Cybersecurity Education RequirementsUpdated: November 3, 2020
Whether you are looking for a cybersecurity job as a career option after leaving the military or you are a civilian interested in your cybersecurity job possibilities, one thing is certain–there is a high demand for skilled workers and the jobs themselves can be fairly competitive given the high demand.
A lot of people want to start careers in this field and wonder what it takes to land a job. As you might guess, there are specific education requirements for jobs in cybersecurity. What are they?
Cybersecurity Career Basics
For best results, it’s a very good idea to think about the general type of cybersecurity job you want to land, then look up job listings for that type of work. You’ll quickly learn what specific credentialing is required for a Federal, State, local, or private sector job in that discipline based on the education requirements in the job ad.
It can be very helpful to look at federal job openings in the field–federal jobs tend to have less flexibility in the qualifications section than civilian employers do and that strict set of hiring criteria can be a big help to someone who wants a job in that department but doesn’t know where to look to find the list of skills and certifications necessary.
There may be other requirements, too–more generalized skills such as project management, leadership, an understanding of information systems, etc. Some cybersecurity certification classes include modules or segments of the training focusing on IT-based project management. If you have management experience these modules will still prove useful, and it never pays to assume that people skills and other non-technical abilities aren’t factors in the decision to hire a new employee.
Past Experience Counts
Roughly six out of ten IT jobs feature some kind of cybersecurity requirement as part of the job. If you already have IT experience, it’s helpful to review your education and training to date to identify any coursework or certifications that may help you advance into a more security-oriented job in your field. If you have prior experience in other aspects of IT, it is an easier road to employment than for someone who has no technical experience at all.
If you have no experience, start reviewing the different types of IT jobs that incorporate cybersecurity and what kinds of education and training is needed for the ones that interest you most.
And if you haven’t already guessed, it is true that some combination of education and credentialing is required to land many types of job in this career field. The exact combination will depend greatly on the needs of the company doing the hiring.
You may not be required to hold a security clearance to obtain your job, but a Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret clearance is not required to get the classwork and certifications you may need to be considered for employment.
At the most basic level, you will need to identify the types of cybersecurity work you are most interested in. There are a variety of options including, but not limited to:
- Cybersecurity Analyst
- Cybersecurity Architect
- Cybersecurity Consultant
- Cybersecurity Manager
- Cybersecurity Engineer
- Systems Engineer
- Network Architect
- Network Engineer
Of the jobs listed above, consultants and managers will likely require all candidates to have prior experience, so it’s advisable to start your learning journey early if you have an interest in moving up the ranks to one of those positions. You should consider learning or enhancing your skills in a variety of areas including server admin, programming, specific systems such as CISCO, etc.
Those interested in systems engineering or systems architect work may find that an advanced degree is usually required–this is definitely not entry-level work and you should be prepared to work in the field as you earn your advanced degree for most efficient results. Some sources report that roughly 80% of all cybersecurity engineer jobs require advanced degrees.
Do I Need A Bachelor’s Degree To Get A Cybersecurity Job?
As mentioned above, some jobs in the industry require higher education at a minimum. But others do not. Some sources estimate just under 25% of the jobs in cybersecurity require “less than a bachelor’s degree”. With or without a degree, you will be required to get or maintain certain certifications for many positions.
The certifications will vary depending on a list of variables including what systems your employer uses. A company that prefers Microsoft will require certifications in Microsoft systems and there are tiers to these certifications.
Beginners will be relieved to see that there are “fundamental” certification, “associate” level certifications, and even “expert” level certification. Some jobs don’t require an expert level certificate, and some may require specific role-based credentialing.
Here’s a small list of Microsoft certifications as an example. Note that some of these are not specifically security-oriented but you may encounter a potential employer that wants you to have a certificate in a broader area in addition to your security training.
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals
- Microsoft 365 Certified: Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Developer Associate
- Microsoft Certified: Power Apps + Dynamics 365 Developer Associate
- Microsoft Certified: Dynamics 365 Sales Functional Consultant Associate
- Microsoft Certified: Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty
- Microsoft Certified Educator
- Microsoft Office Specialist: Microsoft Word Expert (Word and Word 2019)
Microsoft is not the only company offering lists of certification opportunities, and you should try to determine what system you want to specialize in for the type of job you seek. Some may disagree, but there’s a school of thought among some in the industry that includes discouraging people from being “generalists” and trying to learn multiple systems of platforms rather than focusing on one area and learning it well.
If you are interested in the security of network routers and systems, you’ll want to identify companies that focus on this area–CISCO is one of them.
But if you’re interested in doing work as a “Pen Tester”, (short for “penetration testing”) where ethical hackers are charged with trying to find security vulnerabilities in an entire system through a variety of means including brute force hacks, social engineering, etc. your certifications will trend in a different direction.
An Endless Set of Credentials
One important reason to specialize? The fact that there’s a vast amount of certificates that can be earned. These programs take time, cost money, and should be used only if you plan on using the certification. How many credentialing options are out there? Far too many to count, but you can get an idea of your choices from the very small list of options and career paths below.
- CompTIA A+
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Security+
- CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)
- CompTIA PenTest+
- CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP),
- CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching
- CCNA Security
- CCNA Cyber Ops
- CCNA Data Center
Tips For Getting Started
Above we’ve already mentioned looking at IT job boards to get an idea of the hiring requirements. But you can also find forums on Reddit and elsewhere especially for those in the industry. Asking questions of experienced cybersecurity specialists can help you get a better picture of what you actually need in order to get your foot in the door or to advance in a company where you already work. Checking with your local university or attending a career day may also be helpful. And don’t limit your search at the university level to just a list of classes and degrees–check out the university’s own job boards to see what credentials it requires in order to be hired doing cybersecurity work for the college.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News