This guide is designed to help students and recent graduates learn more about professional cybersecurity internships. The guide includes information related to the kinds of internships available to cybersecurity students and recent graduates, where to look for internships, and what to expect to get out of an internship.
As a new college graduate looking for the perfect position, it can be discouraging when every job listing requires, at the very least, some experience. But if all the existing jobs require experience, how are professionals supposed to gain the needed experience?
Internships can be an excellent way for individuals to gain experience without being required to have already held a similar position or a related job.
For individuals looking for hands-on training in a real-life scenario, internships are a great way to accomplish this.
Why pursue an internship?
Hiring managers receive a ton of resumes each time they post a job listing. While professionals might be sure that they can win the managers over with their personality during an interview, it can be getting that interview that poses the real challenge. It can be extremely difficult to stand out within a pile of resumes.
Most organizations will look at potential employees who have at least some experience over those that have no experience. An internship can help your resume stand apart from the others on the hiring manager’s desk.
According to a study done by NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition, graduates with more internships and graduates with higher GPAs had higher odds of being employed relative to seeking employment six months after graduation. NACE’s 2012 Student Survey also showed that approximately 60 percent of college graduates in 2012 who completed a paid internship received at least one job offer.
Internships also provide individuals with a sense of confidence and comfort in a real-life working environment.
It’s no secret that networking is a huge part of being successful within any industry. Who you know can often be the difference between finding employment quickly or being stuck applying to job after job. Internships allow candidates to meet professionals in their field who will often have their own connections. These connections will be invaluable during the job hunt.
Finally, it’s not uncommon for a paid internship (or occasionally an unpaid internship) to result in a full-time offer from that organization. Companies will often look at their pool of interns when looking to fill open positions. This is because the companies have already invested resources into their interns. It makes the most sense to hire those who have already shown that they can fit into the organization’s culture and workforce.
Types of internships
When looking at internships, it’s important to remember that not all internships are created equally. When a professional is looking to obtain an internship, they should research and make a decision about which internship is best for them. For those in college or universities, career counselors and internship placement programs can assist with this decision.
- Paid internships While paid internships obviously seem to be the most appealing to any job seeker, they may be a bit harder to find and obtain than unpaid internships. Paid internships frequently turn into full-time job offers. Private companies and large organizations are more likely to offer paid internships. Interns that land a paid internship are usually paid an hourly wage but may also be paid a salary or a lump sum. Paid internships will often offer much lower compensation than a full or part-time job in the same field, however, they are still very beneficial since they can regularly turn into a full-time position.
- Unpaid internship An unpaid internship is exactly what it sounds like – an internship with the sole purpose to prepare the individual for the workforce and allow them hands-on training in the job. Unpaid internships are more common than paid internships and are often short-term. For example, summer tends to be the most common type of unpaid internships. While these internships may not provide compensation, the skills and experience learned and gathered are invaluable for the future.
- Externship: An externship can be thought of as more like job shadowing. Usually, the student will shadow a well-respected individual in the field. Unlike internships that normally span an entire season (fall, winter, spring, or summer), externship timeframes are not as defined. Students may shadow the respected individual for anywhere from one day to several months.
- Internship for credits Receiving monetary compensation is not the only way that students can be compensated for their internship. Colleges and universities will often allow students the opportunity to earn college credits from completing an internship. Schools will have varying requirements for internships in order to gain credits.
Preparing to apply for an internship
Much like an actual job, organizations don’t just give our internships to every person who asks. Students will need to ensure they stand out from the pool of candidates. It’s vital that students maintain excellent grades and partake in as many extracurricular activities associated with their desired profession, as much as possible. Students should take advantage of any in-school opportunities that will allow them to bolster their resume and cover letter.
Individuals looking to obtain an internship should also prepare a cover letter and resume. It’s unlikely that students looking for an internship will have a lot of previous work experience, so rather than focusing on that, the resume should focus on items that they have achieved during their time in school. For example, projects, skills, volunteering, and extracurricular activities are all great items to include on an internship resume.
The cover letter, like the resume, should focus on the field and industry in which the student is hoping to enter. The cover letter should serve as a way for students to showcase what sets them apart from other students and sell their own skills. Before developing a cover letter, students should research the industry and company and include elements of each as much as possible.
Before an organization will agree to offer a student an internship, the student will often be required to have an interview with the organization. The interview should be taken as seriously as an interview for a full-time job.
While acing the interview will help land the internship, it will also provide students with interview experience for when the time comes to interview for a full-time role.
Internships and cybersecurity
Internships are beneficial in just about any industry, and cybersecurity is no different. There is an extreme shortage of qualified and experienced cybersecurity professionals. Internships are one way to get new cybersecurity graduates the experience they need to move right into the workforce. When it comes to cybersecurity, there are many different things to consider, including whether a government internship or a private company makes the most sense.
As mentioned earlier in this guide, it’s much more likely that a private company will provide compensation for an internship. However, for students interested in pursuing a full-time career within the government sector, obtaining a government internship would be the most beneficial.
Government internships can be a fantastic way to gain the necessary experience and skills needed to land the perfect cybersecurity career. Unlike some private companies which only offer internships from time to time, government internships usually run every year.
One example of a government cybersecurity internship program is through the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS offers a ten-week program which, unlike some other government internships does offer compensation. Students can expect an approximate salary of $5,800 for a ten-week, full-time, internship.
Salary will vary depending on prior work experience, education, and other various considerations. This internship will allow students to work alongside some of the leaders in cybersecurity within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This internship, in particular, focuses on areas such as malicious code identification, forensic analysis, incident handling, and intrusion detection and prevention.
As a paid internship that allows students to gain highly sought-after hands-on training, individuals will need to really stand out to obtain this type of internship.
For this internship, students must:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be able to obtain and hold a security clearance
- Be enrolled in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program in an accredited university with a major in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Electronics Engineering, Computer Engineering, Network Engineering, Software Engineering, Supply Chain, Information Assurance, Information Technology, Systems Research, Systems Applications, Information Systems, Information Security, Software Assurance, or Business with a specific concentration in one of the above
- Demonstrate oral and written communications skills
- Demonstrate project leadership ability
The Department of Homeland Security is not the only government organization that offers cybersecurity internships. In fact, many of the government organizations offer comparable internships. Examples of government organizations which offer internships include:
To find internships within the federal government, the best way is to either navigate directly to the government agency’s website that you are interested in or use the website USAJOBS.gov.
While those interested in pursuing a full-time career within the government, those interested in working for a private organization or those who are simply unsure could benefit from an internship outside of the government sector. Non-government organizations will vary depending on whether they offer paid or unpaid internships.
There are plenty of websites available to students that can assist them in finding the perfect internship.
- LinkedIn.com is always a great resource for professionals throughout their careers. It provides students with a way to create connections that will be helpful down the road. Students can search for internships by simply navigating to the jobs page and typing “internship” into the search box. You could refine the search by adding words such as “cybersecurity internship” or “risk management internship”.
- Internships.com is another fantastic option to locate cybersecurity internships is the website Internships.com. This website allows students to type in keywords and locations. For example, students who are interested in a computer forensics career in New York City could do a search using the keywords “computer forensics” and the location of New York City.
- WayUp.com, previously known as InternMatch.com, is another website built specifically to match students with their perfect internship. Students will need to create a personalized profile and fill in their information before WayUp will try to match them with an employer.
- Glassdoor.com can provide many benefits to students including the ability to instantly check salaries and find employee reviews of potential employers. Glassdoor can also help students locate internships and can also help them locate full-time jobs when the time is right.
One example of a non-government cybersecurity internship the Cybersecurity Technical Support Internship offered by McAfee. This internship program is a 10-12 week program that runs through summer. Interns will undertake a challenging project designed to blend strategic and operational work. Interns will have access to a network of individuals to ensure a successful internship experience.
Some of the requirements for this internship include:
- Majoring in Computer Science, Software Engineering or Information Security
- 3.0 GPA or better
- Eligible to work in the United States without work authorization sponsorship now or anytime in the future
- Within one year from obtaining your degree at the conclusion of the internship.
- Experience in Networking / Troubleshooting in the following areas:
- Administering and troubleshooting Widows client/server operating systems (Win 7,8,10, Server 2003, 2008, 2012) by utilizing the command line interface, logs, and services.
- Expertise to conduct fault isolation regarding diagnosing and remediating network connectivity issues
- In-Depth experience with viruses, malware and anti-virus applications,
- Experience with Linux and SQL would be desirable but not required
- Understanding and applying active listening
- Understanding and ability to ask open-ended/close-ended and probing questions
Types of internships related to cybersecurity
While it’s possible to find generic internships by searching for keywords such as “cybersecurity intern” or “information security intern” it could be far more beneficial to find an internship in the exact area of cybersecurity an individual hopes to build their career in. For example, an individual hoping to land a full-time position within risk management would be better off finding an internship focusing on risk management.
Internships can be found in many different areas of cybersecurity including, but not limited to, risk management, computer forensics, security analyst, penetration testing and much more.
Below are several examples of these specialized internships.
Computer Forensics Internship – U.S. Department of Justice
Job Description (pulled from the DOJ website): “Your role at the High Technology Investigation Unit will be a unique one. The HTIU provides the opportunity for current graduate and undergraduate students to experience the computer forensics field first hand. You may be asked to restore a Linux server one day and analyze log files from an electronic wiretap the next. In addition to your short term tasks, you will be asked to complete a long-term assignment that will significantly contribute to the HTIU’s overall success.”
The requirements to land this internship include:
- Undergraduate and Graduate Computer Science students are eligible to apply.
- Prior to finalizing an appointment, all interns are required to undergo a security check, which includes a name and fingerprint clearance with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a determination of suitability for employment based on the information a candidate provides in the security form.
- U.S. citizenship required.
- Applicants also must have lived within the United States for at least 37 of the last 60 months.
X-Force Red- Penetration Tester Internship – IBM
Job description (pulled from IBM’s website):
Are you passionate about breaking into applications, networks, systems, databases, devices and other technologies to uncover security vulnerabilities and help fix them? Are you interested in joining a team of like-minded passionate experts, many of whom have decades of experience breaking into anything and everything to help organizations strengthen their security? If so, X-Force Red, IBM Security’s team of veteran hackers, is looking for interns for the summer of 2020 in Austin, TX, and you may be the perfect fit.
The requirements to land this internship:
- Demonstrated leadership and adaptability, with a willingness to readily and voluntarily take ownership of highly challenging tasks and problems, even beyond the initial scope of responsibility.
- Thorough and analytical, with the capability to apply logic to solve problems.
- Ability to handle multiple tasks concurrently and meet deadlines, while maintaining focus despite conflicting demands.
- Drive to overcome the most challenging or difficult obstacles and look for ways to improve results.
- Initiative to actively seek new knowledge and improve skills.
- Effective interpersonal skills with the ability to collaborate and work effectively with individuals and teams, strengthening relationships to achieve win-win solutions.
- Ability to communicate complex situations clearly and simply by listening actively and conveying difficult messages in a positive manner.
- A passion for innovative ideas, coupled with the ability to understand and assimilate different points of view.
- Knowledge or experience in one or more of the following Security Domains: Network Penetration Testing, Application Penetration Testing, Red Teaming, Social Engineering, Vulnerability Scanning.
- Experience in some aspect of offensive security testing is preferred.
- Are a rising Sophomore, Junior or Senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in a security-related field.
- Must demonstrate proven academic success.
Last thoughts on cybersecurity internships
While the prospect of moving from an academic lifestyle into the workforce can be daunting, an internship can make for a much easier transition.
Cybersecurity professionals can learn hands-on training of items such as malware analytics, risk management and penetration testing in a real-world environment.
No matter which kind of internship a student ends up landing, they will all prove to be beneficial on their resume.