Unlock Your Cybersecurity Career Potential: 5 Game-Changing Skills for Rapid Advancement
Transform your cybersecurity career by mastering these 5 key skills. Explore the essential competencies that will set you apart, excel in your field, and advance your professional journey.
Embrace the Game of Career Advancement
Love it or hate it, career advancement is a game.
You may not like hearing it's a game, but everything changes once you realize you are playing.
Once you acknowledge you are playing a game, your whole mindset can shift. You can accept that your career is a business transaction, not a personal relationship. Realizing that it’s not personal will make it easier to advocate for yourself.
You can create a different career outcome. Reach for a new title or position.
You can play the game at a different company. Change up your chances of increasing your trajectory. Mix things up and solve new challenges, or solve old ones in a new place to really knock things out of the park to create great momentum.
You may even decide you don't want to play the same game anymore and, instead, opt to play your version of the game. A game that you actually want to play. For the long term.
In any event, to advance yourself in this game of the cybersecurity world, you've got to do more than play it.
You have to play it better than average.
You have to prove you are ready to advance in the game before you can advance in the game. Sometimes that can frustrate people trying to climb the ranks, but it's necessary for the game.
In my own career, I've had the good fortune to lead and work with some great people. I've witnessed people who have made great career strides and consistently level up faster than others.
Aside from their technical domain specialty in cybersecurity, I've noticed these people have a few underrated and less obvious skills that have helped them play the game with cheat codes.
These skills, in my view, come down to this:
Skill 1: Captivate with Storytelling
You can't sell a vision without a story.
I don't mean fabricating stories. I mean composing concepts you want to convey, get attention to, or get support on so that it is easy to understand and follow.
Good storytelling has a few key parts:
A clear goal or objective of what you want your audience to take away
Logically flow where each part of your story leads the audience to the next point with smooth transitions
Using data and specific examples where possible to drive home your points
Being brief when possible but with enough context
If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.
Want to know another secret about storytelling?
Good storytelling isn't about having the best idea.
Good storytelling is about being the best at conveying your thoughts at the right time to the right audience. Storytelling is how you get the support and political capital you need when the time is right.
Storytelling naturally flows into my next less-obvious skill.
Skill 2: Harness the Power of Data
This is the most practical advice, and improving your data skills has many benefits outside of cybersecurity. And it's one you can start immediately working on.
The higher you move up in your career, the more important the use of data becomes. Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data is crucial for making informed decisions in cybersecurity and is one of the most underrated career superpowers.
Leaders and managers love having a "data person" who can turn data into something meaningful. Something that lets people make decisions or draw conclusions.
Breaking data skills down a bit further can look like this:
Data collection: Knowing how to gather, organize, and normalize data from various sources (if it makes sense).
Data cleaning: Knowing how to strip out and get rid of extra or incorrect data that can skew results.
Data analysis: Identifying patterns and trends in data and drawing insights.
Data visualization: Creating charts, graphs, and other visualizations that make data easy to understand for non-technical audiences.
Data storytelling: Using data to tell compelling stories that make a case for a particular course of action or idea.
Skill 3: Master the Art of Translation
Some of the best careers operate on a pendulum over a longer term.
They swing from deep and technical at one end to broad and general at the other. A key piece of this skill is your ability to translate concepts up AND down.
Explaining a challenge well enough to a more technical audience will unlock their deep expertise in solving the problem better than you could by yourself in some cases.
Explaining that same challenge to your management or leadership team in terms that aren't too deep will help you get the support and prioritization you need. Explain the challenge in the business opportunity or risk value behind the outcome.
If someone asks you what time it is, don't explain to them how to build a watch.
Knowing your audience and knowing when to translate is the key to this skill. Translation skills are the most nuanced of the skills and the one that requires the most repetition.
Skill 4: Write to Influence and Inform
Obviously, I'm biased as I enjoy writing and have seen success with it, but good writing is a hidden superpower.
Writing stands on its own and is left to the reader to interpret.
This doesn't have to be just public writing, however.
There are several ways you can put in the reps on your writing skills at the company you work at today. Here are a few that come to mind that you can create or help improve the writing of:
Internal company memos or documentation pages
Your company's security policies
Installation guides or runbooks
A threat intelligence update for your leadership team
Upcoming security changes that could impact your customers
Imagine you are writing for someone for another team at your company who needs to find a simple answer to their question without needing to know all the background you have. Can you do it?
Think of replicating your thoughts and intentions in written form so that anyone, without much context, could pick up from where you left off and carry on.
Want to get better at writing documentation or policies? Have a new hire at your company read through them with little context and ask them to call out what needs to be clarified.
Skill 5: Deliver Impactful Presentations
Presentation skills are what brings together all of the other skills to really accelerate your career. Oftentimes, technical cybersecurity people want to avoid hearing this, but it's true.
Those who can present get the attention and support they need in the corporate world.
Slide decks are the mouthpiece of the corporate world.
One of the best ways to advance in the corporate world is to impress your leadership team by showing them you have command of your focus areas.
More often than not, this will come in the form of presenting and delivering information.
The best way to set yourself up to improve your presentation skills is to know your audience. In the corporate world, tailoring your story to your audience is essential. Consider your audience and what they care about, and adjust accordingly.
Look at the style and content of other presentations that your management team consumes. What style of presentation are they? Are the presentations just pictures on a slide that the presenter has to speak to, or are they self-contained tomes of information that make your eyes hurt looking at them?
Are the presentations meant to stand on their own without commentary, or are they meant to be guided experiences?
Borrow ruthlessly from other formats, styles, and approaches you like from outside your own discipline. Try to make your next presentation pop even more while delivering the right level of intent to your audience.
Make it your own voice, style, and delivery. The more natural this sounds, the better your presentation skills will come across.
Conclusion: Put It All Together for Career Success
Having had the privilege to lead many people and teams throughout my career, these are some of the skill sets that I have seen stand out time and time again. These also make up a lot of the skills I have used to advance my own career.
Of course, these are not the only skills you may need to advance your career, and your own mileage may vary depending on where you are in your career.
But don't think of these skills as an all-or-nothing concept. Think of these skills as a mental model you can refer back to when and if you want to kick some of your work endeavors into a new gear.
If you're ever interested in going deeper on cybersecurity career advancement, check out my short video course and Notion guide:
A final word of caution
This post is not an advocation for hustle or grind culture.
Everyone is in a different season of life with different needs and demands. Work on building these skills when you are in a season when you can pour gas into your career.
Don’t get so focused on winning the game that you forget about why you wanted to play in the first place.