How to Begin a Career as a Cybersecurity Consultant

As cyberattacks rapidly multiply, more businesses are seeking help. The result is a growing demand for cybersecurity consultants.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

November 29, 2023

4 Min Read
security lock digital abstract
Stu Gray

At a Glance

  • A June 2023 NIST study revealed a 3.4 million global shortage of cybersecurity professionals.
  • The ability to comprehend/navigate the complex landscape of security policies, regulations, and risk management is essential.
  • It's generally expected that a consultant possesses one or more industry-recognized certifications.

Business leaders face many different challenges. Maintaining a strong cyber defense is one of them. Unless the enterprise is large enough to afford a full-time security director, it's likely to turn to an external cybersecurity consultant.

The demand for cybersecurity consultants remains strong due to the evolving threat landscape, regulatory requirements, technology advancements, and the shortage of skilled professionals, says Tracy A. Howard, senior practice vice president at IT staffing firm Experis in an email interview. “This trend is expected to continue, making cybersecurity consulting a promising career path for those with the necessary expertise.

Rapid growth in the number of cybersecurity threats is driving the demand for cybersecurity professionals, including consultants, says Weiqing Sun, a professor and director of the master's cyber security programs at the University of Toledo's College of Engineering, via email. He notes that a June 2023 National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) study revealed a 3.4 million global shortage of cybersecurity professionals, along with 663,434 cybersecurity job openings. “Cybersecurity consultant is one of the top cybersecurity job titles,” Sun observes.

Necessary Qualifications

To be a successful cybersecurity consultant, one should have a strong educational background, relevant experience, and specific skills, Howard says. At a minimum, he recommends a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Common degree areas include computer science, information technology, and cybersecurity. To obtain a competitive edge, some experienced consultants pursue advanced degrees. “Continuous learning is a requirement in any industry,” he says. “In cybersecurity, however, the landscape is always shifting, which demands consultants to stay on top of both new advancements and threats.”

Related:12 Ways to Approach the Cybersecurity Skills Gap Challenge in 2023

A cybersecurity consultant should possess both IT and cybersecurity skills, Sun says. He recommends seeking further knowledge in specific areas, such as information security management and ethical hacking. Sun advises students to gain real-world IT/cybersecurity experience, which can be obtained through academic research projects, as well as internships and actual industry job experience.

A strong foundational understanding of computer systems, networks, and security technologies is also essential. So is gaining the ability to comprehend and navigate the complex landscape of security policies, regulations, and risk management, says Ron Delfine, executive director of the Reidy Career Center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. “Degrees in fields like information security, computer science, and related disciplines can be beneficial, but hands-on experience and a passion for staying updated with the latest trends and threats are invaluable,” he observes in an email interview.

Related:Closing the Cybersecurity Talent Gap


It's generally expected that a consultant possesses one or more industry-recognized certifications, Howard says. The top certifications for cybersecurity consultants include:

-CompTIA Security +

-Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

-Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

-Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

-Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

-Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

Career Pitfalls

There are many powerful tools in the cybersecurity ecosystem, and they're rapidly advancing, Howard observes. “Yet becoming overly dependent on specific tools, and not applying learned experience to situational issues, can be a trap for many newcomers,” he warns.

Delfine, meanwhile, cautions against focusing too heavily on technical issues without also considering human and organizational factors. Cybersecurity isn't just about technology; it's also about people, processes, and policies. “Understanding the broader context, including the organization's culture and business goals, is crucial for providing effective security solutions.”

Related:10 Tips for Landing a Job in Cybersecurity

Overconfidence is yet another potential pitfall. “Being confident is a great trait,” Howard says. Yet overconfidence, particularly in a newcomer, can rub people the wrong way. “Overconfidence can be a problematic, as newcomers may underestimate the complexity of specific cybersecurity challenges,” he notes. “It's essential to approach the field with humility and a willingness to learn from mistakes.”

Future Outlook

The demand for cybersecurity consultants is likely to continue growing. There's no sign of a slowdown in cybersecurity attacks, and new types of threats are rapidly appearing and evolving. “It will take a reasonably long time period to bridge the gap between the demand and supply for cybersecurity professionals,” Sun says. As enterprises become increasingly dependent on IT systems, they will face a growing number of cyber threats. “Cybersecurity consultants will be able to provide the much-needed cybersecurity services in order to safeguard their enterprise network systems.”

As long as there are networks and data, there will be threats against them, Delfine observes. “With the growing digitization of services and the proliferation of connected devices, the threat landscape continues to expand,” he says. “This suggests that the need for cybersecurity experts will not only continue, but likely increase in the coming years.”

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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