Career Coach - 6

No company will hire me without hands-on security experience. But I can't get experience without getting hired. What can I do?

Dear Career Coach:

I am in a dilemma. I am an undergraduate student majoring in networking technology and specializing in security. I am currently taking courses from the SANS Institute online.

The big problem I am having is that most if not all the companies are looking for hands-on experience within the security field…I have experience on the networking side and knowledge of security but no hands-on experience with that. [So] I find myself pretty much jobless…No company will put their trust in [or] train a fresh graduate in such a field [as security.] Are there any suggestions that you could give me which would help me get a job…within the security field?

Thanks and best regards,
Nanik Hotwani

Gary Bronson

Career Coach: GARY BRONSON

Sometimes, we in the IT field think we are different than those in other careers. However, we are quite similar. Especially when it comes to experience. You need to work your way up the experience ladder. You need to be willing to work as a trainee in order to see how it really works on the job. Book knowledge is valuable and necessary, but you must gain your experience by taking jobs at the bottom of the totem pole.

I run into many people who lack a real understanding of the impacts of their decisions. We will all make mistakes. However, through experience, you learn to minimize the risks and avoid major pitfalls.

I personally would not want a doctor fresh out of medical school operating on me. Would you want to drive across a bridge that was designed by an engineer in his senior year in college? Mechanics start by changing tires and oil. You need to be willing to take on a job that will enable you to learn (while being paid a lot less money.) You shouldnt focus yet on a job where the company requires experience because its a critical role within their organization.

Gary Bronson is IT enterprise operations manager at Washington Group International, in Boise, Idaho.

Career Coach: KEVIN BARADET

First, if you are in the U.S. and you are so inclined, consider the military. Either as a reservist or as active duty personnel. They train people without experience, and many private sector security people Ive met have learned their craft in this manner.

Alternatively, contact your local ISC2/SANS/ISA chapter. They may be able to help you with an intern program or have an interest in providing security consulting to local non-profit organizations, especially those in the healthcare area that will be affected by HIPAA. You may be able to volunteeer your time to assist in these efforts to gain experience and develop a network of contacts in with the local security practitioners.

Kevin Baradet is network systems director at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Brian Jaffe

Career Coach: BRIAN JAFFE

You have two strikes against you: 1) You are a new graduate with no experience, and 2) This is a terrible job market. But, your situation could be a classic opportunity to create your own job.

Security is becoming a very popular and very important field. And few companies are willing to risk assigning a newbie to security. (What would the auditors say about that?)

You seem to indicate that your experience in networking will be an easier path to a full-time job. Fortunately for you, networking and security are first cousins within the IT family. If you can land a job in networking, you can certainly use that as an opportunity to showcase your talents with security (after, of course, youve proved yourself capable of the work for which you were originally hired.) You may get hired into a company that has ignored security altogether and would be very interested to have a security-conscious member of the networking team. Alternatively, you may get hired by a very security-focused company that is eager to have every member of the IT team thinking about security.

With the constant change and innovation in IT, its very common for ITers to move from one specialty to another (and within the same company.) You have the advantage of knowing where you want to go. And you are starting out on a path that can take you there. Too many others are on the path, but have no idea where they want to go.

Brian D. Jaffe is an IT director in New York, an eWEEK contributing editor and co-author of the "IT Managers Handbook: Getting Your New Job Done." He can be reached at brian@red55.com.