Career Advice for College Students
By Gideon T. Rasmussen, CISSP, CRISC, CISA, CISM, CIPP
Here is my advice to prepare for a career after college. Tips include how to gain
experience, resume, LinkedIn profile, professional networking, career profile and
job search portfolio.
I. While in High School
a. Select a degree that is in demand now and will be in the future
Examples include the cybersecurity and medical career fields. Select an area of focus
that interests you. If you choose poorly, it will be difficult for you to find a job
initially and to earn a salary that will provide a reasonable standard of living.
b. Apply for a scholarship
CyberCorps Scholarship For Service (SFS) provides scholarships for up to 3 years of
support for cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate (MS or PhD) education. In
return for their scholarships, recipients must agree to work after graduation for
the U.S. Government, in a position related to cybersecurity, for a period equal to
the length of the scholarship.
II. Throughout Your Time at College
a. Strive to gain experience and accomplishments
Develop technical acumen such as software coding or cloud computing expertise.
Learn about penetration testing and participate in capture the flag challenges
at security conferences.
Complete papers and projects that have meaning from a business perspective. Business
executives are focused on generation of revenue, cost savings, increase in capacity,
more with less, establishing new products and services, polishing brand/reputation
and identifying and mitigating risk. If a professor provides an assignment that is
not business-relevant, meet 1:1 and propose an alternate topic. Save your work
product for use in a portfolio.
b. Establish a LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is used for professional networking. Start by creating an account and
filling in details of your background and experience.
Headline: The LinkedIn Headline field appears at the top of your profile,
beneath your headshot photo and your name. By default it appears as your most current
job title and your company. Update your headline to something like this:
Aspiring Cybersecurity Professional |
Graduating <Month Year>
Experience Section: The Hiring Manager will begin by focusing their attention
on your skill set and experience. Communicate accomplishments that align to the job
opening. In the cybersecurity career field, consider applying for ‘SOC 1 Analyst’
roles. That is an entry level role in a Security Operations Center. There are also
SOC2 and SOC3 Analyst roles so career progression is built in. Security Analyst is
another entry level role to consider.
Use LinkedIn as your portfolio website. Fill in the sections completely. Refer to
profile as an example.
c. Send LinkedIn invitations to students and professors
Fellow college students know you from class and may have worked with you on a
project. Students from your freshman year onward will take jobs with many different
organizations as they graduate. That represents opportunity for you and them, to
help each other make connections and learn of job opportunities throughout your
Connecting in LinkedIn helps you keep in touch with your professional contacts. As
the years go by phone numbers and e-mail addresses change. LinkedIn is like a
virtual address book with contact information updated automatically.
d. Attend local chapter events and conferences
Attending local events will enhance your education as you attend presentations
from practitioners and leaders. There is also opportunity to get to know local
professionals in your career field during breaks and lunch. Those relationships can
pave a path to a job as you graduate.
Here are cybersecurity organizations that have local chapters throughout most major
cities in the United States:
Most chapters have a LinkedIn group. Take a few minutes to search for it and
request access. Send a message to each chapter. Mention you are a college student
and ask to be added to their mailing list. That will provide notification when new
events are scheduled.
III. Your Junior and Senior Year
a. Apply for an Internship
Internships can be a great way to gain experience. While interning for a company,
they evaluate your work ethic and skill set. At a minimum you should come away
with accomplishments for your resume. It is also possible that the company will
hire you into a full-time role upon graduation.
b. Create a resume
Document your experience and accomplishments in a resume. It should
contain details to help the Hiring Manager gauge what you are capable of. Your
resume can be 2-3 pages. Keep in mind that it represents you as a professional so
more than one page is fine.
Reference my tips for preparing a resume that highlights your accomplishments and
answers the ‘so what' question:
c. Flesh out your LinkedIn profile
You LinkedIn profile should have content similar to your resume. The more content
you have, the more information is available for search engines. That helps drive
opportunity towards you. Expand the Accomplishments section to reveal Courses,
Projects, Honors & Awards, Test Scores, etc. Fill in as many sections as you can.
d. Obtain recommendations
Ask your professors and your internship manager to post recommendations on LinkedIn.
Consider asking them to highlight certain skills and accomplishments. A
recommendation on LinkedIn is very powerful because it is open to the Internet and
it validates your experience. That can drive opportunities towards you as recruiters
and human resources search LinkedIn for qualified candidates. LinkedIn
recommendations also make good content for a portfolio.
e. Ask for help
Search LinkedIn for leaders in your career field. Ask for their support. Here is a
LinkedIn invite template:
Would you accept this invitation to connect on LinkedIn? I am an aspiring
cybersecurity professional, attending <college name>. I graduate in <month
I would appreciate your advice. Hope to hear back from you soon.
Seek out at least one person to act as your sponsor or mentor. A leader in your
career field can:
f. Reach out to organizations that have college recruiting programs
- Provide feedback on your resume
- Help you prepare for interview
- Refer you within their professional network
- Provide an opinion on salary range
IV. Six Months from Your Graduation Date
a. Post a headshot
Many college students establish a LinkedIn profile with a picture in casual clothes.
That is perfectly natural. Now that you are pursuing a full-time job, it makes sense
to have a professional headshot taken while wearing a business suit. That helps the
Hiring Manager to visualize you as someone who can walk in the door and start
working. Post the new headshot to your LinkedIn profile.
b. Establish a career profile slide and a portfolio
Keep in mind you will be competing with 3-5 candidates for each job opportunity.
Having a resume is a minimum requirement. Prepare a job search portfolio in advance,
before you interview on-site. Establish a career profile slide with details of your
background and accomplishments. Include the slide within the portfolio, with your
resume, recommendations and work product:
Having this information with you is important. Do not meet with the hiring manager
c. Ask for help (again)
By now you should have many leaders in your LinkedIn network. Ask for their support
again, now that you are getting close to graduation:
Subject: Entry Level Cybersecurity Position
I hope this message finds you well. Would you help me find an entry level
cybersecurity position? I graduate in <month year>.
My XXXX experience includes XXXX. Preferred locations are in the areas of XXXX, XXXX
and XXXX. I have a strong work ethic and look forward to hitting the ground
My resume and career profile slide are attached. For more detail, please visit my
portfolio web site: https://www.linkedin.com/XXXX.
If you do not have an opening, please consider passing my resume to your
Thanks so much for your support. I appreciate it!
d. Post to LinkedIn
I’m open for SOC 1 Analyst, Cybersecurity Analyst and similar roles in Location1, Location2 or remote within the USA.
V. Upon Graduation
Post to LinkedIn once you have graduated. Leave at least two weeks of vacation to
relax before you start your new job in a company.
Leverage this advice to drive opportunities towards you. Do not rely on posting a
resume on a job site and going through the Human Resources process within hundreds
of other candidates. That is a passive approach that will limit your opportunities.
Reach out to leaders in your career field. If you have someone as your advocate,
that can raise you to the top of the candidate pool. Follow the path of least
Click here for more professional development tips