Cyber Security Skills Growth and Professional Development for Career Success

Posted by Ashley Jones
professional development

Cyber security is essential—to everyone in this day and age. Individuals face identify theft, entire cities’ operations can be impacted by cyberattacks, and national security is at stake in the balance too. With the need to protect and defend so high, it’s no surprise cyber security skills are in great demand. However, many organizations face a cyber security skills gap.

Sometimes a degree on its own doesn’t speak loudly enough to a candidate’s ability to get the job done. If your goal is to move up the ladder, there is often room for upskilling and professional development that will make you a more capable and desirable cyber professional.

“You have to step up to the plate for your own growth and aspirations,” says John Hammond, Senior Security Researcher and a respected content creator in the cyber security community. “No one will do it for you, so it is up to you to continue your own learning and practice with the things you are passionate about.”

If you want to impress potential employers or earn a promotion at your existing company, you need to stay current in your field and actively seek out professional development opportunities.

Consider these tips for leveling up your skills to make yourself more marketable as you progress through your career:

Getting Started

Taking responsibility for your own growth will strengthen your value, open new doors during a job search, and accelerate your career. You will need to assess your current skillset and decide where your time will be spent most effectively in your ongoing professional development journey. Here are some possible steps to take as you commit to sharpening your cyber security skills and marketability:

  • Enroll in additional college courses, an online continuing education program, or bootcamp
  • Read articles and listen to podcasts to stay up-to-date in your field
  • Earn advanced cyber security certifications
  • Participate in challenges and Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions
  • Practice in a home lab or take on additional projects outside of the workplace
  • Attend or volunteer at cyber security conferences and meetups
  • Network with others in the industry to learn how they’ve been successful

Advancing in your cyber security career takes perseverance, but the extra steps you take to round out your skills will pay off.

Continued Education & Staying Up-to-Date

While a degree isn’t always necessary to become proficient in cyber security, it will aid your marketability in the security cleared sector. Cleared employers don’t have control over the qualifications outlined in a government contract award. So if a Bachelor’s degree is required, you can’t always rely on transferable skills and experience.

Aside from meeting traditional degree requirements, continued education benefits your growth as a cyber security professional overall. Consider completing additional training like bootcamps and online courses, tune into relevant webinars, and stay up-to-date on what’s happening in security by reading articles and listening to podcasts like the CyberWire.

Technology keeps evolving and it can be a struggle to keep up sometimes. Try sectioning out some time each day or week to read up on what’s happing in the world of cyber security. Emerging yourself in the industry and continually gaining knowledge will help you speak more confidently as you interview for promotions. You may even learn more about a niche in security that you realize you want to pursue next.

Cyber Security Certifications

Earning certifications is another way to grow your skills, meet job requirements, and demonstrate your readiness to move into a management track. “Education and experience will always remain key foundations of a successful career, but certifications provide Federal customers with specific, codified validation of knowledge and expertise,” says Doug Munro, Senior Talent Acquisition Business Partner for Strider Technologies and The Ocado Group. Read more from Doug Munro about The Certifications You Need to Have in 2021 here.

The average certification journey might take you about six months, from studying to being ready to go take the exam. Certifications are a significant investment of your time, so do your research to determine which will take you to the next level. Think about the certifications your boss’ job requires. Learn How to Navigate Security Cleared Cyber Security Certifications and the 8570 matrix to hit the ground running with a plan as you work towards progressing in your career.

Challenges & Competitions

Certifications aside, you can also demonstrate your commitment to professional development by participating in cyber security competitions. “Getting hands-on with Capture The Flag challenges, studying and listening to others share their knowledge are some of the best ways to further your career and education,” adds John Hammond.

Competitions provide an avenue to gain additional work experience, technical skills practice, and networking opportunities. From single-company events to large-conference events, these competitions provide real-world experience on difficult challenges—challenges that help professionals gain the skills that employers are looking for.

Be sure to sit down afterwards and write down the challenge, your resources, what you failed at, and what you were really successful at. If you’re ready to take on greater responsibilities in your career, sharing these experiences can help you make your case to an employer.

Home Labs

If you’re looking to practice and polish your technical abilities, a home lab is a great method to pursue. For instance, if you’re looking to improve your penetration testing skills, a home lab will benefit you, no matter what level you’re at. Home labs can help you experiment with proof-of-concept code and test for adverse reactions outside of a production environment. Just like CTF’s, home labs give you hands-on experience while also demonstrating your commitment to growing your skills.

Industry Conferences

Being active in the security community by attending conferences and professional meetups is another important aspect of your professional development journey. If you look at conferences and various programs in the cyber security community, you find that many, if not most, are completely volunteer run. These individuals make time to volunteer because of the numerous personal and professional benefits volunteering offers.

We conducted a global survey of industry professionals who spend time volunteering at cyber security conferences and other activities in the cyber security community. Roughly 80% of respondents agreed volunteering allows them to gain practical or work-related experience.

Having a variety of opportunities to interact and learn new duties through volunteerism provides numerous skill-building moments. The most reported skills that respondents say they take away from volunteering include teamwork, organizing, planning, and communication. Gaining soft skills like these supports your move up the ladder, as it improves your ability to communicate effectively with cross-functional teams and other departments. If you’re in tech and can communicate effectively you will go far.

Putting It All Together

Fine-tuning your skillset and gaining additional education and experience will always be crucial to your professional success. As you acquire new skills and experiences, document your activities and accomplishments so that you can leverage them in interviews and on your resume.

And whether you’re in a bootcamp class, attending a local cyber security meetup, or volunteering at a conference, take every opportunity you have to network with others in your field. The steps you take towards improving your skills, and expanding your network along the way, will support your cyber security career goals and job search efforts immensely.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2021 11:32 am

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