Cyber security is one of the most sought after careers in the employment market right now, and more and more positions open up each month. Job seekers are left wondering how to prepare for a career in cyber security, however, given the relative immaturity of the field and the fact that nontraditional career paths are common.

The reality is that not everyone can hack it as a cyber pro. The reason cyber experts are in demand is that they must possess the right blend of skills and certifications. But there’s a misconception that cyber careers require a love of World of Warcraft and the ability to speak only in ones and zeroes. If you’re considering a career transition or are a current student, there are steps you can take to advance into this lucrative profession.

Tips to help land a job in the field of cyber security include:

  1. Get certified to show mastery of a body of knowledge (e.g., Certified Information Systems Security Professional).
  2. Pick your focus and become an expert in that area. For example, you can’t understand Microsoft security unless you have an understanding of Microsoft servers. Don’t try to be a master of every technology or program, but do become an expert in one.
  3. Build a solid foundation in networking, systems administration, database management, or web applications to provide focus for your security education.
  4. Have experience in the military or law enforcement (this is particularly helpful in government, but not a requirement).
  5. Read up on IT security topics. Know current news and track industry updates in the cyber world.
  6. Do your own background checks in advance of seeking employment to know what will be reported about you (in case there are things flagged that you would need to explain.)
  7. Be willing to work in fast-paced environments with some unpredictability in job hours.

Cyber security salaries in the Washington, D.C. metro average more than $110,000 per year. Those in cyber security management can earn more than $135,000 per year.

A few examples of cyber security jobs in government, and the private sector, are:

  • security
  • network security engineer
  • systems analyst
  • information systems auditor
  • application programmer
  • security administrator
  • systems administrator

Most community colleges offer certificates in cyber security, that require two semesters or more, which will provide the basic foundation and the background required to sit for the Security + Certification exam.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.