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“Wax on, wax off.” This was the most confusing yet important piece of advice that Daniel LaRusso would receive in the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid. Daniel, a bullied teen, asks kung fu master Mr. Miyagi to teach him how to fight off the Cobra Kai kids, who keep kicking his butt with aggressive karate. Miyagi’s first lesson: how to properly wax a car.
Daniel nearly gives up on his self-defense dreams, until one day, Mr. Miyagi shows him that through his chores, he has been learning karate the entire time.
In cyber security, there are always problems to be solved; these problems often require informed guidance to reveal the path to a solution.
A Security Consultant — sometimes called a cyber security consultant, IT consultant, or information technology consultant — is a Mr. Miyagi. They're not only skilled at advising clients but excel at evaluating unique cyber security situations. Every day they work with full SOC teams of pen testers, threat analysts, and compliance analysts to defend against security threats.
So, how do you become a cyber security consultant? First, we'll cover what consultants do, the skills they need, how much they make, their different roles, and how to start pursuing a career as one.
What does an IT security consultant do?
A security consultant’s goal is to protect their client’s networks through situational assessment and suggestions for new security measures. More specifically, they specialize in developing protocols, policies, and security plans to help clients protect their assets. Security consultants can either work in-house (commonly as sales engineers) or within a consulting firm. One thing is for sure, this is a role that comes with many faces.
Aside from the obvious clientele, there is another factor that creates a wide variance in what it means to be a security consultant.
This variance comes from the unique details of the job description. One security consultant may apply their technical skills on the job, using security tools and even engineering or pen testing to help with their assessments. Another security consultant may focus more on the analytical and/or customer service side of the job, effectively using soft skills and communication so that clients better understand them.
Because of the different levels of technical and analytical skills required for a security consultant role, this is a career path that’s achievable through both our Cybersecurity Analytics and Cybersecurity Engineering programs. The specific type of security consultant role that you will end up in will depend on your technical/analytical skills as well as your work environment preferences.
In many ways, our analytics course is less technical than our engineering program. Our introductory prep course should get you acquainted with the differences.
What skills do you need to be a cyber security consultant?
Arguably the most important skill you’ll need to be an effective security consultant is the ability to research and understand cyber security. Your knowledge base will directly correlate with how well you can guide your clients. That being said, you’re not expected to be an omniscient cyber security guru, especially in an entry-level consulting role. Mr. Miyagi put it best: “Trust [the] quality of what you know, not [the] quantity.”
Another essential skill you’ll need as a consultant is the ability to communicate with those who may or may not share your understanding of cyber security. Working for a consulting firm, you may find yourself working side-by-side with a new security team or even building one from the ground up. Working in-house, you’ll need to be able to explain complex cyber security product logistics to the sales team. Soft skills like communication will always be important, regardless of what cyber security's future brings. Technical skills are more likely to change and evolve.
Regardless of the level of expertise in the crowd, you’ll need to be prepared to translate and share your findings with all walks of life within the industry. Clear communication is imperative.
A third useful skill for security consultants is the ability to remain level-headed. A high degree of ambiguity is a natural occurrence for this job. The answers to security problems aren’t always straightforward, and consultants will have to adapt to a variety of situations in preventing or recovering from a cyberattack.
Add the difficulties of explaining product logistics or security assessments to less cyber-savvy individuals and you can find yourself in a challenging environment. An even-keeled demeanor goes a long way for security consultants.
It should also be noted that while not exactly a skill, a passion for guiding and assisting others through challenges is highly recommended for this role. As a security consultant, you will have the opportunity to help a lot of people through tough security situations. You’ll also be coaching them through the sense of dread that comes from being hacked. If you like to help others, this role is a great fit for you.
How much does a cyber security consultant make?
Getting an informed opinion on cyber security measures is crucial for many companies to keep their networks protected, thus, security consultants are regularly in high demand. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a security consultant is $116k per year.
There is a slight variance in entry-level salaries based on the specific skill set of the consultant. According to PayScale, geographic location plays the largest role in determining the salary for the security consultant position.
Experienced security consultants can find their salaries well into the six-figure range, so once you’re done with that education be sure to put the time in and your efforts will be rewarded.
The many faces of the security consultant role
We mentioned earlier that security consultants typically work either in-house or as part of a consulting firm. You may be asking yourself “what’s the difference between the two types of consultancies and how do I know which type of work is for me?” So let’s explore the many sub-categories by taking a closer look.
A common in-house position is a sales engineer, as part of the cyber security product sales team. Security engineers spend their time on one end of the sales spectrum building and working directly with the product (deep implementation), but they don’t interact with customers regularly.
On the opposite end, sales representatives directly communicate with customers, but they tend to have minimal technical knowledge of the product being sold. So what happens if the customer has a technical question or concern that needs the be addressed? This is where the sales engineer can come in to play.
The sales engineer serves as the middle ground within product sales. Their technical knowledge lets them understand security risks better than regular sales employees. It also gives them the ability to offer minor technical adjustments (light implementation) for the customer.
These types of consultants also tend to be more experienced in customer service than security engineers, so they can communicate directly with customers or sales reps and answer the hard questions. Solutions architect, product consultant, and project manager are other names for this role.
While it’s less common to see entry-level consultants working in-house, as opposed to at a consultancy firm, it’s certainly a realistic possibility. This form of consultancy is best for those who enjoy working in sales and/or have great customer service skills.
Working for a consulting firm
Consultancy firms help other companies strengthen their security measures by assisting them with setting up their security teams or by filling in their gaps with outsourced employees. When filling in the gaps of a company’s Security Operation Center (SOC), there is no one-size-fits-all solution. One company may need a penetration tester, while another may call for two analysts and an engineer. Because of this reality, security consultants from firms can come with a wide variety of titles and skillsets.
A pen tester, security engineer, SOC analyst, and data scientist are all common cyber security titles with completely different roles, but they can all exist under the umbrella of “security consultant.” While they may have very different skills and responsibilities, each role can serve as a solution to another party’s cyber security problems. If you like the idea of working in a traditional SOC role, but you also want to help others reach cyber security solutions, a consultancy firm role may be an ideal fit for you.
How to be a cyber security consultant
Flatiron School provides one of the most complete, immersive, and compressed cyber security programs out there. Our Cybersecurity Analytics (also offered entirely online) and Cybersecurity Engineering programs teach the technical and analytical skills necessary to be an effective security consultant.
Our programs are a balance of classroom theory, hands-on security threat labs, and practice with security issues. This ensures that our students graduate with the level of skill and confidence needed to leave our academy job-ready. The evolution from general IT to cyber security analyst can take three to seven years. Flatiron programs can get you there in just a few months.
Try your hand and dabble in cyber, we recommend our introductory cyber workshop to help you get acquainted.
Are you ready to guide others?
Whether the name of the game is beating the bad guys in an epic karate showdown, or figuring out how to implement effective cyber security solutions, everyone can benefit from a little informed guidance. The information security field is no doubt a challenging one, but with the challenges comes the reward of being able to help others.
Although the consultant role may seem intimidating, several entry-level cyber security jobs can put you in a position to be an excellent cyber security guide. If you’ve already made it through one of our immersive programs, then you’ve probably already realized that you’re more of a cyber security expert than you first thought. If you have a passion for learning and a desire to help others, there’s a good chance that you’ll become someone’s cyber security kung fu master one day.
Our Ultimate Guide to Cyber Security Careers dives deep into various roles and the future outlook of the cyber industry.
Dr. Bret Fund
Head of Cybersecurity
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