9 Cybersecurity Professional Skills and Characteristics

I was binge-watching Game of Thrones for the 2nd time last week. There was a lot of talk and discussion on how to be a good king or queen – the critical characteristics they have to possess. Various characters put forward their perspective and, in the end, the show concludes that there is no single rule that determines a good ruler and that the criteria of “good king” can vary from kingdom to kingdom. Which got me thinking. Is that the same for my field of career? Are there specific skills and characteristics required of a cybersecurity professional?

Yes. In any industry or career, there will often be specific skills, personality traits, and qualities required to be a good fit. These traits and qualities help aspirants to be successful professionals in any field or career. So in the digital age where social media is king and everything is either online or automated, is there still room to figure things out by trial and error? I can’t speak for other industries but in cybersecurity? I don’t think so. In cybersecurity, there is no room for deliberation. You either have these essential skills, and characteristics to be a cybersecurity professional, or you don’t.

But first…

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the information technology practice of defending computers and mobile systems from digital attacks. These attacks include accessing, changing, and destroying sensitive information that could disrupt both big and normal business systems. You may have heard about malware, hacks… heck, you may even have fallen foul of one (as I did back in January… I’m still in therapy!) – cybersecurity consists of the hardware, software, and services that prevent or cure hacks and attacks.

What does a cybersecurity professional do?

Cybersecurity professionals are people who protect computers and mobile systems from digital attacks. Depending on the company they work for, and the technology they create and/or support, they may focus on a specific industry sector or company size (such as focusing on banks, government entities, large enterprises) or individual’s home computers. Most cybersecurity professionals focus on the commercial sector (anything from small/medium-sized businesses up to the Fortune 100 and largest Government departments) and are responsible for creating, maintaining, updating, and securing their IT security operations. Their responsibilities can also include studying human and machine behavior and existing and possible threats and then develop security systems that guard businesses, based on these learned threats.

What does it take to be a cybersecurity professional?

Just as in any other field of work, there are certain cybersecurity professional skills, characteristics, and experience required to succeed in the industry. However, the nature of cybersecurity is that it always gets more difficult. We use a wider variety of devices, attackers have become smarter and more diligent, and cyberattacks are no longer the innocent pranks of a teenage geek; rogue nation-states and organized crime are increasingly involved, with billions of dollars and even national security at risk. With the stakes this high, it imperative for cybersecurity professionals to be up for the challenges they will have to face. Do you think it’s easy to be a cybersecurity professional?

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

So here’s what you need to know.

What characteristics should cybersecurity professionals possess?

We’ve asked around, and the hiring managers, and cybersecurity professionals we’ve worked with, have clear opinions about the skills and characteristics that an aspiring cybersecurity professional should possess.

You might meet a few interview dragons along the way and to slay them (and I don’t mean, the interviewer), you need to possess at least some of the following skills, personality traits, and qualities to be a successful cybersecurity professional.

What are the common technical and soft skills for cyber security careers?

In any job, both technical and soft skills are required. Skills that are specific to the requirements and responsibilities of the job. Jon Snow wasn’t Lord Commander because he was a good swordsman. He was Lord Commander because he had leadership skills and he knew how to talk to his people. So don’t skimp on “soft” skills. They are just as important as technical skills, and you’ll need both to succeed in this profession.

This article will give you a list of 9 skills, traits, and qualities that professionals in the field recommended.

Problem-Solving Skills with Grace Under Pressure

Let’s start with the obvious: cybersecurity professionals face security challenges in their work. Therefore, a cybersecurity professional must have problem-solving skills using data and analysis. The tricky part is that they have to be creative and innovative while they’re at it. Solving critical issues every day will require a level of creativity and thinking outside the box. Sorry – I hate that phrase, but it is a truism for a reason!

Of course, when we solve problems – when the clock is ticking – we will also need to remain calm and collected. The urgency in other fields may be due to an artificial deadline, but nothing terrible (other than maybe a loss of face, or a slightly disappointed customer) will result in a missed deadline.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case with Cybersecurity. A missed deadline could literally be a matter of life and death. One missed deadline could mean airliners fall out of the sky, oil pipelines are breached, millions – or billions – of dollars are stolen or held ransom, sensitive data is leaked, national security is put at risk… That missed deadline could mean that someone won’t make it home tonight. So – with stakes, this high – one key trait of cybersecurity professionals is their composure when faced with security threats. They can balance a sense of urgency with a sense of calmness and trust in their – and their colleagues’ – abilities to get the job done within the defined deadlines. Remember, with security (cyber or otherwise) the bad guys only need to be right once to make the headlines. The good guys need to be right every time and never make the headlines!

And trust us, there are always problems to be solved.

Technical Aptitude and Knowledge of Security

The name of the industry itself tells you the nature of the job. You need to be tech-savvy to work in this field. Your tasks may include troubleshooting, maintaining, updating, and monitoring security systems. Thus the need to focus on technical skills. There just is no question as to why a natural disposition for technology is a requirement.

Now a little knowledge goes a long way…. but knowledge on various platforms can go even further. The responsibilities of a cybersecurity professional go beyond the corners of different devices. Some of the work you will be doing as a cybersecurity professional will have to work with wired and wireless networks, different operating systems, multiple software applications… the list can be endless.

For this reason, a broad general knowledge of IT and specifically of security, across multiple platforms (so, not just Windows – sorry Bill!), will serve you well. Knowledge may well be power, but the more knowledge you have, the more versatility you will have and the more useful (and thus valuable) you will become!

Attention to Detail with a Tad of Skepticism

Since you may be working continuously on monitoring networks and systems, it may be helpful to be keen on detecting risks and threats. Identifying issues and concerns needs attention to detail and quick problem-solving abilities.

Working in an industry where you are protecting and defending IT infrastructure, you may have to think creatively to get ahead. Preventing risks and threats need some level of skepticism. Some of the best policemen think like criminals, and some of the best cybersecurity professionals think like hackers and cybercriminals. A touch of paranoia will serve you well. Not too much… just enough where you can still sleep at night, but still keep you on your toes the following morning. Combining this healthy paranoia with the ability to think like a hacker, and you’ll quickly be recognized as a valued part of your team.

As a cyber professional, you will live and work in a world of constant threats. Think of yourself as a protector of realms or a watcher at Castle Black. You will protect your kingdoms by building walls. You need to keep the danger out.

Communication Skills and Characteristics as a Cybersecurity Professional

I have always believed that communication skills are of utmost importance in any field or industry. It is not simply about having impeccable grammar and the ability to spew and understand technical jargon. It’s about sending and receiving messages clearly. It’s about speaking the language your audience speaks. Think about your last visit to the doctor. All you wanted to know was why it hurt and what you needed to do to stop the pain. You didn’t want to be given an anatomy lecture that would confuse anyone with less than three years in medical school, right?

Working in cybersecurity requires the capability to communicate strategies and policies. The challenge? You will be communicating these to people with different levels of technical comprehension. Your biggest communication strength will be your ability to explain technical concepts to a non-technical audience.

Whether it’s in high Valyrian or the common tongue, you know what danger and risks exist. The ability to convey that message in a manner that everybody understands will be your responsibility.

A Desire to Learn and Diligence

The digital world is constantly changing. It’s as inevitable as the Starks, and as consistent as the debt-paying Lannisters. Continuous technological advancement will require patience, persistence, and the effort to learn best practices, new threats, and ever-changing trends.

To be a cybersecurity professional, one should always be curious and imaginative. Candidates who show these qualities will more likely succeed than those who are passive and easily content.

Someone who is not just ready and willing, but has the initiative to read, study and keep up with the latest happenings is definitely someone with an increased chance of success in this industry, or any industry at that.

Besides the skills and characteristics of a cybersecurity professional, what qualifies you to get into the field?

Apart from the basic skills, and characteristics mentioned, it’s also important to have the necessary learning and education to become a cybersecurity professional.

How do I become a cybersecurity professional?

Does the passion for cybersecurity start at the heart? Not necessarily. Many highly respected cyber professionals ‘fell into’ their field. However, the common denominator among the most successful is an aptitude for analytical skills, intellectual curiosity and of course, an affinity with technology. Some of the skills mentioned above may already be a part of your skillset. However, formal education and training may still further develop these skills. A cybersecurity certificate or degree is a good start, and of course, your skillset can be improved by a cybersecurity apprenticeship or internship. Should we cue the training montage?

Where do I find a cybersecurity professional with these skills and characteristics?

If you agree with these skills, and characteristics that make a good cybersecurity professional, great! We’re on the same page.

Are you trying to look for any of them? If you’re searching for candidates or professionals to recruit and employ, with the best qualities, skills, and characteristics to succeed as cybersecurity professionals, we know where to find them.

Better yet, we can show you. For more information, and specific cybersecurity recruitment needs, check out our site and let us handle the search instead.

Do you want to learn more?

If you think you have what it takes to be a good cybersecurity professional, and have more to learn, check out our blog for job hunting and career development advice.

About the Author
Simon Lader

Simon Lader

I am an almost twenty year veteran of the IT industry. I started recruiting for IT sales and presales people in 1997 and I’ve been doing it ever since. Originally living in Manchester, UK, I now live in Las Vegas and specialize in helping startup and high-growth software vendors find the best sales and presales people in North America, Asia Pacific and EMEA. My three kids and long suffering wife keep me sane (or as close to it as possible) - which, as a Manchester United supporter, isn’t always easy! I probably watch too much Netflix and drink too much Single Malt Whisky, but what’s life without a little misbehavior now and then. Click here to schedule a free 15 minute consultation phone call with me; or click here to send me a message.

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