How can I pursue a career in homeland security and cyber intelligence?

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I received two questions this week related to careers in homeland security and cyber intelligence.

Michael at the University of Maryland University College asked:

I am currently a college senior with only 4 more classes left to earn my Bachelor’s in Homeland Security. I am considering obtaining a double major in Cyber-security and Homeland Security due to my interest in the field as well as the growing demand for cyber-security professionals. I am also concerned with the downsizing of the military that there is going to be an abundance of competition in Homeland Security jobs. Without any military experience, I feel I may get overlooked for job opportunities in favor of other applicants with military experience.  However, being this close to graduation I am hesitant to add another year to my studies. Any advice?

Mark, also at UMUC, asked:

I have a bachelor’s in Computer and Network Security and pursuing a Master’s in Cyber Security. Where do I start to get a Entry Level position with the federal government so that I may serve my country in my field of expertise?

Hi Michael and Mark –

You both pose similar questions so I grouped your questions together (hope you don’t mind!).

First – Michael’s question – should I add another year to my studies?

My snarky answer is no; because more is not necessarily better.  That is, more education does not equate directly or always into a greater level of qualifications or competitiveness in the job market.

The real answer is more complicated than that, of course – but the “more is not necessarily better” argument remains at its core.

If going to school for another year to complete the cyber-security major will give you tangible qualifications that you need to be competitive for certain jobs in homeland security and you can financially afford to pay for another year of school, it could make sense to complete the dual major.

If it will be fun and intellectually challenging/interesting, and look good on paper but will not substantively enhance your candidacy, it probably doesn’t make sense.

How do you make that decision?  Well, there is no single right or wrong answer here that will work for everyone, because everyone’s situation is different.  So, seek out advice and information.  Talk to the academic advisers and career advisers at your University.  Ask for outcomes data.  Ask about the demand for students that complete each one or both of your majors. And, ask for their counsel in interpreting that the data you gather.

There is not an equal level of demand for all kinds of jobs, so you have to look at the supply and demand dynamics of the employment market in that field.

Now, the second part – am I at a competitive disadvantage to candidates with military experience?

This is another question that cannot be addressed in a bubble.

If certain positions require that candidates have a  military background or a security clearance that is hard to get if you do not have a military background, then yes – you are at a competitive disadvantage.

If certain positions require a degree in homeland security, cyber-security or a related field and some related experience, and you have both the degree and the related experience, you probably have an advantage over someone with military experience and no degree.

See – you cannot control the qualifications or  candidacy of others.  You can only control your own.  You have to develop as deep an understanding of the hiring dynamics of the field you want to enter, pursue a job search campaign that presents your most relevant qualifications to the employment decision makers,  and then let the chips fall where they may.

There is competition in virtually every field, and homeland security is no exception. You can’t avoid it.

The best advice I have is to use your intelligence gathering skills to develop a thorough understanding of your career options, and then act strategically following the counsel of your advisers and informed by your intelligence gathering.

In short, apply the skills you have developed through your degree to your job search.

Finally, the third part – Mark’s question – how do I find entry level positions in homeland security?

Start with the internet!  There are a lot of good online resources; some from the government and some from the private sector.  Following are some sites to consider to get you started:

Also, it’s admittedly a bit dated (2006), but the US Department of Labor produced a 14-page brochure entitled Careers in Homeland Security.  The information in this brochure should provide you some general direction as well.

Check with your campus career center!  Some of these companies and agencies may recruit on your campus.

One last bit of advice – start early and be patient!

Particularly when it comes to pursuing employment with the government, and even more so with job requiring deep background checks. If you are seeking employment with the State Department, the CIA, the National Security Agency, or similar institutions or agencies, realize that the process will most likely take a VERY long time and consist of many, many steps! 18 to 24 months is not a long time in this world, so if you are graduating in May you should already have started your search.

Good Luck!

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3 responses to “How can I pursue a career in homeland security and cyber intelligence?”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I would also add, that in any career in Homeland Security, one’s background history could be an advantage or a disadvantage. An example would be competing with someone who has military experience and a degree. Although you have the same level of education but they have experience under their belt, you shouldn’t let this discourage you. Homeland Security is not a “one-two punch” hiring process. They will look into your background history as well. If you have a clean record, it might very well be that the military person you’re competing with has been dishonorably discharged. This could hinder their chances therefore making you a much more favorable candidate.

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