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How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity

By Keith Speights - Jul 8, 2017 at 9:33AM

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Interested in a lucrative career in cybersecurity? These five steps show you how to get started.

Are you searching for a high-paying job with excellent growth prospects? You could look at some of the top jobs for the future. Or you could consider something that's hot right now: a career in cybersecurity.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for information security analysts who specialize in cybersecurity was nearly $93,000 last year. Employment for cybersecurity experts is expected to grow at 18% annually, much faster than most occupations. 

But how can you start a potentially lucrative career in cybersecurity? Here are five steps you can take to make it happen.

Man touching lock icon connected to other cyber security icons

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Evaluate your strengths

Perhaps the most important step is to evaluate your strengths to ensure cybersecurity is a good fit for you. First and foremost, you need to be highly analytical. Cybersecurity positions require analysis of computer systems and networks and evaluation of potential security risks.

You also need to be very detail-oriented. Security gaps that can open the door to cyber attacks aren't always easy to find. Cybersecurity specialists must examine systems and networks in detail to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Problem-solving skills are also essential. It's one thing to spot a potential area of risk, but it requires a different kind of thinking to figure out ways to minimize the risk. 

2. Get the appropriate training

Just having the necessary strengths to excel in cybersecurity isn't enough. You need to receive the appropriate training.

According to the BLS, most cybersecurity positions require at least a bachelors degree in computer science, programming, or a related field. However, many college programs for these degrees don't fully address the specific needs of cybersecurity. 

Some colleges now offer specialized cybersecurity courses. There are also online programs for learning about cybersecurity. Your best bet is to pursue training from an accredited institution that meets the academic standards of the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security's Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense program. 

3. Gain related experience

The BLS also states that many cybersecurity positions require previous experience in a related field. That typically means working first in an organization's information technology (IT) department. Solid general IT experience should be a big plus for transitioning to a cybersecurity career.

Digital security graphics

Image source: Getty Images.

What specific kind of experience you'll need to have depends on the area of cybersecurity in which you're most interested. For example, database administration experience could be a good background to go into database-focused cybersecurity. Others might choose to first become computer systems analysts or network administrators before moving into cybersecurity.  

4. Earn certifications

Earning a certification is good advice for anyone, regardless of career. If you're pursuing a career in cybersecurity, it can give you a leg up in landing a job. There are quite a few certifications available for cybersecurity professionals.

One good option is to become a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). This certification is offered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)². Note, however, that the CISSP certification is for advanced cybersecurity professionals with at least four years of experience.

Another certification path for experienced professionals is the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) credential. The CISM certification is offered by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and requires at least five years of security experience.

An entry-level alternative is the CompTIA Security+ certification. Two years of IT administration with a security focus is recommended but not required for this certification.

5. Network with other cybersecurity professionals

Get to know as many individuals already working in the cybersecurity field as you can. Consider joining one of the professional organizations focused on cybersecurity, such as ISACA or (ISC)².

You can also look for online groups centered on cybersecurity. Check out groups on LinkedIn, including the Cyber Security Forum Initiative and Information Security Careers Network. 

Last, but not least, try to connect with cybersecurity experts in your city. Not only can you learn more about the profession, but it could help you find the ideal job that fits you.

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