 people who texted me about the game - I appreciate it).   Still, as the song goes (if you don't know, trust me on this one), we have our 'ups and downs' but as every true Leeds supporter knows we only enjoy the ups so much as we spend most of our time 'enjoying' the downs....

Friday, 29 July 2011

One Small Step

Finally, after years of moaning about something that really annoys me I have taken positive action!  Avid readers of this blog (Hi Mum) will no doubt recall verbatim my post about F3 ( in November last year:

For those who can't be bothered to read the link (understandably - I struggle to read my turgid prose too) I essentially moaned how F3 is happy to take my money for advertising in their brochure every year and yet I am not allowed to attend the conference as I am just a pesky recruiter and not a practitioner.   Ok, maybe I sweat the small stuff too much but I have bored colleagues for years about this as I think that in the eight years or so I have worked in this sector I should be seen as a part of the community.  Oh dear, do I sound like the guy who was neglected by his father aged five and has inclusiveness issues?

Anyway, no more!  This year I thought it was time to stick to my principles and not advertise in the brochure for a conference where I am not welcome!  Finally, I have made a stand!

Gosh, I feel so proud - whatever next?  Finally become vegetarian?  Refuse to spend thousands a year watching the Mighty Leeds United live due to the lack of ambition on the pitch displayed by Chairman Bates?  Tell my friend 'pretentious Steve' to stick his kind offer of his house inThailand for Christmas?

Hmmmm, I think one small step at a time....

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Actions & Consequences

Poker players nearly always lie: it is the essence of the game.   

At the Bellagio late one night I was playing at a table with a wise old Vegas local I know well and who is a preacher at his local church.  I asked him how he could justify the lies, even in a game.  He looked at me, sighed deeply and said slowly with a mischievous glint in his eye, ‘Always tell the truth son, even if you have to make it up’....

Away from the poker table we all lie sometimes, don’t we?  However insignificant the lie may appear and however noble the reasons for doing so, is it always wrong ?

Just this week I got caught out telling a small fib: well,  in reality it wasn’t even telling a lie, it was just not clarifying a situation which then gave the perception that I was not telling the truth.   Friends and business colleagues know that the very essence of my work is integrity and without it I have no credibility, especially in my sectors.   However, perception is reality - especially for people who don’t know you well – and due to my omission it looks like I am going to lose a potentially important friendship.

For jobseekers the parallels are obvious as numerous studies have shown that the primary job seeking tool – the CV - usually fails to reflect the whole truth.  When I am specifically asked about lying on CV’s my advice is always to exaggerate the positives but never lie.  In an area such as Computer Forensics you usually will be checked out fully by potential employers (even if the role doesn’t require SC vetting or similar) and if there are any discrepancies the job offer will be withdrawn.  

If you think that in reality this never happens then think again.  I have personally seen this occur maybe twenty times in the last ten years and the situation is exacerbated further by the offer usually being withdrawn after the jobseeker has already resigned from their current role.  Three of the most recent examples of offers being withdrawn are as follows:

  • The CV stated that the jobseeker had obtained A’level grades (eight years ago) of BBB.  The reality was BCB.  The A’level grades weren’t necessary for the role but it was just the lie that lead to the offer being withdrawn.
  • The jobseeker altered dates to show that they had worked for an employer for an extra three months when in reality they had resigned and been unemployed.  Like the previous  example, the period in question was a few years ago and would have had no effect on them being offered a position.
  • The most recent case was a little more extreme.  The jobseeker had been sacked from a position and when asked for a reference contact actually supplied the details of a friend who had never worked at the company.   Unsurprisingly in such a tight sector as forensics, this did not prove to be a successful strategy!

In summary  the situation is exactly the same for jobseekers as in the rest of life.  If you do choose to lie (or omit key information) go ahead....but be very aware of the consequences of following this course of action.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The System Is Broken

There are some great blogs written by forensics professionals out there at the moment.  Two of my favourites are the amusing accounts of forensic life written by two law enforcement forensic guys here in the UK:

I  love their often irreverent and always interesting twitter posts too so do follow them at: @happyasamonkey and @faintingchicken.

The Chicken, in his recent eggscelent (sorry) post, really lays (oops) out in clear terms the ridiculous position he is currently facing with the A19 procedure.  I don't know chicken personally -  or even his name so I have no personal axe to grind - but it seems but he effectively has to re-apply for his job.  However, due to 'the system' he is way down the pecking order (no more, I promise).  How ludicrous!  All the training, development and experience he has gained is just let go and the money then needs to be spent on training somebody else.

I often advise people new to forensics to work in law enforcement for a couple of years to gain experience before moving on as 'the system' makes it almost impossible to be promoted to Manager level.  However, many when they get there stay in law enforcement as they love the work, enjoy working closely with like-minded, talented colleagues and have a genuine commitment to public service.  I especially find this at the Met.  However, many others who are ambitious for career progression just walk away with incredible experience and skills to another employer as 'the system' means they have no other option.

Surely the system is broken?

English summer

There is nothing much worse that being stuck in the UK whilst the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) continues in Vegas.  I have been at the WSOP for the last two years and it is amazing.  Every day sees somebody else land a huge payday - life changing in many cases.  When not in Vegas I follow the action via twitter, live-streaming, reporting and via friends who are in town but it just isn't the same.

A trip to the WSOP usually keeps me alive in the gap between the football and rugby seasons. Mind you, with the inactivity at the Mighty Leeds United this summer and the bewildering departure of three of our top players (hmmm, is all relative) I am not sure that this coming season will be any less than a disaster.

In terms of summer sport here in the UK, Wimbledon isn't really my thing and the cricket series agains Sri Lanka was less than inspiring.  I am, however, going to pop along for a few days of the India Test Matches as I love the atmosphere generated by the absolutely fanatical Indian supporters - they are amazing!  If you are going to any of the games do let me know and I will kindly let you buy me a beer or three....

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Recruiter Briefing Hell

After a few days in France it is always a relief to revert to good old British hand-shaking rather than the endless stream of kissing.  However, my joy at this was short-lived as I knew I had been roped in to attend my least favourite thing in the entire world: a recruiter briefing.  Trust me, these events make major root canal work look appealing...

I usually avoid these things like the plague.  It starts at reception when you notice the other recruiters all milling around with bundles of files (why: what is in the files?), Ipads and laptops. We are then herded like sheep into a room to be briefed on the organisation and their recruitment needs.  Straight away this makes you feel very special as you are one of thirty or so all working on the same roles.  I mean, which Clients do you think recruiters will really spend the most time with – those who make an effort to see them on a one to one basis or those where you are one of many?

At this stage I give myself a little pep talk about how I must try to concentrate.  Then  it starts with a surprisingly brief HR summary before the introduction of one of the Hiring Managers.

After about three minutes I am reminded of the Oscar Wilde quote, ‘I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a word I am saying.’   After a while the will to live has left me and I drift off into an almost hypnotic state punctuated with nodding randomly as the stream of clich├ęs drift over me.  Maybe I should have stabbed myself with a pen to gain his attention?   Rather than taking notes it seems I had sketched voodoo dolls and a noose...

Finally, just as I am taking the laces out of my shoes and looking for beams the monologue was over and questions were invited. 

At this stage I do wake up as it is the best part of the proceedings!  So many recruiters love to talk and ask irrelevant questions – maybe they have a list of stupid questions in their files?  You know that course you attended that had run over and when the instructor asked for questions you all kept quiet as you just wanted to leave - but one person didn’t get it and kept raising inane points?  Well, a recruiter briefing is like this but much, much worse.

At first the Hiring Manager and HR happily answer all questions but after twenty minutes or so even they are looking bored by the tedium and pure irrelevance of the questions.  They exchange bemused glances on more than one occasion.  I actually cringe for one recruiter who asks eight questions very loudly and appears to laugh at the end of each sentence for no apparent reason.  Finally, after an hour of questions we are invited to drink warm white wine and sample a few dodgy sandwiches as we ‘network informally’ with other members of the Team.  The recruiters surge forward to ingratiate themselves and ask more questions.
I slink out of the side door in search of real people living on the same planet as me.....

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Weekend in France

I am writing this blog in the departure lounge awaiting my flight to Paris.  Some exciting work followed by a long weekend in France celebrating the 40th of one of my oldest and best friends - can't wait!

I have spent some great times in France, especially sailing in Brittany.  When me and JP were actively campaigning our Laser 5000 (pictured) on the European Circuit a few years ago our trips to La Baule and Lorient (both wonderful sailing locations in Brittany) were incredible.  Big waves, great sailing, amazing food, superb parties and fun people...

However, the last time I was in Paris was twenty years ago as part of my 14 months travelling before University.   Me and my pal Bupa had hitch-hiked to Paris from Amsterdam - including spending a very unpleasant, damp night in a shop doorway in Belgium – before arriving in Paris.  We were on such a shoestring budget we actually slept in Charles de Gaulle airport every night for a week before heading into Paris during the day until one evening the local police suggested we leave.   We ended up spending a very uncomfortable night in sleeping bags within the Gare du Nord before heading off for Munich the next day.  I had planned to spend the winter in the ski resorts of Germany until the Berlin Wall came down a month or two later and I headed straight to Berlin to spend a superb couple of weeks celebrating the incredible events unfolding before our eyes.

On this occasion I am in Paris as part of a major search assignment for one of our best Clients who is looking for senior eDisclosure professionals.  In this pretty tough market nearly all my personal recruiting seems to be in the eDisclosure area at this time, with particular demand for experienced Project Managers and Senior Consultants. 

In fact, it has been a few months since I was asked to recruit for a pure forensics role.   Is this going to be the case in the future I wonder?  On twitter this week, one experienced HTCU forensics professional was shocked that we are so quiet on the forensics side as he thought that people from the public sector would be in the market seeking opportunities.  My response was to ask where these people would go?  Big Four or similar in an eDisclosure role?  Bank or other major corporate as part of their IR, security or investigation Teams?  Are there realistically many positions available for people with these skills at this time?

Forensic 4Cast Awards

By now most of you will have heard who has won these awards.  I was especially pleased to hear that Eric Huber won the best blog prize for his excellent blog ‘A Fist full of Dongles.’  If you aren’t a regular reader I suggest you take a look as it is always an entertaining read from a guy who really knows his material:

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Interview with Angus Marshall

In this blog I am delighted to publish an interview with Angus Marshall.  

I first met Angus a number of years ago when he was inspiring large numbers of students through running the digital forensics course at Teesside University.  Nowadays, although still involved in academia, Angus is active in a wide range of work within the digital evidence/forensic computing sector including representing the Forensic Science Society on the Forensic Science Regulator's digital evidence advisory group.

This broad mix of experience gives Angus a unique perspective as you can see from his answers below:

1, How did you become involved in the digital forensics sector?

Almost by accident. About 10 years ago I was a lecturer at the Centre for Internet Computing in Scarborough and also managed the network for staff machines & our labs. One day someone spotted that all the campus bandwidth was being used by one of our Linux servers. I spent some time analysing that and my then girlfriend (now wife) suggested that I should write it up for the Forensic Science Society. After I presented the paper, on some theories about malware & incident analysis, Pat Wiltshire (forensic palynologist) suggested I should contact the old National Crime Faculty to become an expert on their register. A couple of months after that process was complete, I found myself working on a missing person case that soon turned out to be a murder.

I'd had an interest in forensic computing for a while before that happened, but it was always difficult to convince my employers to let me run a course. Fortunately, the success with the casework at Scarborough allowed me to at least put some forensic content into a final year module on the Internet Computing degree. It wasn't perfect, but it gave some insights into how to handle evidence.

2, Do you think students looking to move into this area are better taking a broader IT degree or a more specialised forensics course?

That's a very difficult one to answer. My own first degree was in Computer Studies & Microsystems and I still find myself falling back on principles that I learnt in the 80s. Of course, it's not enough to be just technically competent - you need to know something about applicable law, general forensic & crime scene science and a lot about how to write clearly & concisely.

There's a lot to be said for having a good general computing BSc followed by one of the specialist MSc courses, but there are some very good BSc programmes out there too. I think the key is to find one which combines the technical with the investigative & legal aspects properly - has them running as themes through the whole programme, rather than a course where the "forensic" element is almost bolted on as an afterthought through one or two modules added for marketability.

3, Course accreditation vs competence.  Your  thoughts?

Ouch! Well - since I've just finished a project with the Forensic Science Society to create their component standards (working with practitioners and academics) for accreditation of academic courses, I have to say that course accreditation is a good thing. I think it gives employers and students an assurance that an independent assessment has been made of the content, and that means that good students should be competent when they graduate. The scheme has been running for a few years now in the "conventional" forensic sciences and I know that employers particularly find it useful.

The problem is, of course, that not everyone in the industry will go through an accredited course and that skills in our area change rapidly - we're up against the ingenuity of other human beings after all. So I see an independent certification of competence as an important element too. This is something that the work on regulation & standards is turning into a requirement.

I think we need an independent body which can periodically test practitioners and give a certification of competence in particular skills which are relevant to them and the enquiries they deal with. That would also allow for new skills to be developed and shown to be fit for purpose. Quite how we achieve that, I'm not sure - but I have some ideas and am working with some partners to put together a project which should go a long way towards providing such an independent certification.

4, Why did you leave the world of academia ?

That's a complicated one to answer. Part of it came from increasing frustration caused by constant pressure on the HE sector to do more and more with less and less. It was becoming impossible for me to continue to carry out research and casework alongside managing some very successful courses. It wasn't a decision taken lightly - it took over 12 months before I finally made the leap and I still miss the contact with students and colleagues. Fortunately, I'm not completely out of academia yet. I still deliver a distance-learning module for Ulster, am a visiting lecturer at De Montfort (where some very exciting things are happening) and external examiner for the OU as well.

5, As a recruiter, I talk to a lot of people in the sector who are experiencing very difficult times.  What is your view on the current state of digital forensics?

Times are hard. The austerity measures put in place to deal with deficits has meant that a lot of casework is no longer being outsourced. I think that only the best and the highly specialised are likely to survive.

Having said that, we're seeing some interesting developments outside the law-enforcement sector, not least with the launch of new insurance products designed to cover businesses in the event that they need a digital investigation of some sort. To me, that suggests that digital forensics is coming of age and being recognised as an essential part of business incident response planning.

6, I know you recently attended the ISO/IEC SC27 meeting in Singapore.  What is your involvement with this?

Well, as some people know, I'm the Forensic Science Society's representative on the Forensic Science Regulator's digital evidence advisory group. As part of activity there, the regulator has an interest in some projects that the ISO Information Security Committee (SC27) is working on which related to digital evidence. Since I have some time to spare, I agreed to represent the UK at the meetings where this work is progress. In October I was in Berlin for my first meeting and then Singapore in April for the second. The main project to date is ISO/IEC 27037,not published yet, which will be a standard for handling of digital evidence from first response through to acquisition & preservation prior to analysis. It aligns quite well with the existing ISO17025 which has been adopted by forensic science laboratories, but clarifies some points and is more applicable to all types of digital evidence, particularly in the context of incident response.

I'm also leading the UK proposals to add 3 new standards to complement 27037. We think we need to complete the set with something on investigative models & processes, analysis of digital evidence and validation of digital evidence methods & tools. The validation problem is a big one and one that some parts of the industry seem to be trying to hide from.

None of this is paid work, by the way, I'm lucky if my expenses are covered - and it's definitely not a holiday - we spend a week sitting in committee rooms from 8-5 every day.

7, Tell me about the other work you are doing now?

I can't tell you about all of it - that's the nature of what we do! For me, though, apart from the casework, the most exciting area is around the three pillars of quality within the standards - proficiency, competence and validation. I've been fortunate enough to be commissioned to visit a few labs. and produce reports on their state with regard to applying for ISO accreditation. Most are very good at what they do, but not so good at keeping evidence of how they achieve their hight quality. It's not much fun being the bearer of bad news, but it's something which we all need to bear in mind as compliance is expected by 2014.

I have a lot of ideas about how we can help the industry solve some of the biggest problems and generally demonstrate their quality to a level which should satisfy even the strictest judge. The end result of that will be a much smoother passage through the post-investigtion phase (court, tribunal, disciplinary hearings etc.).

8, What does the future hold for you?

I thought you had the crystal ball ;) I've given some hints in my answers already, I think maybe I should let the readers see if they can work it out for themselves. I can guarantee, though, that the world will run out of pies before I run out fingers to stick into them.

Whatever it is, it had better be challenging, I hate not having a problem to work on - which probably explains why drive an old Lotus as my everyday car.

n-gate ltd. is going to seize every opportunity that comes our way, and try to make a few for ourselves too. We're always open to new ideas and difficult problems in particular. I think my ideal is for us to become known as "the experts' experts".

Angus Marshall can be contacted in the following ways:

Twitter: @marshalla99

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Teesside Digital Forensics Conference

As readers of this blog will know, I spend a lot of my time at Universities talking to forensics students.  I have spoken at Teesside University for the last four years and for the last two years, my company has awarded a cash prize for the best presentation at the annual Teesside Digital Forensics Conference.  This year, the quality of presentations was exceptionally high but the prize for best presentation was won by Louise Purvis who has kindly written a summary of the event and her presentation below:

 "The Teesside Digital Forensics Conference (TDFCon) is an event organised and run by final year Digital Forensics and Forensic Computing students at Teesside University.  The students are responsible for the full organisation of the event, from arranging catering and inviting guests, to creating contingency plans for the day of the event!  In addition to the organisation, students are also required to prepare and present papers, which must last approx. 45 minutes. 

As secretary of the conference, I was very involved with the organisation stages, so when the event received such good feedback from the guests and our course leader it was very pleasing to see many months of hard work and organisation go to plan, especially as it was the last assessment of our final year, and therefore marked the end of our time here at Teesside University.   

We were also incredibly grateful to the guests, who ranged from representatives from HMRC, Trading Standards, Northumbria Police and Teesside Uni. staff and Graduates, who took the time to attend and offer advice and support to the students.  We are obviously also very grateful to David Sullivan for providing the prize for the best presentation.

My presentation was based on my final year project “Online Vulnerability: Identifying Characteristics for Victim Profiling”.  It aimed to identify what it is about a victim that makes them an attractive target to criminals, and what vulnerable areas are preyed upon.  I chose this area after speaking to Arron Martin Zeus Brown, my course leader, as I wanted a project that mattered, and could in the future, potentially make a difference.  There is a noticeable gap in literature in this area, in that much research addresses cybercriminal profiling, but very little is currently available about the victims of cybercrimes.  

After conducting a thorough literature review, the 17 characteristics identified which contributed to vulnerability levels were grouped into four specific categories, namely: Biological, such as gender and age; Psychological, such as human emotions and desires, trust, and impulse; Situational, such as environment, exposure to risk and time spent online, and finally Social, such as lifestyle, education, experience and employment.  All of the aforementioned areas were believed to hold some influence over levels of vulnerability online, as they all contribute to victimization.

My presentation aimed to raise awareness of these areas, as many of them such as trust, are carried out at a subconscious level by an internet user on a daily basis, without fully considering the implications and the risks.  Educating users as to what it is that makes them attractive targets online, as opposed to what the risks are and instructing them what (not) to do online, could be a useful aide against preventing cybercrime.  Those who are aware of such vulnerable behaviours may alter their online activity/behaviour in such a way that they could minimise the risk of being targeted and subsequently becoming a victim.

Winning ‘best presentation’ of the conference came as a complete shock and was totally unexpected, as there were so many good presentations over the two days.  I was just pleased the guests and other students found my presentation interesting, and hopefully took on board the message I was trying to purvey"

Contact Louise

I should add that Louise is actively seeking employment in the field.  For more details about Louise take a look at her Linkedin Profile: or email Louise directly at:  

Monday, 16 May 2011

Meaning Of Life

My pal ‘Little Tim’ (he is 6’5 – obviously) always relates everything back to the deeper meaning of life.  He could listen to the Romanian entry at Eurovision and see some deep, hidden meaning behind the lyrics providing a vital lesson to be learnt – a bit like the worst of those dreadful corporate trainers who constantly drone on about ‘learning opportunities’.

Personally, I sway towards the view that seeing depth in Eurovision misses a real ‘laughing opportunity’ and as for the meaning of life, I tend to agree with Charles Schulz when he had his Eureka! moment: ‘I think I’ve discovered the meaning of life – you just hang around until you get used to it’.  Quite...

That said, I have been pondering a few of the deeper questions this week – only briefly I hasten to add – mainly as I have spent most of the last seven days speaking with a seemingly endless stream of unhappy people.  Especially within the computer forensics sector, things seem really tough right now across the board.  In the public sector forensics professionals appear to be under tremendous pressure to hit ever increasing targets with no spare money to be spent on personal development.  In the private sector a number of people I have spoken to are seriously worried about losing their jobs this year.  Moreover, if they do lose their jobs where can they go next as demand appears to have slowed considerably?

This is actually a point that I have discussed with numerous people this week.  I would suggest it isn’t so bad if you are more junior as there are still likely to be some potential positions.  However, if you are an experienced mid-career forensics analyst earning say, £45k, what opportunities are really open to you?  Unless you move to one of the rare management roles, where do you go from here?  Do you need to diversify into a wider Information Security role? A broader Incident response role?  Or will positions arise as the sector continues to evolve?

I don’t have the answers but I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Stating The Obvious

You may find this hard to believe, but there are some incredibly bright and outstanding people working in recruitment who are pushing all the boundaries. Truly amazing, inspirational people. On the other hand, I wonder how some recruiters expect to be taken seriously.

Some of the advice that is passed on in articles and blogs is often so staggeringly obvious you do wonder why they bothered writing them in the first place.  Obviously, other recruiters write with great depth and insight – ahem!! – or so I hear anyway....

I thought of this today having just read a really tedious blog post about not bad-mouthing your current employer as it makes you appear unprofessional at interview.  No kidding. Tell me, do you think there is really anyone out there in our sector who would seriously slate a previous employer?   I wonder what the next blog in this instalment will be about – the importance of chewing when you put food in your mouth?  Or maybe a quick guide to washing your hands....the mind boggles!!

Maybe, like many recruiters, the writer just has too much spare time?  Mind you, in direct contrast, I saw a great article a couple of weeks ago from Mervyn Dinner of Jobsite about people who are always talking about how busy they are on twitter:

Does that remind you of anyone??!  I can certainly think of one or two.....

Anyway, I digress... maybe recruiters were put on this earth to state the obvious?  In that spirit, the David Sullivan Obvious Tip for today is this:

Always post your job title on your LinkedIn/ Facebook and Twitter accounts 

Obvious, right?  I thought so too but apparently not.  I do appreciate that some people in our sectors don’t like to share too much information for security reasons (except, maybe, how busy they are of course), but it is interesting to see the number of specialists in the forensics / electronic disclosure space who contact me about finding a new role and yet they fail to have this information readily displayed on their social media profiles.

As a jobseeker in 2011, it really is vital to make it easy for people to find you (hmmm, I reckon that comfortably qualifies for obvious tip number two)!  Increasingly, I would suggest that Facebook is key to your jobsearch strategy and yet it is amazingly underused for this purpose.  For more information about utilising this tool correctly, have a look at a blog post I wrote a couple of months ago which can be found here.

In my next blog post – which hopefully won’t be quite as rambling and unfocussed – I expect to be announcing some very exciting news.  Ok, when I say very exciting, maybe mildly of interest to one or two people is a better phrase.  Either way, watch this space....

Forensic 4cast Awards

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to cast your vote for the 2011 Forensic 4cast Awards:

The results will be announced at the 2011 Sans Forensic Summit in Austin.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Covering All Bases

Sometimes it is all about covering all bases: combining the best of the old, traditional thinking with new techniques and ideas.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the exciting, high-octane, rock 'n' roll world of the Liberal Democrats (for example, if you haven't seen it, look at Lembit Opik's brief but excruciating Citizen Smith influenced video)....or in recruitment.

I will try to demonstrate this by referencing an interesting thread on Forensic Focus this last week or so where a forensics undergraduate is looking for an industrial placement.  The link is here.

Speaking to computer forensic undergraduates at Universities, it is clear that whereas some Universities offer outstanding guidance on this subject, other students still have no guidance at all.  Due to this clear knowledge gap, I wrote an article last year exploring the techniques needed to find an industrial placement which can be found here.

In response to the thread, the Forensic Focus community has been very generous with advice and offered some really useful information (although some points, as usual, would arguably only have been useful before 1964).  A couple of salient points really struck me from the discussion:

1, The ‘best’ jobs/placements don’t go the the ‘best’ people.

Of course, the really talented students tend to get snapped up pretty quickly by major organisations.  However, in my view, despite the surplus of graduates for the limited jobs available in the area, students should be able to secure a placement/role if they are thorough and professional in their approach to jobseeking.  Why?  In my view, quite simply, most jobseekers are so haphazard in their approach to finding a role that if you are thorough and persistent this gives you a massive advantage.  This is even more apparent at graduate level.

I won’t go through all the basics again, but I am constantly amazed when graduate jobseekers only approach a handful of companies.  Surely, it is just common sense to ensure you cover every single organisation with a forensics presence in the UK?  It is then all about contacting the correct person in the right way – i.e., calling/sending an excellent CV to the most senior person you can find in any company.  In 2011 with all the information publically available, it isn't difficult to locate organisations and people operating in the sector.

This isn’t just a problem at graduate level.  If you think you are an exceptional candidate to work at a company why would you just email your CV to an HR person along with all the other applicants?  Does this demonstrate your qualities for the position above others?  Surely, the key is to take control and speak to the Hiring Manager to stand out from the crowd or if the role is via a recruiter ensure at the very least you meet the recruiter so that they are able to represent you in the best possible manner?

2, Social Media

Even in niche areas like computer forensics/electronic disclosure every aspect of finding a new job is changing.  If you think I am exaggerating the massive changes occurring, take a look at some of the companies at the leading edge of developments in this area such as

Some people in my sectors certainly 'get it' but most jobseekers – whether active or passive – just aren’t utilising social media anywhere near enough.   Being lucky enough to see a job advert for a dream role on some job board/forum is fantastic.  However, how many times has one of your peers secured a role that you had no idea even existed?  How do you they gain access to these roles? The answer, as usual, is surprisingly simple.  Recruiters – whether working directly for an organisation or external (like me) -  increasingly use social media to find people with the skills/experience needed by employers.  Make yourself easy to find!

When all the superfluous is stripped away, the basic rule in looking for a new role is to make it clear to your target audience that you are potentially interested in opportunities.  If you are actively looking for a new role at this time, are you covering the 'old skool' basics thoroughly whilst also utilising new the opportunities presented by social media? 

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sometimes, it is all about salary...

In reality, it is often all about salary, isn’t it?  

For all our talk about culture, professional challenge and other factors most of us need to earn a certain amount of money to feed our families, crack habits etc.

There was an interesting job advert thread on Forensic Focus recently.  The original advert is for a pure forensics role working for the Met Police in SE London paying about £40k (with allowances).

Some people on the forum, along with others I have discussed it with since – and whose opinions I respect -  feel that this salary is way too low for the skills/experience required.   I find it hard to agree.  During the last two years, unless it has been a Team Leader role I certainly can’t recall any pure forensics roles in the private or public sector paying much more than this salary, with the exception of the odd financial institution.  

When I speak to computer forensics professionals I sometimes think there is a lack of realism on the question of salary.  In the current market here in the UK, my experience is that salaries for computer forensics professionals are facing pretty strong downward pressures.  For example, I know one excellent analyst with over five years law enforcement experience combined with three years in the private sector who moved to another private sector company just this month for £38k.  Two years ago I reckon he could have been looking at a basic salary £8k-£10k higher.  

What do you need to do if you really need to significantly increase your salary?

Well, if this is how you feel then the options are quite simple – get promoted to a management role (easy huh!) or go and work in Electronic Disclosure where the salaries are considerably higher.   However, before you do either of these things, stop and think whether this is really what you want?  For example, if you talk to somebody about the reality of daily life as an ED Manager at Big Four as opposed to a pure forensics role at the Met Police I imagine you will hear that both the salary and career development is excellent, but the quality of work...well, it is certainly very different to a pure forensics role working for the Met Police....

I guess I am also a little bias as I have a really soft spot for the Met Police.  We have recruited for them in the past and almost every person I have met who works in their forensics team at Newlands Park has struck me as a thoroughly committed person doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances.   Moreover, the forensics professionals I speak to at the Met tend to love the work they do, manage to obtain excellent developmental training and speak very highly about the competency of their colleagues.  I reckon it sounds a pretty good place to work, don’t you?

However, as I said at the start of this blog, sometimes it really is all about salary.  Isn’t it?

Libby Baugher

When I speak to new graduates looking for their first position in the area I always advise them to start a blog to differentiate themselves and to showcase what they have to offer potential employers.  Libby Baugher graduated from Champlain College in 2010 with a degree in Computer Forensics and Digital Investigations and she has just started to write a very personal blog which is an excellent read.  Catch up with Libby's progress here:

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Under The Weather

Like me, do you suffer from sea sickness?

It has been said that when you are sea sick for the first hour you think you are going to die and for the rest of the time you wish you had died!  I remember a sailing race from Portsmouth to Cherbourg a few years ago when I was terribly sea sick and until this week that was the longest, most unpleasant time I can remember.  Well, along with a number of Nick Clegg speeches of course....

However, this week my flight home from Las Vegas was ten thousand times worse. All I will say is that a ten hour flight when suffering from severe food posioning is no fun either for you or for others on the plane.  Since arriving home I have even felt too unwell to work until this morning - which is most unlike me.

I will return to work-based blogs next week, but for now will conclude with a modern take on the old slogan that should be remembered by all visitors to Sin City:

'What happens in Vegas stays....on Facebook'.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Events this week have made me reflect on the relationship of trust between a recruiter and jobseeker.

When I started in recruitment my manager made it clear to me that I was not able to tell a jobseeker the name of the company we were recruiting for as it would be easy for them to then just contact the company directly.  I always felt pretty uncomfortable – and a little ridiculous – following this policy and would tell somebody, for example, that the recruiting organisation was a ‘large bank near Liverpool Street’.

Forward-wind to 2011 and I am always 100% transparent about the name of the recruiting organisation.  Frankly, it is nonsense not to be as it is just as important to talk about cultural fit with any jobseeker before they commit to spending time attending an interview.  I certainly wouldn’t want a recruiter to represent me at an unknown organisation.

This week I spoke to a jobseeker about a new opportunity at company ‘x’.  The jobseeker knew somebody who worked at ‘company x’ but he wasn’t aware that they were recruiting at this time.  I then sent the jobseeker a full job description ahead of our discussion about the role and the next day they emailed to inform me that they had been contacted by ‘company x’ and invited to interview.  Ok, this could just be coincidence but I have my doubts.

I spend a lot of my time giving free advice on all aspects of recruitment in my sectors and am happy to do so as this builds long-term relationships.  However, as a recruiter the situation described above is just plain annoying as we make our living by finding people jobs.   At least in this particular scenario it isn’t as bad as the other two cases I have experienced in my recruitment career  where the jobseeker had no knowledge of the recruiting company and just sent them their CV after speaking to me!

The relationship between recruiter and some jobseekers is often a loose and transient one as not every jobseeker is interested in building a relationship with the recruiter.  It can be seen by some like a trip to a car showroom where the buyer just wants to buy a car and not become godfather to the children of the car salesperson!  Of course, I understand this view but even in the short-term the relationship can only work with trust on both sides.

Moving on.....

As readers of this blog will know I have supported Leeds United all my life.  This week was the eleventh anniversary of the tragic deaths of two Leeds supporters, Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, who were stabbed in Turkey on 5 April 2000 ahead of the UEFA Cup semi-final against Galatasaray.  The fact it is the anniversary makes me even more bewildered to hear from my friends at the Millwall game today that some home supporters were waving Turkish flags.  Unbelievable.