The last decade has been a fertile time to sprout just about any metaphor for data you could possibly imagine. Where they all seem to converge is on the idea that data is something both valuable and hazardous, and therefore needs to be handled with great care. Data management represents a constantly evolving framework for organizing all the work that goes into both nurturing data and protecting it.

Not surprisingly, one of the fastest developing of these areas of work is cybersecurity. Demand for cybersecurity professionals has increased steadily since the 1980s, yet has reached a point where it has outstripped supply. Estimates suggest that over 200,000 positions requiring cybersecurity skills go unfilled in the U.S., and as many as 1.5 to 2 million positions will remain unfilled globally by the beginning of the next decade. Businesses are having to partner with schools to develop innovative recruiting and training programs to address the lack of talent in the pipeline.

That’s why now is an exceptionally good time to consider a career in cybersecurity, and plan your break into the business. Not only are there likely to be plenty of well-paying jobs for the foreseeable future, but there are also many different paths your career in cybersecurity can take. Let’s take a closer look.

A bright future combatting dark forces

Cybersecurity is a broad field, at the core of which is the occupational category, information security analyst, where most will begin their cybersecurity careers. According to 2016 BLS figures, there were 100,000 information security analyst jobs, with a median annual salary of $95,510. Entry level salary usually ranges from $70,000 to $75,000.

Cyberseek, a website for cybersecurity career planning, reports that from April 2017 through March 2018, only 105,000 of the 122,000 information security analyst openings were filled. Over the next decade, the number of information security analyst jobs is expected to increase by 28 percent. In some specialty areas, such as computer systems design, the growth rate for information security analysts is expected to be even higher.

After gaining expertise in an information security analyst role, you might decide to pursue roles that involve designing, building, and implementing security systems for networks or organizations. These include Security Architect, Security Engineer, Security Systems Administrator, or Security Software Developer. Or you might pursue specialty areas such as Security Consultant, Ethical Hacker, Penetration Tester, Cryptanalyst, or Cryptographer. Cybersecurity careers culminate with the Chief Information Security Officer role.

Cybersecurity jobs tend to be most available in larger organizations, government agencies, security software publishers, and consultancies specializing in IT services. Industries with a particularly large amount of cybersecurity jobs include: banking, finance/insurance, healthcare, defense, aerospace, and telecommunications. The majority of cybersecurity jobs are found in large metropolitan areas, and in proximity to military installations, major infrastructure projects, and national laboratories.

So, you want to be a cybersecurity star?

While cybersecurity professionals are often self-trained tech whizzes in their own right, formal education and certification are usually necessary to break into the business. Cybersecurity job openings now routinely require a 4-year degree in a computer science-related field, along with work experience.

If you are already working in an IT role, particularly in network or computer systems administration, you already have the basic experience with IT systems that employers typically require. As you start applying for cybersecurity roles, make sure your resume shows a clear career progression. Read the job description very carefully, and always include the skills, certifications, and security clearances that are specifically required in the job description. Be sure to mention important soft skills, especially communication, problem-solving, and time management.

If you are still in school and thinking about joining the cybersecurity force directly after graduating, remember that while you need to develop strong technical skills, you don’t have to be a traditional techie. Employers are increasingly interested in people with a holistic understanding of environments in which threats take place.

Experience matters in cybersecurity, even for those joining straight out of school. Take advantage of every opportunity you can to pick up on-the-job experience while in school, especially in the industry you think you might like to work in. Consider attending a cybersecurity bootcamp to pick up skills quickly. Some organizations are finding that one of the best ways to obtain cybersecurity talent is to develop it themselves or in partnership with campuses. Check out recruiting or training events sponsored by cybersecurity employers to see whether it can accelerate your entry into a career in cybersecurity.

Finally, everyone working in cybersecurity needs to be both committed to lifelong learning, and diligent in managing their careers. Successful cybersecurity professionals are the ones constantly reading computer books, being active in user communities, and branching out their skills. As with any rapidly developing tech field, you need to be the one taking charge of where you go next and how you’ll get there. Your career is all about maintaining the advantage in an arms race, and you will advance by defeating attacks. But don’t defeat your own career in cybersecurity by being relevant only in yesterday’s news.

Since 2005, LiveCareer has been helping jobseekers write persuasive cover letters, develop better interview skills, and create resumes via our free resume builder. Check out our collection of free, professionally written resume templates and cover letter templates, all of which are organized by industry and job title. Also find guidance on how to answer some of the most common interview questions you could face in an interview situation.

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