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How to Get Into Cybersecurity: Tips, Strategy and Skills

Between an educational background, experiential learning opportunities and certifications, there are many ways to get your start in the important and fast-growing field.
A woman sitting in front of two computer monitors after she learned how to become a cyber security professional.

Know before you read
At SNHU, we want to make sure you have the information you need to make decisions about your education and your future—no matter where you choose to go to school. That's why our informational articles may reference careers for which we do not offer academic programs, along with salary data for those careers. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

When Italy native Dr. Angelica Marotta '17G graduated from the University of Pisa with a bachelor's degree in computer science, she wasn't sure where she wanted her career to take her. She received multiple job offers but still felt she hadn't found her true professional identity. That is until she discovered cybersecurity.

Marotta knew she needed to learn more to break into the field. She searched for a program to meet her needs and found Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) fit the bill. As an international student, the online programs allowed her to continue working in Italy and earn a master’s degree with a cybersecurity-focused concentration.

Dr. Angelica Marotta with the text Dr. Angelica Marotta

Today, Marotta is a researcher in the field both in Italy and with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Sloan School of Management, exploring how businesses around the world are implementing information technology (IT) security practices. Galvanized by her educational and professional experience, Marotta earned a doctorate in cybersecurity in 2022. (Cybersecurity doctorate programs are not currently offered at SNHU.) 

The field introduced her to a new world of possibility. "In cybersecurity, you may face issues that didn't even exist when you started studying this particular subject," said Marotta. "It's likely that you’ll find yourself working on something you’d never expect."

Marotta is just one of those unlikely people now working in the fast-growing field of cybersecurity.* According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the cybersecurity role of information security analyst is projected to grow by 32% through 2032 — much faster than the national average.* In 2022, the median salary for this role was $112,000, BLS reported.*

Some SNHU adjunct instructors shared tips and strategies that can help you get started on your cybersecurity career path.

What is Cybersecurity All About?

As a cybersecurity worker, you could help create and enforce IT security policies to protect against cybercrime.

A cybersecurity job description may include working with an organization to ensure compliance with government regulations. You could even be hired to hack into companies' software and IT infrastructure to help identify and strengthen areas of vulnerability.

Cybersecurity is a fast-growing field with diverse opportunities available.* No matter what cybersecurity career path you take, you'll need specific skills and training to succeed in the field.

Is Cybersecurity a Good Career?

As more individuals and organizations around the world become dependent on technology for their day-to-day operations, cybercrime has also become more common, from identity theft and phishing schemes to computer viruses and data breaches.

The National Council on Identity Theft and Protection reported that as of 2023, 33% of Americans had faced some form of identity theft in their lives, with a new case occurring every 22 seconds. And the frequency of such attacks is only expected to increase.

Dr. Trebor Evans and the text Dr. Trebor EvansAn annual report by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) noted that data breaches in 2022 were the second-highest number of events in a single year. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) internet crime report, Americans lost over $10.2 billion from cybercrime in 2022, a $3.3 billion increase from 2021 (FBI PDF Source).

It's not only adults who are at risk of being victimized by cybercrime — a recent AARP-sponsored report stated that children are increasingly at risk for identity theft as well.

It’s no surprise, then, that cybersecurity jobs are also on the rise to protect against these threats. The need for skilled workers in the field is so high that the nonprofit Information System Audit and Control Association's (ISACA) 2022 report noted a sharp increase in hiring and retention difficulties within cybersecurity due to demand.

"There is a shortage of cyber talent, and employers know it. This was the trend before the pandemic hit and is even more pronounced," said Dr. Trebor Evans, a chief information security officer (CISO) and SNHU adjunct instructor. "Now more than ever, opportunities are abundant for entering the cyber field."*

Consider Your Cybersecurity Career Interests

When getting started in cybersecurity, consider your interests and ideal work environment to determine an area of specialization.

"Today, computers and digital media are everywhere," said Rodney Royster, an adjunct faculty member at SNHU with more than three decades of experience in the cybersecurity field. "Almost every business or industry you can think of operates within this space. So, in short, a cybersecurity degree holder can work everywhere. The question here should be, where can they not work?"

Rodney Royster with the text Rodney Royster

Cybersecurity analysts are in high demand across many industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, law enforcement, transportation and power and utilities.* Job descriptions vary within the field of cybersecurity itself, Royster said.

You could work as a forensics analyst, helping investigate cybercrimes and trace the activity of cybercriminals. You could also work as a security architect, building and testing digital protections for IT infrastructure. Those roles could steer you toward becoming a chief information security officer, leading a team of analysts to set company IT security policy.

Ready to take a deeper dive? Cyberseek.org provides detailed information about supply and demand in the cybersecurity market. It offers an interactive map showing where the jobs are and an interactive career pathway, with common jobs by title, how to get there and what average salaries are. 

Is Cybersecurity Hard To Learn? Explore Degree Options

Getting started in cybersecurity requires foundational knowledge of IT practices, computer technology and math. Luckily, there are a growing number of options for cybersecurity education.

Approximately 85.5% of entry-level cybersecurity job postings seek at least a bachelor's degree, according to Cyberseek. A cybersecurity master's degree could help you specialize in a specific area of the field.

"Your technical skill set should include knowledge of networking and firewalls. You should also have the ability to protect networks, operations, client systems and data," said Faryal Humkar, a career advisor at SNHU.

Cyndie Ramirez with the text Cyndie RamirezFor Cyndie Ramirez '18, a cybersecurity degree program not only helped her land a security analyst job before graduating but also inspired her ultimate career goals.

Ramirez was working on an associate degree in computer networking when she first discovered a love of cybersecurity. (Computer networking associate degrees are not currently offered at SNHU). While she was initially nervous to enter what she saw as a mostly male field, a professor encouraged her to explore her interests further. This exploration eventually led to a cybersecurity bachelor's degree from SNHU and a full-time job in the field.

"I found myself fascinated with trying to build networks secured in every way possible so intruders could not gain access," Ramirez said. "I then knew right away I wanted to gain my bachelor's degree to be the front-line team that investigates intrusions and helps mitigate them."

Jonathan Kamyck with text Jonathan KamyckIf you're looking for a degree program to help you build knowledge and confidence in cybersecurity, look for signals that a university is committed to their program.

In 2023, the Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity at SNHU became a validated program of study by the National Security Agency (NSA). As a designated National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), SNHU met the federal government's strict criteria when it comes to excellence in cybersecurity education, said Jonathan Kamyck, a senior associate dean of STEM programs at SNHU. 

What Do You Need to Get Into Cybersecurity?

A cybersecurity degree is an important step toward your IT security career, but gaining hands-on experience can be just as powerful when it comes to finding a job in the field.

"I encourage my students to start applying to cybersecurity internships once they start taking their core classes. One to two internships before you graduate will set you up for success and give you the experience you need after you graduate," said Humkar. "It can also lead to a job opportunity at the company you are interning at."

Finding an internship or getting involved in a student organization is a great way to get real-world experience, build your professional skills and make key connections in the field. Your academic experiences can also aid your career search.

"I also recommend adding one to two academic projects on your resume that you completed in class that relate to cybersecurity. This can show employers relevant skills you learned in the classroom," said Humkar. "A career advisor can assist you with developing a strong resume to highlight this."

Kristina Greenshields with the text Kristina GreenshieldsThe National Cyber League (NCL) is a nonprofit that provides a virtual training ground to develop cybersecurity knowledge. Kristina Greenshields '18, who earned a bachelor's in IT with a concentration in cybersecurity, said her participation with the NCL was instrumental in preparing her to find work as a cybersecurity specialist.

"Without my advisor pushing me to join (the NCL), I wouldn’t have had the confidence I had to talk to people about cybersecurity in interviews," Greenshields said. "It gave me the hands-on experience that I needed in conjunction to my degree classes."

In a recent competition of colleges and universities nationwide, SNHU ranked 65th. In this competition, students got to test their skills on real-world cybersecurity tasks.

If you're hoping to break into the field fast, consider earning a certificate in cybersecurity on your way to a cybersecurity associate degree or bachelor's degree.

In just over six months at SNHU, for instance, you could add a credential from an accredited program to your resume, and it will completely overlap with the courses you need for the university's undergraduate cybersecurity degree programs. The certificate program offers an overview of technology tools and software, computer networking basics and problem-solving training that can help you position yourself for some entry-level jobs. 

Find Your Program

What Certifications Are Recommended for a Career in Cybersecurity?

Another way to enhance your cybersecurity resume and stand out among qualified applicants is to earn IT security certifications. 

There are many cybersecurity certificates and certifications available from a variety of organizations and institutions, Royster said, as well as free online certification courses and tools. Certifications improve and test your knowledge in specific areas of the cybersecurity field and assure prospective employers of your skills and expertise.

Faryal Humkar with the text Faryal HumkarHumkar recommended CompTIA Security+, noting that SNHU provides a discount for students to pursue this certification.

Be sure to research your certification options. While some cybersecurity certifications are designed for entry-level workers just getting started in the field, others require years of professional experience and may even be paid for by your employer. 

Humkar also recommended joining a professional association, like the IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative (CYBSI). "This is an excellent way to network with cybersecurity professionals, attend technical conferences, learn from webinars and more," she said.

Why Are Soft Skills Important in Cybersecurity?

When it comes to finding work in IT security, soft skills may be just as valuable as technical skills like coding and math. 

"Soft skills are essential for cybersecurity professionals. You will be working as a team on projects and meeting deadlines," said Humkar. "It’s important to have strong, active listening skills and effective verbal and written communication skills."

As part of a team, it's vital that cyber professionals work well with others. Hiring managers prefer working with cybersecurity experts who have solid communication skills.

"Successful cyber professionals will avoid the perception of always having to say 'no,'" said Evans. "A better approach is, 'let's work together to ensure your application or service functions securely.'"

Never Stop Learning 

Hackers and other cyber criminals are always trying to infiltrate IT infrastructure in new ways. As a cybersecurity worker, you must continually learn new ways to prevent threats. A commitment to continuing education is key to ensuring your success in the ever-evolving field of IT security.

"In general, one can expect that there will be new threats each day," Evans said. "In cybersecurity-related positions, what you guard against in the morning could be different from what you have to learn about and guard against later that same day."

Hackers and malicious actors are always searching for new targets to attack. "In the pandemic, they sought to take advantage of distracted workers who suddenly found themselves working remotely or by testing those remote capabilities that may not have been fully secured," Evans said.

Nalisha Varnado with the text Nalisha VarnadoSuccess in cybersecurity also requires staying up to date with industry news and trends. "Working in cybersecurity means that you have to continuously educate yourself," said Nalisha Varnado '18, a cybersecurity professional who has a bachelor's in IT with a concentration in cybersecurity from SNHU.

"Hackers are always going to try to find ways to avoid being discovered by security professionals and software developers," Varnado said. "Hackers find new vulnerabilities often, and it is important to stay up to date with the current exploits that are being discovered in the community."

The Future of Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity job growth shows no signs of slowing down, according to BLS.* Businesses, organizations and individuals continue to gain access to more advanced technology, while technology itself is increasingly entwined with daily life.

As reliance on technology grows — from the phone you carry and the car you drive to the way you shop, get entertainment and even access medical care  — so will your need to protect personal data and IT infrastructure.

Cyber threats can be sourced back to individuals, groups or even governmental agencies. According to Forbes, nation-state cyber attacks are performed by governments to wage cyber war on other countries. This means world events can greatly affect the realm of cybersecurity. 

"Nation-state cyber threats are not new ... Something as simple as falling for a phishing email may end up exposing login credentials that an actor can use to do further harm" said Evans.

A career in cybersecurity means you can be on the front lines of protecting technology and the people who use it.

"Cybersecurity is not just about technology and systems; it's mostly about people," Marotta said. "This work stems from people and affects people, and it's a great way to figure out why people do things and how they can be protected ... It allows you to impact society."

Discover more about SNHU's online cybersecurity degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.


Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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