To be successful in cyber security, you need soft skills. To be very successful, you need to master them!
Soft skills refer to your ability to interact effectively with others and navigate the many social situations that arise in the modern workplace. They are skills like communication, teamwork, and leadership. These skills are not cyber security specific or even related to technology. Instead, they transcend professions and apply across different contexts.
But why are they important in cyber security?
One simple answer. In the professional world, these skills will set you apart from others and rapidly progress your career. Let’s explore how.
There are many soft skills that you can acquire. This article looks at ten of them as they apply to cyber security and how to use them to stand out in a crowded job market, particularly at the entry-level. Let’s start with perhaps the most important, communication.
Communication is the ability to clearly express your ideas to others through verbal and written communication. But this is only the first part of being a good communicator. You also need to be able to actively listen, empathize, and adapt your communication style with the person you are communicating with. Communication is a two-way street, and mastering both directions is important.
Cyber security is all about effective communication. You need to be able to communicate risks, threats, ideas, strategies, technical information, and more. Communication is so important in cyber security because you will often need to share very technical things with non-technical people. This could mean explaining the latest vulnerabilities to key stakeholders or how your code helps automate a business process with your manager.
Having a great idea is only half the battle. You need to be able to tell other people why it’s such a great idea.
3 Ways to Practice Communication
- Start a blog: Writing blog articles is a great way to practice your written communication skills. By regularly explaining technical concepts to a general audience, you will find it easy when you need to do this at work.
- Start a YouTube channel or podcast: If you don’t like writing, using audio and visual presentations to explain technical concepts is a great alternative. It requires you to learn other skills (e.g., video/audio editing) but will dramatically improve your verbal communication skills.
- Regularly post your ideas on social media: Trying to explain your concepts to others on a big and diverse platform is a great way to learn how to communicate effectively with a wide audience.
Collaboration and Teamwork
Collaboration and Teamwork are key to success in many facets of life; family, sport, business, etc. Cyber security is no different. If you can assemble a team of skilled individuals working towards a common goal and actively improving one another, you’re setting yourself up for good results.
In cyber security, you are often part of a team. Be it a small team working on a project or a larger team making up a department. For business success, these groups must unite and work as a team. If you can demonstrate that you’re a team player and can help your fellow employees succeed, everyone will want to work with you, and you’ll quickly ascend the ranks at your place of employment.
3 Ways to Practice Collaboration and Teamwork
- Join an open-source project: Open-source projects are a great way to work with other people who have similar interests as you. They will teach you how to collaborate on large software projects and allow you to practice working towards a common goal with others.
- Join a local sports team or hobby group: Sports or hobby groups are great ways to interact with others who have a shared interest. Jump online and find what’s happening locally to you and what you might be interested in. It takes nerve to jump into social interactions like this, but the payoff will be massive!
- Create a startup: If you are more business-focused, try the startup route. Come up with a good idea, build a business, and then bring people in to collaborate with.
Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking
As a cyber security professional, you are accustomed to analyzing complicated situations, evaluating information, and making informed decisions. The ability to problem solve and think critically are fundamental skills required to tackle the complex challenges you face daily in the cyber world. However, these skills go beyond just being able to solve technical problems. They involve finding multiple ways to solve a problem and then analyzing the best solution.
An important lesson in cyber is that your first answer might differ from your best answer. Try to find as many answers as possible to a problem, then go through each and evaluate each. Find the one you can confidently say is the best after laying all your options on the table. Master this skill, and you won’t waste your time trying to implement solutions you later find are not optimal.
3 Ways to Practice Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking
- Learning a language: This will give you a fresh perspective on communication and how others see the world. This will allow you to approach problems in new and interesting ways. This perspective will help you to think critically about problems.
- Learn to program: Programming is a superpower. Learning to program lets you build things from nothing and solve challenging problems. It also gives you a new framework to solve problems.
- Try brain teaser games: Games like Sudoku, crosswords, or brain teaser problems let you practice abstract problem-solving in a fun and interactive way. They are cheap and good to keep you mentally stimulated throughout the day.
An effective team needs a good leader. Leaders make or break teams in all walks of life, and cyber security is no different. If you can inspire, motivate, and guide those around you to achieve a shared goal, you will make yourself invaluable to your employer.
Leadership is a skill built over time through experience and mastering other social skills like teamwork, communication, time management, and conflict resolution. Throughout your career, you will encounter many social situations where you can build the skills to become a good leader. If you take the opportunity to do so, you will quickly move up the corporate ladder into a leadership role.
3 Ways to Practice Leadership
- Play cooperative board games: Board games are a great way to have playful competition with friends. Cooperative board games, where you work with friends to achieve a shared objective, are great for practicing your leadership skills in a low-pressure environment.
- Join a local sports team or hobby group: Sports teams and hobby groups are boiling pots for great social situations where you can practice various soft skills. You can practice your leadership in these groups and transfer it to your professional life.
- Volunteer to lead projects at work: Often you won’t be selected to be a leader without leading projects in the past. To get around this, try volunteering to lead projects at work. This lets you practice your leadership skills in a professional environment without the pressure and expectations of being assigned leadership.
Resilience and Adaptability
There will be times in your career when you will face setbacks. This could be losing a position you applied for, missing out on a promotion, or even getting laid off. You must be resilient and keep moving forward when these challenging times come.
There is one thing that is constant in life, and especially in cyber, and that is change.
Technology changes, careers change, and your prospects will continue to change. Whatever path you take in cyber, opportunities will arise, and you will need to adapt to take these opportunities so that you can embrace them when they come.
Good times and bad times will come. Just put yourself in a position to make the most of the opportunity and enjoy the ride.
3 Ways to Practice Resilience and Adaptability
- Start a blog, YouTube channel, or podcast: Producing content is a great way of testing yourself. It tests your presentation skills, communication, and technical skillset. You will have to find ways to overcome the problems you discover along your content-creation journey and be resilient to the negatives you will encounter during this new experience.
- Rewrite an existing software project in a different language: If you know how to code, or are keen on learning, try re-writing an existing tool or software project you created in a different language. This will test your technical skills and ability to adapt to new situations. Often this very situation will arise in your professional career.
- Create home lab projects: Home lab projects are great for learning new and interesting technologies. They can also test your resilience and adaptability, as successfully implementing new technologies can be a challenging experience.
Can you manage your time? Often in cyber, you may feel overwhelmed with all the things to learn and all the projects you need to get done. The ability to prioritize tasks, organize your work, and effectively manage time to achieve goals and meet deadlines will help you defeat this feeling.
Time management is key to professional and personal success. If you can meet deadlines and spend time with your family, you’ll be winning. For many of us working in cyber security, this is a lot easier said than done as technology changes daily and new threats emerge. This is why it’s so important to try and learn effective time management strategies that work for you.
3 Ways to Practice Time Management
- Learn different time management methods: There are a plethora of time management techniques you can learn. As a starting point, try the Pomodoro technique, the Eisenhower matrix, and the 80/20 rule to see which works best for you. You can also mix-and-match techniques to create the ultimate productivity system.
- Take on multiple projects simultaneously: Trying to handle multiple projects simultaneously will force you to be more efficient with your time management. Try taking on low-risk tasks where it’s not the end of the world if you miss a deadline. Practicing in a low-pressure environment will mean you will be well prepared when you have to take on more responsibility in your professional life.
- Maintain a micro-calendar: Having a micro-calendar where you divide your day into 15-minute chunks will highlight where you currently spend your time during the day. This will show you where you can be more efficient with your time.
Although some days may seem mundane, others can get heated at work. If you receive negative feedback from peers, a poor performance review, or a lack of support, this can affect your emotions. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage your emotions. It involves empathizing with others to gain the best outcome for them and yourself during social interactions.
The fast-paced world of cyber security can lead to you and your teammates becoming out of sync. You may find that you have certain knowledge or skills they don’t have, which can become frustrating, or the opposite may be true, and they may become frustrated at you. When this happens, being self-aware and empathizing with your teammates is important. This will allow you to regulate your emotions and collaborate effectively.
An important lesson in any technical field is never to assume your teammate knows what you know. Explain your knowledge clearly and concisely to ensure you are both on the same page.
Three ways to practice emotional intelligence
- Keep a journal: A daily journal that details your thoughts and feelings may seem like a thing only teenage girls do. Still, it’s a great therapeutic technique for improving your emotional intelligence. It will highlight your key emotions throughout your workday and promote self-awareness. Once you recognize your emotions, you can begin tackling the negative ones and promoting the positive ones.
- Regularly engage with colleagues at work for their feedback and ideas: Consistently engaging with others for their opinions, you will expose yourself to new ways of thinking and discover the difference between how you perceive your idea to be taken and how it’s actually taken. This will improve how well you can empathize with others.
- Try mindfulness: Engaging in mindfulness exercises, such as meditation and mindful breathing, you will learn to be present in the moment. This will help you cultivate self-awareness, whereby you will observe your emotions without judgment and respond to them thoughtfully.
There are very few jobs in cyber security that do not require you to present your work. Be it in an audio, visual, or in-person presentation. You need the ability to deliver information or ideas in a clear, engaging, and persuasive manner. In cyber, this usually involves combining public speaking skills and creative skills to provide important information to key personnel in a clear and concise presentation.
This can be a difficult task for technical folk who can become bogged down in the deep technical details of the work. However, it is vital to address your audience on their level. If you’re presenting to C-suite or non-technical employees, you must find creative ways to show the technical stuff. This is a skill that gets better with practice. The more technical material you can translate to “human readable” content, the better you will become at presentations.
3 Ways to Practice Presentation Skills
- Create PowerPoint presentations for your key ideas: PowerPoint is ubiquitous in the modern workplace. As such, you should practice using it as a delivery vehicle for your ideas. Create presentations for your home lab projects, blog ideas, or any other worthwhile opinion you have. By practicing your presentation skills in these low-stakes environments, you will be better prepared to present your ideas at work.
- Try explaining your ideas to 10-year-olds: The famous physicist Richard Feynman once said, “If you can’t explain something to a 10-year-old, you don’t really understand it yourself.” You should apply this when presenting your ideas to others. Try your best to ensure that even a 10-year-old will be able to understand the technical topic you are discussing. This will make your presentations more concise, engaging, and clear to your audience.
- Start a blog, YouTube channel, or podcast: Content creation helps improve so many soft skills, and presentation skills are no exception. If you can regularly practice explaining your ideas in a clear and engaging manner, be it in written or video form, when it comes time to present these ideas to key stakeholders you will be in a great position.
Networking is the ability to establish and maintain professional relationships, build connections, and leverage them for personal and professional growth. It is very likely that the majority of opportunities that come to you during your cyber security career will come from people you have met along the way. They will come from old colleagues, people you have interacted with online, and communities you are a part of. These opportunities will come from your social connections.
Good networking skills combine the previous soft skills discussed:
- It comes from being able to communicate and work well with others.
- It comes from being able to solve problems and help others achieve success.
- It comes from remaining resilient and continuing to build your social network, even when the opportunities are not flowing your way.
- It comes from managing the time you spend building social connections effectively.
- It comes from learning to be emotionally intelligent so you can build good professional relationships with others.
- It comes from presenting your ideas and works in a clear and compelling manner to others so they want to connect with you.
If you can learn to master the soft skills previously discussed, you will have the prerequisite abilities to be good at networking.
3 Ways to Practice Networking
- Have a strong social media presence: A strong social media presence will encourage others to engage with you and will help grow your social network. Just ensure you engage back when people reach out to build those social connections.
- Become a content creator: Regularly posting content; others will engage with it and with you. This will allow you to expand your social network, and the opportunities will come flooding in.
- Reach out to people for social meetups and don’t just engage with people online:. Try to meet up with them in person. Go to a coffee shop, a bar, or a social event with people you meet online or at work to strengthen your social connection with them. You might even make new connections in the process.
Soft skills are incredibly important in cyber security. They are the catalyst that will propel your career to new heights and drastically improve your personal life in terms of happiness and social well-being.
Taking a little time every week to practice these skills will go a long way throughout your life. Try starting with the examples in this article, then build upon them and foster the mindset that every social interaction is an opportunity to develop your soft skills. If you can think of any other ways to improve your soft skills or any soft skills I have missed, please mention them in the comments.
Soft skills can seem daunting to those of us who come from a technical background, but with a little deliberate practice, you can master these skills as easily as you did the technical ones. I believe in you!