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Those in the early stage of their cybersecurity career should start by mapping out where they’d like their career to lead. Job seekers should consider criteria such as pay, location, hours, level of challenge and opportunities for advancement. Once you’ve identified a particular position, you can determine interim steps. For example, those interested in targeting a chief information security officer (CISO) role can get on the right track by pursuing a systems security position and learning managerial skills. 

Advanced degrees are becoming a more common requirement for certain positions, including advanced roles like the CISO. Not sure what degree would set you up for success? Look at your preferred job descriptions to see which degrees and certifications are most commonly required (or not) in your career path.


Learn from the Best – Get a Mentor

Those who want to stand out in cybersecurity should also take advantage of a less obvious
 type of education: mentoring. A good mentor in your chosen niche can share how they handled challenges you may be facing, or guide you toward smart career moves.

Finding the right mentor may take some time,but it is invaluable in the early stage of your career.

Your current company is a good place to start: Build relationships by being a team player and volunteering for extra responsibility. As you enhance your visibility, ask a more experienced professional who you admire if they would like to engage with you in this way.

Seek potential candidates out at professional organization meetings or conferences. Eric Vanderburg has been working as an innovator and business leader for over 15 years, and regularly presents at seminars and colleges, and publishes IT and business-related magazine articles. He currently serves as director, information systems and security at Jurinnov, a cybersecurity, forensics and legal consulting company. He suggests, “[Don’t] wait till you are in your middle career to  do it. I found a mentor shortly after starting in the industry and have mentored those who haven’t even entered the industry yet. There is hardly ever a time when the experience of someone who has gone before you cannot be put to good use.”

Know in advance what kinds of topics or decisions you’d like help with, and propose a mutually agreeable meeting schedule.

Advice From Cyber Security Professionals

Those interested in joining the sector from another field may need to get additional training. Daniel Miessler is an information security practitioner and blogger. As director of advisory services at IOActive, he recommends that anyone in the early stage of their  cybersecurity career should have a background in system administration, networking or development.

Kelly Sheridan is associate editor at Dark Reading, and has written dozens of business IT articles for InformationWeek. She notes that certifications are also “valuable in securing an infosec job.” She states, “The certification you choose depends on your skills, background and desired position.”

Because there are so many educational alternatives — including part-time, accelerated and online programs — it’s important to be aware of the many emerging trends and options available.

The Importance of Professional Passion

Perhaps more important than any other element in a cybersecurity career is passion.

Consider penetration testers (i.e. “ethical hackers” or “white-hat hackers”), who use their skills to predict how cybercriminals might attempt to crack open databanks, and share their results with colleagues who can strengthen those systems. Similar to their malicious counterparts, these testers experience the excitement of pushing boundaries.

Focus, Focus, Focus

In the early part of your cybersecurity career, it’s important to choose a focus area. It may be that you’ve already chosen one, but if not, the time is now. Choosing a niche sector will help you narrow your career choices, and define the degree and certification options you pursue.

Cybersecurity expert Scott Schober suggests, “Home in on an industry where you can fine-tune. It could be retail – helping to protect financial data – or education; there’s a huge need for educators within the CS field. Transportation is
 an exploding area as well. These are just a few examples of niches within cybersecurity, each one requiring a different career approach.”

Don’t Wait to Build Your Network

Getting to know individuals in your field is critical, and it’s never too soon to start. Networking can help you get a job, explore your chosen niche or learn new skills.

Growing up, cybersecurity speaker, author and inventor Scott Schober was a gamer and belonged to a computer club. His dad worked at Atari, so he’s been entrenched in IT his entire life. Now the CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems and author of “Hacked Again,” he regularly speaks about working in the cybersecurity sector. “If you want to learn fast, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” he says. “Connect with peers, share techniques and learn from others.”

Remember that networking isn’t limited to attending professional organization meetings, and that it’s an ongoing process. The person you meet today at your kid’s soccer game could be in a position to offer you a job, or direct you to someone else who can, a year down the road.

Ready to take your career from the early stage to middle management? Check out the next section of this guide or explore the cybersecurity career roadmap.