Cyber Security Career Success Isn't Just Hardware and Software Skills

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by Pat Tovo

You may have a long list of certifications and credentials, you might even have a solid reputation as one of the best hackers/analysts/technicians, but if you are weak in soft skills you really diminish your options for promotion, leading projects or landing that new dream job.

You need to be able to work and communicate effectively with teammates, supervisors, and others throughout the organization to advance your career. Many think of infosec positions as the stereotype of the hoodied hacker in the corner who never interacts with anyone. And that may appeal to you. But if you want to learn, advance and have an influence, underestimating the importance of soft skills is a crucial mistake.

What are soft skills

Unlike hard skills which can be effectively measured, soft skills are more intangible. They include qualities like analytical thinking, problem solving, communication, and leadership. Research has found that in today’s hiring landscape, employers are putting more emphasis on these abilities. Soft skills are vital to building key relationships, which is important for a productive workplace.


Communication skills are important because they determine how you’re perceived and they boost your performance on the job. If you can clearly express expectations, strategy, and results you’ll be considered a solid performer. If this is an area where you need improvement, you can attend a professional development seminar, take an online course, find a mentor to guide you, or join an organization that helps refine presentation skills.

Problem Solving

When a project hits a road block you can either become frozen in place and complain or you can step up and take action to resolve the situation. Being able to efficiently navigate a challenge and think on your feet will make you an indispensable employee. Solid advice is to always go to your supervisor with a solution, not a problem. Think through the situation and determine the best ways to address the problem before going to your boss. Pay attention to those around you and how they solve problems. Ask questions about what their considerations were and how they arrived at a solution. Don’t be afraid to ask. Over time you’ll learn from those experiences.

Critical Thinking

Data doesn’t have much value if it isn’t interpreted accurately. New software isn’t useful if the bugs haven’t been worked out. Companies look for critical thinkers – people who bring a unique perspective and who deliver intuitive solutions. It is this soft skill that helps the company to outsmart the competition and improve internal practices. Critical thinking is a hard skill to learn but you can train yourself to be observant and to rely on a combination of brain power and gut feelings to deliver fresh results.


No matter the position, employers are always looking for leadership potential. They seek out workers who project confidence in themselves and who value team work. Having a clear vision, knowing how to inspire co-workers and helping other realize their full potential are all elements of a strong leader. If you lack experience in a leadership role ask if you can supervise an intern or seek out mentor opportunities in your community.

Developing and refining your soft skills will take as much attention and effort as it does to qualify for new certifications. Your first step should be to evaluate your strengths and identify where you could use improvement. Ask your supervisor to meet with you to discuss these areas of your performance and elicit their advice on how to make improvements.

If you’re not currently in the workforce but rather seeking employment, you can ask a former colleague or respected professor to work with you on soft skills. Once you have zeroed in on areas for improvement some research may take you in the right direction. There are thousands of self-help books, tapes and podcasts that offer mechanisms to improve soft skills. Professional organizations in your community will frequently offer seminars or workshops. And as with any area you wish to improve practice will make perfect. Take the time to set yourself apart from other cyber security professionals.

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