For university students pursuing a cybersecurity career, a CompTIA Security+ certification is an excellent place to start. Students should really strive to pass the Security+, while they’re still in school. The certification will help candidates stand out from the pack, when applying for their first cybersecurity job. However relatively few students—undergraduate and graduate—will actually complete the Security+ while in school. The common excuse given is ironic: Time.
Time Is Of The Essence
When it comes to landing their first cybersecurity jobs, students typically have a distinct advantage over career changers. Students have time on their side. Career changers are either working full-time (studying cybersecurity on nights and weekends) or they’re between jobs (trying to get a cybersecurity job before their savings and/or benefits run out).
Sure, days can be long for undergraduate students and longer for graduate students. However, with a global shortage of 3.12 million cybersecurity professionals, rest assured that days are even longer for cybersecurity teams. The underlying question is, How much do you really want to get into cybersecurity?
If most students will opt not to pursue the Security+ certification, then those who do will stand out.
Ask any cybersecurity professional and they’ll tell you stories about working 12 or 16 hour days, tales of working on holidays, or having to cancel personal plans at the last minute. That’s security work. By definition the schedule for cybersecurity is threat-driven. Despite this, cybersecurity professionals still prioritize and make the time to study, learn new skills, and earn new certifications. All this without the generous vacation schedule that students enjoy.
Why CompTIA Security+?
Students pursuing cybersecurity careers come from numerous fields of study. There’s no one path to a cybersecurity career though. That can make it difficult to stand out amongst all the applicants for entry-level positions. One needs to do just that to make it to the hiring manager for her to consider for potential interviews.
A CompTIA Security+ certification allows students to rise above their peers in the application process. Hiring managers have a reasonable understanding of the knowledge level they can expect from Security+ certification holders. If most students will opt not to pursue the Security+ certification, then those who do will stand out. This is advantageous for making it through early resume screening.
Certifications aren't just about having a pretty piece of paper with a seal and your name. It’s about the knowledge that you gain along the way. The knowledge that you gain while studying for the CompTIA Security+ will prepare you with the knowledge to excel during cybersecurity interviews (and on the job). Some interviewers may even skip interview questions regarding material covered in the certification exam all together.
I’ve advised plenty of students over the years to get their CompTIA Security+ while still in school. It’s additional work, but it’s a manageable amount of work and will contribute directly to their earning potential upon graduation. Most don’t do it. They give the excuse that they don’t have enough time.
Students can certainly land their first cybersecurity job without a Security+ certification. Having the certification—any cybersecurity certification, really—will simply increase your chances of being selected for interviews and help prepare them with requisite knowledge. Certifications provide recruiters a standardized measure to use in your favor during resume screening and provides hiring managers with an apples-to-apples measure, when selecting candidates to interview. (Hint: If two candidates have similar educational backgrounds and experience, or lack thereof, the candidate with a cybersecurity certification is more likely to get the interview.)
If you do get an interview without pursuing CompTIA Security+ or some other cybersecurity certification, whatever you do, don’t tell the interviewer that you were thinking about pursuing certification, but didn’t have the time. It won’t impress.
In 2016, a seventeen year old became the youngest person ever to pass the CompTIA Security+. I have confidence that this is a manageable feat for ambitious university students pursuing cybersecurity careers.