Cybersecurity Career Guide: Entry-Level to mid-level advancement overview

man in flannel typing at desk in front of monitor

This blog will be the first in a series helping learners decide which paths to take to advance within their IT and cybersecurity careers. In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of the entry-level roles and certifications for beginners in cybersecurity, as well as what someone who is ready to upskill and advance into a mid-level role in cybersecurity should do.

Starting your cybersecurity career

The world of cybersecurity offers a range of exciting entry-level roles for newcomers. Here are some key options to consider:

Technical Roles:

  • Security Analyst/Specialist: Monitor networks and systems for suspicious activity, investigate security incidents, and analyze threats. Requires strong analytical and technical skills.

  • Junior Penetration Tester (Pen Tester): Identify and exploit security vulnerabilities in networks and systems to improve defenses. Excellent hacking skills and a strong understanding of security controls are crucial.

  • Security Technician: Assist with security tasks like deploying security tools, performing security audits, and managing user access. Technical aptitude and attention to detail are key.

  • Cybersecurity Incident Responder: Respond to security incidents such as malware attacks or data breaches to minimize damage and restore operations. Quick thinking and strong problem-solving skills are essential.

Non-Technical Roles:

  • Security Awareness and Training Specialist: Develop and deliver security awareness training programs to educate employees about cybersecurity best practices. Communication skills and knowledge of human behavior are important.

  • Compliance Analyst: Ensure an organization's security practices comply with industry regulations and standards. Strong attention to detail and analytical skills are required.

  • Threat Intelligence Analyst: Research and analyze cyber threats to inform security decisions and strategies. Excellent research and analytical skills are necessary.

Entry-Level Cybersecurity Certifications

These certifications are ideal for newcomers with little to no experience, providing a solid foundation in cybersecurity principles and practices.


  • CompTIA Security+: Industry-standard foundational certification covering security concepts, threats, and controls.

  • (ISC)² Cybersecurity Associate (CSA): Focuses on security operations and incident response with hands-on exercises.

  • CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker): Introduces the fundamentals of ethical hacking and penetration testing.


  • Cisco CCNA Security: Covers Cisco network security technologies and configuration.

  • Microsoft MTA Security Fundamentals: Provides basic understanding of Microsoft security solutions.

  • AWS Certified Security - Specialty: Validates expertise in securing AWS cloud environments.

Additional options:

  • CySA+ (CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst): Builds on Security+ with deeper analysis and threat detection skills.

  • PenTest+ (CompTIA Penetration Testing+): Focuses on vulnerability assessment and penetration testing methodologies.

Advancing your cybersecurity career

Once you've gained experience in an entry-level role, you can progress to more senior positions with increased responsibility and complexity. Here are some potential next steps:

  • Senior Security Analyst/Specialist: Lead investigations, manage security projects, and provide expert guidance on security threats.

  • Penetration Tester: Lead penetration testing engagements and develop advanced attack techniques.

  • Security Architect: Design and implement security solutions for organizations, including network security, data security, and application security.

  • Security Operations Manager: Oversee the security operations of an organization, including incident response, threat intelligence, and vulnerability management.

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): Lead an organization's overall cybersecurity strategy and report directly to senior management.

Additionally, several specialized paths exist within cybersecurity, such as ethical hacking, digital forensics, or malware analysis. You can tailor your career to your specific interests and expertise.

Mid-Level Cybersecurity Certifications:

Once you have some experience, these certifications can validate your skills and open doors to more advanced roles.


  • CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional): Industry-recognized gold standard for information security professionals.

  • CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor): Focuses on information security auditing and control assessments.

  • CISM (Certified Information Security Manager): Validates the ability to manage an organization's information security program.


  • CISCO CCNP Security: Advanced expertise in Cisco network security solutions and design.

  • Microsoft MCSA Security: Delivers in-depth knowledge of Microsoft security administration and deployment.

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional with Security Specialization: Expertise in designing and securing complex AWS cloud architectures.

Additional options:

  • OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional): Validates advanced penetration testing skills and practical experience.

  • GCIH (GIAC Certified Ethical Hacker): Comprehensive ethical hacking and penetration testing certification.


A good place to begin as you seek to advance withing your cybersecurity career is to first consider your career goals, current experience, and the specific area of cybersecurity you want to specialize in. Research different certifications, their requirements, and their recognition within the industry. Some employers may prioritize certain certifications in their job postings. Remember, certifications alone are not enough. Practical experience, hands-on labs, and continuous learning are crucial for building a successful cybersecurity career.

ACI Tech Academy benefits

You can always further your career through our binge-worthy ITPro video training content at your own pace, but if you’re looking for a comprehensive support program, ACI Learning Tech Academy is the path for you...Our courses are always taught by a live instructor with years of industry experience. You’ll be able to ask questions, participate in group discussions, and get trained in real time. With course content that’s updated regularly, you’ll be ready to work in the industry.

Here’s what you can expect from your ACI Learning Tech Academy experience:

Instructor Mentors are available for personal study support. They’ll create a personalized study plan to help you master even the toughest concepts.

With your enrollment, ACI Learning covers the cost of one exam attempt for each course. These exams can cost hundreds of dollars, but we know that getting the certification is the goal of each student.

Take classes in a way that works for you. Attend in person or online (depending on location and funding). Each course runs for four hours per day on a morning, afternoon, or evening schedule, so that you can make your training fit in with the rest of your life. 

Everybody learns a little bit differently. Our courses include myriad ways to consume the material, including ITPro videos, study games, dynamic quizzes, practice labs, group projects, discussion sections, digital flashcards and more.

The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®) officially recommended 12 ACI Learning courses for college credit. That means a class at ACI Learning could count towards a traditional degree.

ACI Learning



Learning areas