Getting Over The Experience Hurdle

New graduates are in a tough spot, especially those interested in cyber security. A majority of cyber security positions require one or more years of experience; and thus the difficulty, because experience is often earned on the job. Don’t let this hold you back from applying for one of these positions, because there are many ways to get the experience you need.

Certification

Certification is an excellent way to demonstrate skills, especially when experience is lacking. Certification tests are typically timed, multiple-choice exams that measure knowledge of a specific subject. Some of the mainstream certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Practitioner (CISSP), have an experience requirement but many others, such as the Security+, Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and the Holistic Information Security Professional (HISP), do not.

Volunteering

Do you belong to a group or support a cause that might need your help? Experience does not have to be gained on the job. Instead, offer to secure the website code for your scout troop, update the computers at your church or school, teach residents of a local nursing home how to protect their privacy online or configure wireless access points for people in your apartment complex. Lastly, don’t forget to list these volunteer activities on your resume. You can include them in a skills section if you have only volunteered once or twice but if you volunteer regularly, create a volunteer section on your resume to specifically highlight these.

Extracurricular Activities

There are likely professional groups in your area that discuss security such as ISACA, ISSA, ACM, or Infragard. If you are in a major city, there are probably dozens of groups. While some cost money to join, many memberships or attendance of group events are free. These groups might meet monthly to discuss relevant topics in cyber security—join one or more of them and start attending their meetings. After you become comfortable with the members and venue, approach the group’s leadership about helping out. Most groups are always in need of help, and this will also allow you to network with others in the industry and stay current on important topics.

Internships

Most of the suggestions so far have offered ways to gain experience outside of the workforce. Internships, however, offer on-the-job experience that can easily be added to your resume. Internships are advertised in the same places you’d find job postings: job boards, Craigslist, school career portals and company websites just to name a few.

Some internships are unpaid, but don’t be frightened by this. Unpaid internships are generally more geared toward preparing an intern for the workforce. Paid internships, on the other hand, usually involve tasks that are more directly related to the company’s business—there may be less mentorship and guidance.

Either way, internships give you a chance to try your skills out in the real world and to tackle real problems that you can discuss in an interview or cover letter. Also, don’t forget to ask for a letter of recommendation from your supervisor if you did a good job in your internship.

Everyday Activities

The last area where you can demonstrate experience is in your everyday life. This is especially relevant for soft skills or general business skills such as communication, time management, organization, project management and planning. You can begin this process right now. I recommend creating a skills inventory that you can draw upon as you begin your job search. You can start with a simple outline. Create main sections for computer skills, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, organization, communication and so forth.

Next, think about times when you had to use these skills in your daily life. For example, for leadership you could list how you took charge of a team project for one of your classes. Describe how you divided responsibilities and helped set a shared vision for the group. Make sure to describe the outcome as well.

Armed with one or more certifications, volunteer and extracurricular experience, an internship and your everyday skills, start looking for jobs and create a resume and cover letter tailored to the desired traits indicated on the job description.

I’m compensated by University of Phoenix for this blog and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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