A Career in Cybersecurity

Anyone who is considering their career choices will have noticed that there's a lot of job openings in the cybersecurity space. Every week someone, somewhere, is trying to hire a cybersecurity professional of some particular skill set or other. The job ads are full of openings and anyone with 'cybersecurity' on their Linkedin profile or online resume, is probably getting connection requests from recruiters like they just won a large sum of money and offered to give it all away.

According to the Cisco Annual Cybersecurity Report for the past 5 years in a row, there has been a consistent 12x demand over supply for qualified, certified or experienced, security professionals. That means that there's currently 12 open security jobs for every person able to fill that role. With statistics like that, cybersecurity professionals will never be out of a job for long.

But what does it take to get into the field of cybersecurity? How do you get a foot in the door? How do you gain the experience that everyone is asking for to get the job in the first place?

Sometimes it can be a bit of a Catch 22 - and that's a bit of an understatement. Just read some of job postings requiring 'n' years experience for an 'entry' level position plus a current CISSP certification. However, those who may have looked into becoming a CISSP, will have noticed that not only do you need to sit and pass a grueling 6 hour long multiple choice exam (where every answer is correct but one is more correct than the others), but you also need 5 years of experience, or 4 years and a Masters Degree in cybersecurity or a related field, before you can become a CISSP. Its the classic Catch-22 - you can't get the job without the CISSP and you can't get the CISSP without the experience!

The truth is that job postings are written by HR professionals, most of whom have very little understanding of what the actual job they are hiring for involves. Someone should make a movie about it and call it "Recruiters are from Mars" because they might as well be. A classic example of this was a job posting I saw last week that wanted someone with ten years experience of Kubernetes. However Kubernetes is only five years old as a technology, so no one could possibly have more than five years experience. This post of course was quickly noticed by the security community and the job posting became the center of ridicule for a few days before it was taken down. Not only did it make a mockery of the reputable company that had posted it, but it highlighted the problem of unrealistic job posting requirements.

Someone should make a movie and call it "Recruiters are from Mars" because they might as well be.

Whether the problem ultimately lies with HR, recruiters or hiring managers, there is an unreal expectation in the cybersecurity space. This is a highly, highly, competitive space for scarce security resources so whether this comes down to company salary scales that are out of touch with market rates, and the need to use approved more senior job requirements to hire in junior staff at a rate they will consider, I don't know. But cybersecurity professionals are currently making at least 25 to 30 percent more than their peers in IT with the same experience and levels of qualifications.

Some of the job postings that demand all kinds of experience would probably command a salary package of at least a million dollars a year if someone had all of those skills, certifications and experience. While I would like to believe that security professionals in their 30s are making seven figure salary packages, that probably isn't the case for most. In other words, JOB REQUIREMENTS are nothing more than a WISH LIST.
But it's not just experience, the same is true for security certifications and academic qualifications. 

Any recruiter claiming that 'x' security experience, plus 'y' certifications, plus 'z' masters or doctoral degrees is a MUST HAVE, simply couldn't afford to hire that candidate if he or she walked through the door today. 

In other words, you should apply anyway. It might not work all of the time but you only need it to work once to get your foot in the door. It is after all, getting more competitive each year as more and more companies attempt to hire the few security resources that might be looking. Increasingly, companies are having to re-think who they hire, at what level, and what skills are really necessary. They are taking what they can get and providing on-the-job training instead in order to fill vacancies and get backsides in seats. 

Companies looking for security certifications will usually pay for the training, the materials and the examination if they want you to obtain one. While the Catch-22 nature of the CISSP might be out of reach for entry level candidates, get yourself certified in an easier credential such as the CompTIA Security+ or some of the SANS GIAC foundational courses. That combined with a desire to work towards a higher more widely recognized certification or qualification, and an interest and aptitude in cybersecurity might be enough to get you past a cert 'required' in the HR job posting and on to the next level with a video interview with the security team.

The same is true with academic certificates and degrees. Most universities are now running courses on-line thanks to COVID and many have solid cybersecurity programs at the Associates, Bachelors and Masters level. That allows you to shop around for the best course from the best university at the best price from any reputable university in the world.
There are many government grants, and university stipends available each year and companies will often pay for you to study for degree or certificate programs so take advantage of this. These education benefits are sometimes capped at $5,000 to $10,000 a year so you may have to plan accordingly and space out your classes to have them covered. It may take you a couple of years of part time evening or weekend study, but a degree will boost your career opportunities and salary expectations so is most definitely worth your time. It may also exempt you from having to keep up with professional certifications like the CISSP, and pay these commercial bodies annual membership fees which can be expensive and annoying.

But you as a candidate need to start somewhere.

In the following 90 minute video, I outline:
  • What is cybersecurity and why is it front and center as we adopt increasing levels of automation and digitalization?
  • Who are the main perpetrators of cyber attacks and what are their motivations?
  • Why is cybersecurity so important today?
  • What are the security frameworks being used to secure organizations?
  • Why you should consider a career in cybersecurity
  • What are those opportunities?
  • How to develop a cybersecurity career strategy
  • What security certifications and qualifications should you consider?
A PDF of this presentation can be downloaded or viewed here: 

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