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What & Who You Know: How to get a job in cybersecurity with no experience

When contemplating a career change within a different industry, it can be challenging to know where to start. As the world continues to change, many people are wondering how to transition into cybersecurity without experience. Business leaders at Cisco Secure and Duo Security who changed careers, along with recruiting professionals, provided insights for prospective candidates curious about the cybersecurity and tech industries. Learn their top 10 tips for getting a job in cybersecurity.

1. Discern what drives you professionally.

If passion, innovation, kindness and growth are on your list, Cisco Secure is worth checking out. When Kelly Davenport, manager of the Global Knowledge and Communities team, first connected with folks at Duo, she was “amazed at how nice and excited everyone seemed. I almost thought it seemed too good to be true. But then, when I started working here I realized everyone here really is that nice and smart and good at what they do. I was waiting for that to change, but it’s for real.”

Cisco Secure Talent Acquisition Lead Jeff Edwards shares, “Our senior level folks want fulfilling work. The work we’re doing and products we’re putting out are exciting, new and cutting edge. This is the stuff that’s going to change how we work in the future.”

2. Develop a game plan.

For those looking to get into cybersecurity with no experience, Edwards suggests, “Pay attention to the jobs posted on cybersecurity career pages and the skills they’re asking for. That lets you know how long a process your career change may take. If you’re switching careers into tech it’s all out there to be able to discern, “Hey, where do I need to focus my efforts to put me in contention for these roles?”’

3. Identify how your skills transfer to cybersecurity.

Cisco Women in Cybersecurity recently hosted a virtual session, Career Journeys Are Not Always a Straight Road – Your Journey Is Your Story, featuring CX Cloud Compliance Leader Deborah Sparma.

Sparma shared, “No matter where you are and have a new goal to break into, see what can transfer. Who knew that theater could transfer to working in a tech company? Who knew that working as a vet tech could lead me into corporate America? The variety of expertise has taught me that there is always room to grow and skills that can be transferred from one role to the next no matter how disparate they may be. For example, my experience in theater has made me a better speaker and presenter.”

Davenport, who was a journalist and librarian before making the switch to health care IT and then Duo, advises, “Figure out the core skills that you have and what job titles and words are used in other industries. Talk about the things you already know how to do, because every industry has its own jargon and that can feel like a barrier until you figure out how to translate it.” Cisco provides a list of common job titles and the experience and certifications needed for key cybersecurity roles.

She continues, “I had no idea what customer enablement was before I joined Duo. I did not know that was a job, and no one would’ve told me that. But it turns out that being a librarian, knowing how to organize things, having worked with the public, being a journalist who can write and create accurate, complex information on a deadline, and then understanding the technology of making something user centered and how people want to consume that information in different formats in different points in time, based on their needs, all of those were things that I knew and had experience in. And so, it was just discovering the opportunities that were already out there but were called something different than I knew about.

4. Take stock of what you already know.

Davenport’s advice for those wanting to enter cybersecurity: “A lot of professions want that super specialist, and we definitely have people who are those people, but I’ve seen Duo hire people from a lot of different backgrounds, and the additional perspective that they come in with and the fresh ideas is what keeps us innovative and what makes it a really fun and interesting place to work.

She elaborates: “From a journalism background, the level of responsibility that you have as a journalist to be fair and accurate, and the ethics that you learn that are integral to that profession, were super helpful and important coming into any kind of customer-facing role where you’re used to being accountable. You have really high standards for yourself, and that translates into being able to hold those high standards for what customers expect, too.”

For journalists in particular, she says, “I would just like to give a shout out to folks in journalism who are wondering, maybe their career path is taking them in a different direction. (…) you have so many valuable skills that, if you are interested in a career in tech, there’s a lot of opportunities because of some of those things like I talked about earlier. The experience of working on deadline, that accountability and responsibility that you take and the ethics of what you do, those all translate. And so, those are all totally portable to a new context.”

5. Determine if you need additional cybersecurity training or certification.

Edwards states, “Start researching all the top cybersecurity companies and what products they offer and then take it another level down: What programs and software are they using? Are there different classes I need to take or certifications I need to get?”

Cisco offers top-notch cybersecurity training and security certifications. Also available are Cisco Certified CyberOps training videos and connection with those learning new cybersecurity skills through the Security Certifications Community and CyberOps Certifications Community.

6. Seek out companies that recognize the importance of having different backgrounds.

Sparma highlights, “I believe a lot in teams. We all have skill sets that can complement each other no matter where we are in our career. I know I don’t know it all. I lean on the teams and people around me.”

Davenport reports, “Your experiences are going to give you a fresh perspective that’s actually really valued by the people who maybe came from that industry. Having that diversity of experiences and viewpoints is really celebrated more so here than pretty much any other place I’ve worked. My advice would be to trust that you can learn a totally new industry, and that the experiences that you’re coming with are really valuable.

Duo Security Lead Recruiter Shannon Curran affirms, “We’ve spoken with many candidates who don’t come from the cybersecurity space.” She says that telling that story in your resume and throughout the application, interview and hiring process allows recruiters to understand why you’d be a match and that kindness goes a long way.

7. Recognize what you can learn.

When starting at Duo Security, Davenport shares, “I came in pretty fresh. I knew that I was going to be doing this intensive onboarding program. We have technical trainers who we work with, so that we’re customer-ready. And so, I knew coming in that I would have a lot of support. I felt like, ‘Okay, I’m embracing the unknown and I’m going to learn a bunch of new things, but I’m going to have this great team that’s going to help me learn, is going to teach me.’ And that worked out pretty well.”

“Trust that you can learn, trust that the experiences you’re coming in with are valuable and are going to give you a fresh perspective, and that you will have the support to learn and grow, even if you’re changing industries.” —Manager of Duo Global Knowledge and Communities team Kelly Davenport

A culture of learning helps. Sparma says, “I’m always learning. Cisco especially has all the trainings out there that we can take. Invest in yourself, in learning, and don’t be afraid to ask.”

8. Use previous skills to learn in a new environment.

Davenport took this approach: “Because I’m a writer, I would go to our classes where we’re learning about the product. And then I would write my own summary in my own words, to describe what I was learning. I’d run that by my teacher and say, ‘Okay, am I on the right track?’ And that really helped me metabolize what I was learning and get that feedback in a way that worked for me as a learner.”

9. Get the inside scoop and through the door with a referral.

Maintaining a strong network can ease the career change process in terms of learning about the cybersecurity industry from people working in it and in terms of referrals. Marketing Specialist Julie Kramer says, “Try to find a networking partner in the company and ask for references for networking purposes. For example, if I have a friend who knows me that works at Cisco and they’re like, ‘Hey, do you mind referring me?’ I’d be happy to give them a referral.”

Sparma said, “Working in technology wasn’t even an option I considered when I started college…I broke into a new career but I had my background working in hospitals, working at the insurance company…someone knew me, knew my personality, helped me get that role… At Cisco, I had applied at other roles where I had a one-to-one fit. This one stretches me, but I could bring a lot to the table at the same time and still grow. That’s what energizes me.”

You never know how your network may come in handy throughout your career. In 2012, Edwards’ very first manager called him with one question: “Hey, do you want to come work at Cisco?”

10. Find and keep mentors.

Sparma’s first mentor “shepherded me. She took me under her wing, supported my wish to go back to school, encouraged me to get certification in something I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know what a mentor was at first, and it didn’t dawn on me until after I’d moved on in my career and traveled around the world that I realized I got there because of my first mentor. What does get difficult is everyday meetings, deliverables, timeframes — sometimes you just have to make it a point to make sure that you invest in yourself and keep that promise to yourself and keep your mentoring relationships going. I’ve had different mentors at Cisco and you can have multiple mentors along the way.” Employee Resource Organizations are another great place to find those mentors or mentor others.

“Find a mentor for support, guidance, knowledge, and motivation. Then pay it forward and mentor others. You can always bring something to the table.” —CX Cloud Compliance Leader Deborah Sparma

Sparma continues, “One of the first things they asked me to do when I started at Cisco was find a mentor. Cisco also allows people to shadow colleagues to learn what they do, network, and for knowledge transfer. We all can benefit from each other.”

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To learn more about Cisco Secure and Duo Security and how you can apply your skills, passion, and experience to cybersecurity, check out our open roles.

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