How to Become a Security Consultant
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Security consultants, also called computer security consultants or information security consultants, help organizations protect their assets by improving their information technology (IT) security.
Most security consultants earn bachelor's degrees in fields like computer science, cybersecurity, or information technology. Security consultants also typically need relevant work experience and current professional certifications.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 33% growth for information security analysts from 2020-2030.
This guide explores how to become a security consultant. We explain what security consulting is and explore any required education, experience, and certifications. We also include practical advice on how to get into security consulting.
What Is Security Consulting?
Security consultants work in IT security. This subdiscipline of computer science focuses on protecting computer systems and networks. These professionals work with organizations to secure their IT systems. Some security consultants concentrate on computer forensics or application security.
Security consultants teach employees to understand and uphold cybersecurity principles. They often work with IT department members, including computer systems analysts and network administrators. Common industries for security consultants include computer systems design, finance and insurance, information, and management.
Security consultants detect potential or actual security breaches. They also install software to protect data, teach computer users about security processes or products, and create security best practices for organizations. They create disaster recovery and response plans for their organizations as well.
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Required Education for Security Consultants
Security consultants usually need at least a bachelor's degree. This degree may be in computer science, information assurance, cybersecurity, or information technology. Such programs require classes in risk management, web and cloud security, digital forensics and incident response, and the business of IT. Students learn the fundamentals of IT, web development, and programming.
Security consultants without a bachelor's degree may qualify for some positions if they attended bootcamps or hold certifications, an associate degree, or professional experience. However, a bachelor's degree is generally the industry standard and improves career and salary potential.
Some high-level jobs require or prefer applicants with master's degrees in computer science, cybersecurity, or information assurance. A master's degree demonstrates advanced knowledge in the field. This degree also differentiates prospective security consultants from other professionals, which may lead to higher earning potential.
Computer security consultants must stay informed about the field to do their jobs correctly. The industry expects security consultants to complete continuing education and earn certifications to master new technologies. Certifications help workers qualify for new career opportunities and better salaries.
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Required Experience for Security Consultants
Entry-level security consultant positions are uncommon. Security consulting careers usually require 3-5 years of experience in a related occupation.
Many security consultants start their careers in entry-level general IT or security positions. After that, they may move on to work as network or computer systems administrators before qualifying for security consulting positions.
Some employers prefer security consultants with specialized, relevant experience. For example, a company hiring for a position in database security may prefer applicants with previous database experience.
The tech industry values job experience. However, some employers hire less-experienced security consultants who complete security training and/or certifications. Some cybersecurity bootcamps let students acquire both education and professional experience simultaneously.
Internships let prospective security consultants apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios and develop professional networks that can lead to job offers.
- Department of Homeland Security Internships: DHS invites undergraduate and graduate students to complete cybersecurity internships focused on forensic analysis, intrusion detection and prevention, identification of malicious code, and incident handling. The ten-week paid internship takes place in Washington, D.C.
- National Security Agency Internships: The NSA offers a variety of internships for cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate students. Most take place in the summer and include hands-on work with NSA professionals.
- Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Internships: CISA offers paid cybersecurity and IT internships where students learn to protect the U.S. from cyber threats. Interns complete projects, tour labs, and attend conferences.
Required Certifications for Security Consultants
Security consulting careers do not require specific certifications. However, many employers prefer certified job applicants, and the IT industry values professional certifications.
Security consultant certifications demonstrate knowledge and skills in specific areas of information security. Obtaining certifications can help a security consultant earn a higher entry-level salary or find more career advancement opportunities.
Entry-level workers can earn the widely recognized CompTIA security+ certification to help launch their cybersecurity careers. The certification requires a multiple choice and performance-based exam and is suitable for individuals with at least two years of security-focused IT administration experience.
CEH certification teaches up-to-date hacking techniques, methods, and tools. It requires a multiple choice exam with multiple training options.
Earning CISM certification demonstrates expertise in information security governance, risk management, and incident response. This certification often qualifies employees for management positions. Applicants must pass an exam and have relevant full-time professional experience.
This certification requires a three-hour adaptive exam. The course includes up to 50 hours of live instruction.
How to Get Into Security Consulting
The process for getting into security consulting includes earning a college degree, gaining relevant work experience, and completing professional certifications. Each person's career path is unique, but professionals may spend 7-10 years or more completing the education and gaining the professional experience to qualify for a career in security consulting.
Demand for this career varies by region. This can affect how long it takes to land a security consultant position. Other factors that impact the difficulty of getting into security consulting include the relevance of your specific degree, certification, or professional experience to the job in question.
See below for more specific details about how to get a job in security consulting.
Steps to Becoming a Security Consultant
Below, we describe the typical steps to becoming a security consultant. This is just one possible career path. Your actual journey to a career in security consulting may vary.
- Earn a Bachelor's Degree. A security consultant usually needs to earn at least a bachelor's degree. Typical fields include computer science, information assurance, or cybersecurity. A bachelor's degree usually takes about four full-time years to complete.
- Get Entry-Level IT Experience. After earning a bachelor's degree, prospective security consultants usually work an entry-level job in information technology for 1-3 years.
- Obtain Advanced Professional Certifications. Completing advanced professional certifications can help people qualify for mid-level IT jobs or even security consultant positions.
- Get a Mid-Level IT Job. Finding a mid-level IT position as an information security analyst, security engineer, or security administrator is a good next step for many future security consultants. Spending 2-4 years in this type of occupation prepares professionals for a career in security consulting.
- Find a Security Consultant Job. After earning a bachelor's degree, advanced professional certifications, and gaining 3-5 years of relevant professional experience, you can apply for a security consultant job.
Should I Become a Security Consultant?
Many people find a security consulting career rewarding. The path to becoming a security consultant is not short or easy, but it can pay off for those willing to devote the necessary time and effort to the career.
Security consultants usually take about four years to earn a bachelor's degree, then spend several more years gaining relevant professional experience and certifications. Some people find it challenging to land their first security consultant job because most positions require at least 3-5 years of experience.
However, once security consultants find their way into the industry, they can expect a growing field and high pay. The BLS reported that in 2020, information security analysts earned a median annual wage of $103,590, significantly higher than the median wage for all occupations.
Over time, security consultants can pursue more advanced positions with even better pay. Potential career paths include senior security consultant, information security manager, and security engineer.
How to Get a Job in Security Consulting
To get a job as a security consultant, you need to know where to look. Students can find security consultant jobs through professional organizations, mentor recommendations, job fairs, and networking events. Other places to look include university career centers, IT security blogs, and tech companies' websites.
Consult the job boards below to find listings and information about how to get a job in security consulting.
ZipRecruiter connects job seekers and potential employers. Job seekers can search jobs and salaries. They can also view employer reviews.
This professional association maintains a cybersecurity job board.
A job board that gets 250 million visitors each month, Indeed lets jobseekers post resumes, research companies, and browse listings.
The biggest professional networking website in the world, LinkedIn connects employers with people looking for jobs.
This website helps people seeking flexible, remote, and hybrid work opportunities. FlexJobs offers access to career coaching, job listings, webinars, and resume reviews.
Resources for Future Security Consultants
What Is a Security Consultant?
Learn how to be a security consultant. This page covers typical job duties, responsibilities, and work environments. It also looks at potential career paths that can lead to a career in security consulting.
Salary and Career Outlook for Security Consultants
Discover potential salaries and the career outlook for security consultants. We explain factors that influence salary differences for security consultants and talk about what will drive growth in the field.
Day in the Life of a Security Consultant
This page explores what to expect from a career in security consulting. It paints a picture of a typical day for students wondering how to become a security consultant.
Certifications for Security Consultants
This page explains how to get a job in security consulting by earning relevant professional certifications. The security field values certifications, and many employers prefer or require certified job applicants.
Frequently Asked Questions About Careers in Security Consulting
What is the role of a security consultant?
Security consultants help organizations protect their computer systems and networks. They make security recommendations to management, teach computer users about security processes, and investigate security breaches.
What education do you need to be a security consultant?
Security consultants usually need at least a bachelor's degree in a field like computer science, information technology, information assurance, or cybersecurity. Many employers also require or prefer security consultants with relevant professional certifications.
How much does a security consultant make?
PayScale reports that security consultants earned an average annual salary of $84,510 as of November 2021. Potential earnings vary by industry, employer, education, and level of experience.
Is security consulting hard to get into?
It takes hard work and time to get into security consulting. Most entry-level security consultant jobs require a bachelor's degree, 3-5 years of relevant experience, and professional certifications.
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