10 Entry Level Cyber Security Resume & Interview Pitfalls
The word is out. The global epidemic of cyber crime has triggered a worldwide effort to beef up cyber security at organizations across all industries. And because the stakes are so high — CybersecurityVentures.com predicts cyber crime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021 — employers are paying top dollar for cyber security professionals who possess the needed skills, experience and education.
This makes a career in cyber security an extremely attractive option for experienced pros, as well as those who may be just getting started in this rewarding and vitally important field. There is also a well-documented cyber security talent shortage, as the labor market races to catch up with the growing need for cyber security experts. This means there are plenty of positions available.
But how do you get a job in cyber security?
‘Entry Level’ Bar is Higher for Cyber Security Jobs
First, you need to know that an “entry level” position in cyber security generally requires a higher level of education and experience than in many other fields. According to the National Security Agency (NSA), “entry level” for many cyber security positions means:
- Bachelor’s degree plus 3 years of relevant experience
- Master’s degree plus 1 year of relevant experience
- Doctoral degree and no experience
- Associate degree plus 5 years of in-depth experience clearly related to the position
However, the high pay and widespread need for skilled professionals means there is strong competition for the best jobs. Therefore, you’ll need to bring your “A” game when it comes time to apply.
Here, we will offer some tips and insights designed to help you land your ideal job in this high-paying, fast-growing field. Our focus will be on identifying some common resume and interview pitfalls, and strategies for how to avoid them.
10 Cyber Security Job Search Strategies [Resume & Interview Tips]
1. Avoid rookie mistakes
As with any job for which you’re applying, avoid resume errors that give recruiters and interviewers a reason to eliminate you from the pile of applicants. This obviously means zero spelling errors. Once you’ve landed an interview, you can be certain that:
- Any dialogue involving the word “cloud” is almost certainly not about the weather.
- Any question about “pen testing” is definitely not about handheld writing instruments.
- And any interviewer who asks you about “phishing” does not want to hear the story about the big one you caught at the lake that one summer.
2. Speak the language
All kidding aside, be sure to bone up on your understanding of all the key industry terms and acronyms. (Hint: There are a lot of them, and many are fairly complex.) It’s essential that you be able to communicate in the technical language in which all cyber professionals must be fluent. Here are a couple of resources:
- The CyberWire, a cyber security-focused news service and thought leader
- The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, an online resource for cybersecurity training under the Department of Homeland Security
3. Demonstrate that you’re a team player
Now more than ever, cyber security professionals must interact with people and departments throughout the organization to get the job done. Remember that it isn’t just about you, and that no one expects you to solve an organization’s critical security issues in a vacuum. Interviewers are likely to respond favorably when applicants demonstrate at attitude of collaboration and teamwork.
4. Avoid overstating your accomplishments
If you’ve never thwarted an international malware attack using an ingenious combination of security patches, firewalls, data encryption and anti-malware technology, don’t claim that you have. Rather than bluff about capabilities, speak honestly about the experience and training you possess. And, most important, express sincere enthusiasm about building on those skills to make a difference in the role for which you are applying.
5. Ask intelligent questions
In many interviews, usually toward the end, the interviewer will invite you to ask him or her any questions. Be sure to have a few questions prepared because having no questions at all is a missed opportunity. Ask something that shows an understanding of and a curiosity about the role for which you’re applying, rather than some general query about, say, dress code or company culture.
Questions like “What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position would face?” or “What attributes does someone need to be successful in this position?” demonstrate your focus on excelling in the role for which you are interviewing. A question like “What do you like most about working here?” can help build your rapport with the interviewer.
6. Network (but don’t “over-network”)
Networking with industry professionals is one of the most important things you can do to expand your circle of contacts and gain “informational interview”-type advice that will help you in your cyber security job search. However, avoid exaggerating your connections to industry players. It will serve you far better to talk about who you read and how you stay current on the latest happenings in cyber security than to gratuitously name-drop (so avoid claiming that you’re poker buddies with Eugene Kaspersky).
According to Forbes, the key to starting a lucrative career in cyber security is to “get involved in meetups, attend conferences, ask for tips over coffee with current security professionals of local tech companies. If these things aren’t possible, online networking is a good idea too.” There are dozens of cyber security groups on LinkedIn, with topics ranging from general to highly specific.
7. Don’t feel like you have to be an expert on everything
The world of cyber security continues to evolve rapidly, meaning there will invariably be new technology, trends or threats with which you are not intimately familiar. Rather than present yourself as an expert generalist with across-the-board knowledge, highlight your own skills and experiences that best connect to what you see as the needs of the organization. “Related experience” is also helpful. If you haven’t held a job specifically in cyber security, it might be worth mentioning any security-related tasks in previous IT roles, such as involvement with user access or compliance with company security policies.
8. Do some extra homework
Take time to learn everything you can about the companies or organizations to which you are applying before the interview. Not only will you feel more confident — your research will position you to ask better questions, provide more relevant answers and perhaps even impress an interviewer with a special insight about the company or specific position.
9. Beef up the ‘Education’ section of your resume
Most cyber security professionals can count one or more industry certifications among their list of accomplishments. In fact, there are so many opportunities that it isn’t always easy to figure out which cyber security certifications are right for you. Being able to identify yourself as a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) can help your chances, and the CompTIA Security+ certification is specifically designed for entry-level security professionals.
10. Understand that your degree or certification is only part of equation
Obtaining your master’s degree in cyber security or earning an industry certification are testaments to your dedication to continually expanding your understanding of the fast-changing cyber security landscape. However, they will not guarantee you a job offer from every place you apply. It’s also important that you back up your educational accomplishments with real-life experience. If you’re still at the beginning of your career, emphasize how you might apply what you’ve learned to the job you are seeking. Also, demonstrate your understanding that, especially in larger organizations, it isn’t just about technology, it’s also about people and processes working together.
That said, a master’s degree can be a huge differentiator when you’re competing in the robust cyber security job market. It opens the door to the widest range of possibilities, not to mention specific jobs in which you might be interested. Online master’s degree programs have become increasingly popular because they’re designed to accommodate busy working professionals. But not all cyber security degree programs are created equal.
One top-ranked school that has teamed up with working cyber security professionals to develop two highly regarded advanced degree options is the University of San Diego, which offers an innovative, 100% online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership and an immersive, on-campus Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering.
Among the benefits of earning your master’s degree in cyber security:
- Your job security is practically guaranteed (there is a negative unemployment rate in cyber security)
- You’ll develop sought-after industry leadership skills
- Valuable networking opportunities are built in
- And perhaps most important, your earning potential increases significantly
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