How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity [+ Jobs List]
Cybersecurity experts are in high demand as private, public and government sectors scramble to secure their systems and data in the wake of widespread cyber attacks. Industry analyst Cybersecurity Ventures projects that cybercrime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021.
There is such demand for cybersecurity professionals that U.S. News & World Report listed Information Security Analyst as the fifth best technology job in 2019 (and #38 of its 100 Best Jobs) — based on salary, employment rate, growth, stress, work-life balance and job prospects.
And it’s no wonder why, the information security analyst position pays a median salary of $98,350 and the industry as a whole boasts an unemployment rate of “zero percent.” Due to the high demand and the many perks that are being offered to professionals with the right combination of education and experience, there has never been a better time to start a career in cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity Career Paths
The first step in launching a career in cybersecurity is deciding which career path is right for you. There are two primary career paths that you should decide between before investing in education and training. Once you decide on your path, however, there are multiple career options and a varying array of jobs to choose from, depending on your specific interests and skills.
Leadership and Operations Route
The first option is to take the leadership and operations route, in which a diverse skillset and a propensity for lifelong learning are required. In this role you must possess strong leadership capabilities and have a thorough understanding of information technology systems and processes, as well as advanced cybersecurity skills and knowledge.
For information security experts who have obtained a substantial level of schooling and have experience in the field, top job options include:
- Chief Information Security Officer
- Information Security Analyst
- Global Information Security Director
- Cybersecurity Consultant
- Lead Software Security Engineer
- Cybersecurity Architect
- Cybersecurity Engineer
- Penetration Tester
- Network Administrator
- Cybersecurity Analyst
- Cybersecurity Specialist
- Security Auditor
The second option is to go the cybersecurity engineering route. This career is best suited to those who have engineering experience and are interested in learning how to build secure systems in order to mitigate threats.
Information security engineers with a thorough understanding of what it means to build a secure system may find employment as a:
[FREE GUIDE] How to Secure an Entry-Level Cybersecurity Job >>
How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity
Invest in Your Education
Earning a degree in cybersecurity is often the first step toward starting a career in this lucrative and in-demand field. And if you have a degree and experience in information security, the options are plentiful and diverse.
Most prospective cybersecurity leaders start with an undergraduate degree in information technology, information systems and/or computer science. After obtaining an undergraduate degree and gaining experience in the field, a master’s degree in cybersecurity operations and leadership or information technology is the next step toward expanding your career opportunities and increasing your appeal to employers hiring for higher-level positions.
If you are pursuing the cybersecurity engineering route, you should start with an undergraduate degree in engineering and then obtain specialized experience in cybersecurity either through years of direct experience, through a master’s degree program focused solely on cybersecurity engineering, or both.
Whatever path you choose, education is key. One of the primary reasons for the many unfilled cybersecurity jobs — Cybersecurity Ventures estimates there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2021 — is that employers continue to have trouble finding talented professionals with the advanced education and high-level skills they need.
The number of unfilled cybersecurity positions is staggering and only projected to grow as cyber criminals become more sophisticated in their attacks and companies struggle to find security experts with the skills and knowledge needed to mitigate such attacks.
In such a desperate landscape, where so many jobs remain unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates, those with a cybersecurity degree have a great advantage. Not only are job options vast for information security degree holders, salaries are high due to the lack of supply and the urgent demand.
In order to land a job in cybersecurity, you will also want to consider earning industry certification in a specific area or subject matter that you are interested in. Some of the most popular and sought-after cybersecurity industry certifications include:
- CompTIA Security+
- CISSP — Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CISM — Certified Information Security Manager
- CISA — Certified Information Systems Auditor
- GIAC — Global Information Assurance Certification
- CEH — Certified Ethical Hacker
In addition, there are many vendor-specific certifications, such as those offered through Cisco, RSA and Symantec that are attractive to employers. Of course, what you will need and what employers will require depends upon the role or roles that you are targeting.
Networking is important in almost every industry, and cybersecurity is no exception. There are multiple avenues available if you are looking for networking opportunities:
- Join local cybersecurity orgs such as the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence. Many cities have their own cybersecurity associations, which can be excellent venues not only for learning but also for networking with professionals in the industry.
- Volunteer with a cybersecurity organization. There are a number of organizations that seek to spread the word about cybersecurity and attract people to the field. Getting involved with one of these organizations can be great for networking and for boosting your resume. Mansi Thakar, a University of San Diego graduate student in the Master of Science Cyber Security Operations and Leadership program who had no experience in cybersecurity before beginning the master’s program, began working with the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, in an effort to expand her knowledge and community.
- Go back to school. One of the greatest benefits of a graduate degree is the opportunities it presents for networking and connecting with professors, employers and peers in the field. Additionally, most reputable cybersecurity schools will have a career center that has forged close ties with employers. The career center at your school can help you identify potential employers and counsel you on strategies for getting your foot in the door.
[FREE GUIDE] How to Secure an Entry-Level Cybersecurity Job >>
How to Transition from IT to Cybersecurity
Maybe you’ve been hearing about the booming cybersecurity industry or how cybercrime is on the rise. Maybe, you are looking for a change from your tech career and are interested in starting a cybersecurity career. (If so, meet Paul Cho.) Whatever the reason, here a few tips to help you transition from IT to cybersecurity.
Consider Your Future Career Goals
Brainstorm what a perfect (or close to perfect) career looks like for you. Think about daily tasks, projects and challenges you may be doing. Are you more interested in the leadership and operations path or the engineering route? Where will your skills make the biggest impact?
Gain Industry Experience
Gaining industry experience will help you further understand what you’re looking for in a cybersecurity career. Networking is a great place to start. You can look for local networking groups or events, or network virtually with Linkedin. In addition to creating new professional relationships and connecting with old IT colleagues, this will also create awareness that you’re looking for a career change and new job opportunities.
Another way to gain industry experience is to intern or volunteer. This hands-on learning will give you the advantage of real-life experience.
Advance Your Education
Perhaps the most important step is to pursue higher education. Although some jobs only require a bachelor’s degree, many prefer a master’s degree and industry certifications. A master’s degree will open more job opportunities and position you to earn a higher salary. When considering master’s degree programs, look for a program that includes lab work and hands-on learning in addition to intensive academics.
Entry-Level Cybersecurity Jobs
For cybersecurity jobs, “entry-level” is not synonymous with “non-experienced.” It means a bachelor’s or master’s degree and usually industry experience. Here are a few resources to consult when searching for an entry-level cybersecurity job:
- Reach Out to Your professional network
- Visit the U.S. government cyber career postings website
- Explore job listing websites
- Look at job posting from companies you want to work for
Build Your Cybersecurity Resume
Hiring managers are looking for a mix of education and hands-on experience. Your resume should be easy to read, with your most recent experience at the top of the page. Here are some ways to help you get started building your cybersecurity resume:
General Resume Tips
- Be specific in your accomplishments, add in numbers whenever possible
- Write a brief career summary
- Include current contact information
- Proofread everything twice
Cybersecurity Resume Tips
- Include relevant education experience, including self-paced courses and certifications
- List your pertinent IT and cybersecurity skills
- Highlight any IT-related accomplishments or successes
There has truly never been a better time to start a career in cybersecurity. Almost every company in the world today requires experts who know how to build and protect systems to mitigate ongoing and potentially catastrophic cyber threats. If you are skilled in information security and have the education and experience to prove it, there are immediate cybersecurity job opportunities all around the world, across all sectors and industries.
The University of San Diego has created two 21st century cybersecurity master’s degree programs for those interested in the most common cybersecurity paths — the Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering (online and on campus) and the Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership (online). Both programs are academically rigorous and focused entirely on modern cybersecurity mitigation with an emphasis on teaching students how to become effective lifelong learners — a skill of immense importance in the ever-evolving world of cybercrime and security.