As our world becomes increasingly digital, companies, organizations, and government agencies are likewise becoming increasingly susceptible to disruptive cybersecurity attacks. Even with an estimated 4.7 million cybersecurity professionals already in the workforce, there’s still a shortage of qualified professionals. According to a Cyber Security Workforce Study, there are still more than 700,000 cybersecurity jobs that need to be filled.
So it’s safe to say that there has never been a better time to get into cybersecurity. Salaries for the field average around $135,000 per year, and that’s on top of lucrative benefits and packages.
Not sure how to get into cybersecurity? Don’t worry—you’re in the right place. All you need to do to launch your career is to follow this guide.
Is Cybersecurity a Good Career?
Yes! The cybersecurity industry is growing rapidly, with growth expected at a rate of 31% from 2020 to 2030. This is due to the increasing reliance of businesses and organizations on technology and the ever-evolving threat landscape.
Cybersecurity experts are typically well-compensated, with average salaries that are often higher than those in other IT fields. Many employers also offer competitive benefits packages, such as tuition reimbursement, health insurance, and retirement savings plans, to attract the staff they need.
Cybersecurity professionals can also advance their careers by moving into management positions or consulting roles and can find jobs in a variety of industries, including healthcare, finance, government, and technology. This gives them the flexibility to choose a job that interests them and to work in a location that they prefer. Cybersecurity skills are also highly transferable, which means that professionals can easily move between different roles and industries.
How To Get Into Cybersecurity
Before you can even consider a career in cybersecurity, you have to gain the right mix of technical skills and practical experience. You'll also have to plan your career path carefully. The field is extremely diverse, and you'll need to ensure that you have the right skills for the roles you want. Here's what you need to do:
Identify Your Knowledge Gaps
Start by figuring out if there are any gaps in your knowledge you might need to fill. Looking through job postings is a great way to find out which skills are most in demand, and which skills are required for which specializations. A system administrator or junior analyst, for example, doesn't need the same qualifications and professional certifications as a Certified Information Systems Auditor or a Systems Security Professional (CISSP).
Learn the Fundamentals
Determine Your Ideal Job Role and Career Path
There are a multitude of different job roles available in cybersecurity, and it’s important to figure out which one is right for you. Here are some of the most common job roles and career paths:
Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP): A penetration tester uses their skills to ethically attack systems to identify and remediate vulnerabilities.
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): An ethical hacker uses their skills to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks. This type of cybersecurity expert is sometimes called a red team member.
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): As the highest-ranking information security executive in an organization, a CISO is responsible for developing and implementing the organization's information security strategy.
Information Security Analyst: These cybersecurity professionals analyze security data and threats to identify and mitigate risks to an organization's information security.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): A CISSP designs, implements and manages an organization's information security program.
Cloud Security Expert: These cybersecurity professionals specialize in protecting cloud computing environments.
Systems Administrator: A systems administrator installs, configures, and maintains computer systems and networks.
Learn Cybersecurity Tools
It’s a good idea to gain experience across a wide variety of tools before pursuing a specific role. Some of the essential cybersecurity tools include:
Nmap: A network scanner that can be used to identify devices and vulnerabilities on a network.
Wireshark: A packet analyzer that can be used to capture and analyze network traffic.
Metasploit: A penetration testing framework that can be used to exploit vulnerabilities and simulate attacks.
Burp Suite: A web application security testing tool that can be used to identify vulnerabilities in web applications.
Nessus: A vulnerability scanner that can be used to identify vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks.
Snort: An intrusion detection system that can be used to monitor networks for suspicious activity and block malicious traffic.
Splunk: A security information and event management (SIEM) system that can be used to collect and analyze security logs from across a network to identify potential security threats.
Cuckoo Sandbox: A dynamic malware analysis tool that can be used to analyze malware samples in a safe and controlled environment.
Kali Linux: A Linux distribution that is specifically designed for cybersecurity tasks such as penetration testing and vulnerability assessment.
Let's take a look at the different ways to get the cyber security credentials you need and the pros and cons of each:
There are a variety of cybersecurity degrees available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity (BS in Cybersecurity), Bachelor of Arts in Cybersecurity (BA in Cybersecurity), Master of Science in Cybersecurity (MS in Cybersecurity), Master of Arts in Cybersecurity (MA in Cybersecurity), Master of Science in Information Security (MS in Information Security) and Doctor of Philosophy in Cybersecurity (PhD in Cybersecurity).
Some colleges and universities also offer cybersecurity concentrations or minors within other degree programs, such as computer science, information technology, and business administration.
A college degree in cybersecurity or a related field, such as computer science or information technology, provides a broad and comprehensive understanding of cybersecurity concepts and principles.
College programs typically offer a variety of courses in cybersecurity, including network security, cryptography, security architecture, and incident response.
Students have the opportunity to learn from experienced faculty and gain hands-on experience through labs and internships.
A college degree is a valuable credential that is recognized by employers in the cybersecurity industry.
College can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if you are pursuing a four-year degree.
Some college programs may not be as relevant to the industry as others.
It can be difficult to find a job in cybersecurity with just a college degree.
Online courses are typically asynchronous, meaning that students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. Examples include the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) v11 course from Udemy and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) course from LinkedIn Learning.
Online courses are a flexible and affordable way to learn about cybersecurity.
Students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedule.
There are a variety of online courses available, from introductory to advanced levels.
Some online courses offer hands-on experience through simulations and labs.
Online courses may not be as comprehensive as traditional college programs.
It can be difficult to stay motivated and focused when learning online.
Some online courses may not be accredited, which could make it difficult to find a job in cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity bootcamps are intensive, short-term programs that teach students the skills they need to start a career in cybersecurity. Bootcamps typically cover a variety of topics, including network security, cryptography, security architecture, and incident response. Students gain hands-on experience through labs and projects. Bootcamps typically have a high job placement rate. Examples of bootcamps include the Cybersecurity Analyst Bootcamp from the University of South Florida.
Bootcamps are intensive, short-term programs that teach students the skills they need to start a career in cybersecurity.
Bootcamps typically cover a variety of topics, including network security, cryptography, security architecture, and incident response.
Students gain hands-on experience through labs and projects.
Bootcamps typically have a high job placement rate.
Bootcamps are very demanding, and some require students to commit to a full-time schedule for several weeks or months.
Self-study is a method of learning in which the learner takes responsibility for their own education. Self-study can be done using a variety of resources, such as books, online courses, tutorials, and practice problems. You find plenty of self-study resources online, on YouTube, or in local libraries.
Self-study is the most affordable and flexible way to learn about cybersecurity.
Students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedule.
There are a variety of resources available for self-study, such as books, online tutorials, and free courses.
Self-study can be challenging and requires a lot of discipline.
It can be difficult to stay motivated and focused when learning on your own.
Self-study may not provide the same level of hands-on experience as other learning options.
It can be difficult to find a job in cybersecurity without any formal training or experience.
It's important to find a method that suits your needs, including your budget and preferences.
Build Your Portfolio
A cybersecurity portfolio is a collection of work samples and projects that demonstrate your cybersecurity skills and knowledge. It can contain a mix of personal and academic projects you've worked on in your career or during your studies.
Your cyber security portfolio can include:
Security audits: Reports from cybersecurity audits that you have conducted.
Security assessments: Reports from cybersecurity assessments that you have conducted.
Security policies and procedures: Cybersecurity policies and procedures that you have developed or implemented.
Threat intelligence reports: Reports on cybersecurity threats that you have researched and analyzed.
Vulnerability assessments: Reports from vulnerability assessments that you have conducted.
Security incident response plans: Security incident response plans that you have developed or implemented.
Penetration test reports: Reports from penetration tests that you have conducted.
When creating your cyber security portfolio, be sure to select work samples and projects that are relevant to your career goals and the types of jobs that you are interested in. You should also make sure that your portfolio is well-organized and easy to navigate.
If you don't have a portfolio yet and want to get into cybersecurity, you can volunteer your time to take up freelance opportunities. Some bootcamps also help students create portfolios during their studies as part of their regular cybersecurity coursework.
Find a Mentor
Sometimes the best way to land an entry-level job is to work with a professional cybersecurity mentor who can provide you with guidance, support, and connections in the industry. Attend industry events, join online communities, and reach out to people on LinkedIn. The more cybersecurity professionals you know, the more likely you are to find a mentor.
Look for someone with experience and expertise in the areas that you want to learn about. For example, if you're interested in pursuing a career in security engineering, you may want to find a mentor who is a security engineer at a reputable company.
If that doesn’t work, there are professional organizations for cybersecurity professionals that offer mentorship programs. Some popular organizations include the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA), the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Certification can give you an edge over other candidates, especially in entry-level cybersecurity jobs. Look for certifications from the likes of CompTIA, a non-profit trade association that issues professional certifications for the information technology industry. It is considered to be one of the IT industry's top trade associations, and it offers foundational courses as well as more specialized certifications.
Other popular certifications include:
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): This certification is designed for ethical hackers and other security professionals who want to demonstrate their skills in penetration testing. It is offered by the EC-Council.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): This certification is designed for experienced security professionals who want to demonstrate their mastery of cybersecurity. It is offered by (ISC)².
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA): This certification is designed for IT auditors and other security professionals who want to demonstrate their skills in auditing information systems. It is offered by ISACA.
GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC): This certification is designed for security professionals who want to demonstrate their knowledge of security fundamentals. It is offered by the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) organization.
Build Your Network
Networking is an important part of any career, but it is especially important in the cybersecurity industry. Cybersecurity professionals need to be able to stay up-to-date on the latest threats and trends, and they need to be able to collaborate with other professionals to solve complex problems.
One of the best ways to network in the cybersecurity industry is to attend hackathons, industry events, and other cybersecurity conferences. These events provide an opportunity to meet other cybersecurity professionals, learn about the latest trends and technologies, and build relationships with potential employers.
Tailor Your Resume and Start Applying
Make sure to tailor your resume to every job you apply for, highlighting the relevant skills and experience you have to align with the job description. Use cybersecurity keywords throughout—this will help you get noticed by applicant tracking systems.
Whenever possible, quantify your accomplishments. For example, instead of saying "improved security posture," say "reduced security incidents by 25%."
Once you have a strong resume, you can start applying for jobs in cybersecurity. Reach out to people on LinkedIn and set up regular job alerts across different sites. Make sure to prep answers to common cyber security interview questions so that you are prepared on the day.
What You Can Expect To Do (and How Much You’ll Earn)
What you do and what you make will be impacted by factors such as your location, your experience, your qualifications, your certifications, and the industry you work in. However, here are some rough industry estimates to give you a good indication of what you can expect to earn:
Entry-Level Cybersecurity Roles
Entry-level cybersecurity jobs typically involve tasks such as monitoring security systems, investigating security incidents, and assisting with security audits. Entry-level cybersecurity jobs may also involve providing technical support to users and working on security awareness and training programs. According to Salary.com, entry-level jobs in cybersecurity in the US come with salaries that range between $85,714 to $110,974.
Mid-Level Cybersecurity Roles
Mid-level cybersecurity jobs typically involve more responsibility and autonomy than entry-level jobs. Mid-level cybersecurity jobs may involve tasks such as leading security projects, developing security policies and procedures, and managing security teams. Mid-level cybersecurity jobs may also involve working on more complex security challenges, such as penetration testing and incident response. According to Talent.com, a mid-level professional in cyber security will earn around $120,000 a year.
Senior Cybersecurity Roles
Senior-level cybersecurity jobs typically involve overseeing the cybersecurity program for an organization. Senior-level cybersecurity jobs may involve tasks such as developing and implementing security strategies, managing security budgets, and advising senior management on security risks. Senior-level cybersecurity jobs may also involve working with government agencies and industry organizations to develop and implement cybersecurity standards. According to Glassdoor, more experienced senior cybersecurity professionals can expect to earn up to $165,629.
Where To Start
So, where and how should you start your career in cybersecurity? It largely depends on your experience. Here’s what to start if you have…
No Technical Experience or Background
If you don't have a technical background, start by learning the basics of cybersecurity. There are many online courses and resources available to help you learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity. Look for entry-level cybersecurity jobs that don't require technical experience. Some entry-level cybersecurity jobs, such as security analyst or security engineer, may not require technical experience. However, you may need to be willing to learn on the job. Completing a computer science degree can take up to four years, so if you want to accelerate the process, a bootcamp or self-study may be the best way to go.
Background in IT or Another Technical Field
If you've already worked in the IT field, leverage your existing skills and experience. Your IT or technical background will give you a head start in your cybersecurity career. Look for cybersecurity jobs that are a good fit for your skills and experience. You should also consider getting certified in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity certifications can demonstrate your skills and knowledge to potential employers. There are many different cybersecurity certifications available, so you can choose one that is right for your career goals.
Examples To Learn From
There are thousands of cybersecurity industry professionals that kickstarted their career in cybersecurity at a later stage in life, or that managed to enter the field without a degree or experience. Here are a few examples:
Gerald Auger has worked in the field for 20 years. He's even released a free 10-step e-book that helps others break into the cybersecurity industry.
Boyd Clewis started his career working at the IT helpdesk but soon became a cyber security expert, earning well over $200,000 per year.
FAQs About Getting Into Cybersecurity
We’ve got the answers to your most frequently asked questions.
Is Cybersecurity Hard To Learn?
Cybersecurity is a complex and ever-evolving field, but it is not impossible to learn. With the right resources and dedication, anyone can gain the skills and knowledge they need to start a career in cybersecurity.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Cybersecurity?
The amount of time it takes to learn cybersecurity depends on a number of factors, including your prior experience, learning style, and the specific skills you want to develop. If you are new to cybersecurity, you can expect to spend several months to a year learning the basics. Bootcamps can accelerate the learning process.
How Important Is Coding for a Cybersecurity Job?
Coding is not essential for all cybersecurity jobs, but it is becoming increasingly important. Many cybersecurity roles require the ability to write scripts and automate tasks, and some roles also involve developing security tools and software. If you are serious about a career in cybersecurity, it is a good idea to learn at least one programming language, such as Python or Bash.
Can I Get a Cybersecurity Job With No Experience?
It is possible to get a cybersecurity job with no experience, but it is more challenging. Employers are often looking for candidates with at least some prior experience in IT or cybersecurity. You can increase your odds of landing a job by building a portfolio or becoming certified.