How to land your first Cyber Security or IT job? (Cyber Security Minute)

This week we are going to tackle a tough question, “How can I get my first in cyber security or IT?” So, why is that a tough question, after all, it shouldn’t be that tough to land your first job, right? You go to school, you get some certifications or you get a degree, and you go and apply and get your first job. Well, it’s not quite that easy.

So, why isn’t it that easy? Because we get into the standard Catch 22…and that Catch 22 is this: You won’t hire me because I don’t have experience, but I can’t get experience because you won’t hire me! So, we get into this endless cycle. How can we break this cycle? I’m going to give you 3 ways to break out of this endless game.

So, what did I end up doing? When I wanted to get into the IT field back in the late 1990s, I decided to go get a certification. I went and go the CompTIA A+, which focuses on the operating, troubleshooting, and repair of both hardware and software. Once I got that certification, I though, “Hey, I got my certification, I am going to set the world on fire; I’m gunna get a job today!”

I applied at half a dozen companies, and no one wanted to hire me because on paper I had no experience, all I had was the certification… and that was a problem for me. I had been a hobbyist for years, but I had nothing on paper to support the fact that I knew what I was doing, except for the certification.

I eventually found one company that was willing to hire me, but they wanted to pay me minimum wage. They wanted to start me out really low and get a good deal on my labor. They were taking a huge risk on me by taking someone who was unproven in the marketplace.

Now, instead of accepting their offer, I ended up instead starting my own business. This was the late 90s, everyone was starting to get computers in their homes, but most people didn’t understand how to fix them or even operate them. I went and put an ad in the newspaper and started Jason’s Tech Consulting.

When small businesses or home owners had an issue with their computer, they could call me and for $50-$60 per hour, I would run out there and go fix their problems or train them on how to solve their issues. That worked really well, and I did that for a couple of years.

So, that is the first way to break out of this cycle, you can go off and start your own company. If you are going to be in the IT tech support realm, there are plenty of small businesses and home owners who need help solving their IT problems, and this can be a great way to begin building your experience level.

Another method is volunteering. This may sound kind of weird, why would I want to go and work for free? Well, sometimes you work for free just to build up your experience level. Let me give you my personal example of this. When I wanted to shift over into teaching, I had the same problem of no previous experience. I had lots of experience in the IT and cyber security world, but I had no documented teaching experience. So, I started doing it on a volunteer basis with after school clubs at the high school and community groups where I taught IT and cyber security classes. After doing this for about 6 months, the local community college was then willing to take a chance on me by hiring me as a paid adjunct professor. This occurred because I was no longer an unknown, I was a proven commodity.

Sometimes you have to look for opportunities like that, where you can work for 3 months or 6 months as an intern or volunteer to get something on your resume for you to move forward with.

The third method is to take a position that is “below” yourself. What do I mean by that? Well, remember, after I got my certification, 6 companies said that they wouldn’t hire me. But, I did have one company that said they would, but they only wanted to pay me minimum wage. This was well below the market rate for my skill set. Again, they were taking a risk because I was unproven.

I could have gone there and worked for 3 months or 6 months, built my resume up a little bit, then applied for better positions in the marketplace.

So, in summary, how do you break out of this Catch 22? Well, you have got to get experience. How do you get experience? You have got to get creative. You can start your own side business, you can volunteer, or your can work for a company at a lower rate or position to get yourself into the field.

One final method that sometimes works for my students. I have seen some enter a company in a different field. For example, I had one student who was previously a police officer, so he took a position with a company as a security guard. This particular company liked to promote and hire from within, so once he got his certifications, he was able to move into the IT department because he was already working for the company as a security guard.

It is hard to get that first job, but once you do, it really opens up your options as you move up in your career. The great news is that once you get that first job on your resume, the field is so booming that people are going to look for you left and right once you have some experience. Unfortunately, no one wants to be the one to take that chance on hiring your first, and that is what makes this so difficult.

If you have any comments or questions for the Cyber Security Minute, please leave them in the comments below, as well as clicking subscribe to our YouTube channel (JasonDionTraining) to ensure you don’t miss any of our new episodes each and every Monday.

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Additional Courses:
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** Anatomy of a Cyber Attack on Udemy (90% off, only $15) **

Jason Dion, CISSP No. 349867, is a Adjunct Instructor at Liberty University’s College of Engineering and Computational Science and Anne Arundel Community College’s Department of Computing Technologies with multiple information technology professional certifications, including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Network Defense Architect (CNDA), Digital Forensic Examiner (DFE), Digital Media Collector (DMC), Security+, Network+, A+, and Information Technology Infrastructure Library v3. With networking experience dating back to 1992, Jason has been a network engineer for the United States Navy Southern Command, served as the Deputy Director of the Theater Network Operations Center Middle East, and the Information Systems Officer for Navy Information Operations Command Maryland. Jason holds a Master’s of Science degree in Information Technology with a specialization in Information Assurance from University of Maryland University College, a Master’s of Arts and Religion in Pastoral Counseling, and a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Resources Management from New School University. He lives in the greater Washington D.C./Baltimore, Maryland area with his wife and two children.