If you have been pursuing cybersecurity for any length of time you have probably realized that Information security, especially at the entry-level can be quite challenging to get your foot in the door, even for an internship position. A year ago, I was finishing up my sophomore year of college and was heading into the summer break without an internship. At the time I was disappointed that it seemed I would have to wait yet another year to break into the field and begin to gain the valuable work experience to start my career in the cybersecurity field. I had done everything right, or at least so I thought. I applied to several positions well before the summer, I was doing well in my college coursework and I even had an industry-recognized certification with my Security+ that I had achieved in January of that year.
Despite these positives, I received rejection letter after rejection letter from nearly every company I applied to, oftentimes not even having the opportunity to interview for the position. Out of the dozens of companies I applied to I managed to land two interviews both of which did not go all that well. Going into the summer of last year I promised myself that a year from now I would not be in the same position. Fast forward a year later and not only have I completed my first internship in cybersecurity, but I was also able to land several other offers for summer positions and recently started my second internship experience. Here are some of the practical steps I took to get my first opportunity in the field.
STEP 1: GET YOUR SKILLS UP
Upon analyzing my resume as well as the two interviews I did heading into last summer I quickly realized that I didn’t possess necessary skills to distinguish myself from other candidates for an internship position. If you have been following Cyberwox Academy for any length of time this message should be clear: Certifications and or a degree do NOT make you qualified for a position on their own. The truth is, while internships are generally geared toward beginners and students who are learning cybersecurity, cybersecurity in itself is not an entry-level field meaning that even at the intern level in most cases there are basic skills and knowledge one must have prior to the internship experience in order to be successful. I had the background knowledge but realized that when asked to apply this knowledge in answering scenario questions in interviews or demonstrate how I have applied what I learned from classwork and certifications I continually came up empty.
After making this assessment I decided to use that summer to start building a skill set and applying the knowledge I had gained from school and certifications. During this time, I studied for and passed my CompTIA CySA+ exam. During the process when I would learn a new concept I would immediately try and incorporate that knowledge in a lab environment where I am performing the work I would do in an internship or job. I went about this by setting up a simple lab environment as well as using online cybersecurity training platforms. Unlike when I passed Security+, when I completed CySA+ some of the skills I was able to claim included:
– Experience analyzing security logs and network traffic.
– Being able to identify, interpret, and suggest remediation techniques for Vulnerability scan results.
– Being able to analyze situations to determine indicators of compromise.
These skills are things I have been able to emphasize to employers because of the hands-on practice I have had showing them I have the ability not only to learn concepts but apply them. Certifications and School + practical application is the way to go.
STEP 2: ADVERTISING SKILLS AND NETWORKING
After spending time establishing a basic skill set, it was time to showcase what I had learned to potential employers. Many times, people might have the skills but not present them in an effective manner on their resume or LinkedIn and subsequently miss out on many opportunities. Take time to really craft a resume and online profile that showcases your skill set! A tip that greatly helped me was to not only list skills on my resume but talk about specific projects I did where those skills came into play, once again showing an employer you can go from concept to practical application. Many interviewers will really focus on your projects during the interview as likely at that point you have very little industry experience so that will be an indicator of what skills you bring to the table. Many people not only advertise skills on their resume but start blogs, YouTube channels, or social media accounts documenting what they are learning.
Additionally, when getting that first internship, it’s not only WHAT you know but WHO you know. Networking is a very important practice to earn initial opportunities for internships. My first internship came through becoming a member of a cybersecurity organization and just putting myself out there as an aspiring professional within the group. Eventually, someone reached out to me and gave me an opportunity. Additionally, I regularly attended career fairs where I can make direct connections with employers before I ever send in an application and this has also translated to success in getting opportunities in the field. Networking also helped me establish great interviewing skills as I constantly had to put myself in a position whereby, I was selling myself and my skills
STEP 3: DON’T LET REJECTION DISCOURAGE YOU
At the end of the day no matter what skills, certifications, and educational background you possess all employers value different things. Even when you establish a basic skill set, network, and have good interviewing skills, rejection is inevitable and even at times, unfortunately, not all companies have good hiring practices. About 8 months into my internship search after 30+ rejections I had managed to get a verbal offer from a company that never come to fruition. While being rejected or “ghosted” is hurtful it is important to keep working at the first opportunity because eventually, it will come. It took about 12 months to successfully land and accept my first offer and it would not have come had I dwelled on the several rejection emails or unsuccessful interviews.
Landing an internship in cybersecurity is definitely a process but by gaining some basic skills, advertising your work as well as being persistent, it is within reach. If you have any questions or need any additional direction on landing that first internship be sure to join the online community at Cyberwox Academy and we will put you on the right track!