The demand for qualified applicants for entry-level and advanced roles in Cybersecurity to support the U.S Federal Government continues to grow.
For Federal Government jobs, recent graduates with cybersecurity qualifications, holders of certifications related to cybersecurity, and people possessing the right skills may not necessarily be required to have a master’s degree to apply. However, many roles in the Federal Government may include comprehensive background investigations and a competitive selection process.
The Cybersecurity industry encourages students seeking a career in Cybersecurity in the Federal Government to look into courses offered at CIAT.Edu:
- Applied for Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Systems–Cybersecurity Concentration
- CISSP Certification
- CompTIA Security+ Certification
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) Certification–CEH–V11
- AWS Security Specialty Certification
These degree and certificate programs provide the needed foundation of knowledge to help students apply for entry-level roles within civil services jobs supporting the U.S Government agencies, departments, and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB).
This article discusses the various entry-level positions, pay scale, growth opportunities in cybersecurity jobs, and the application process in the Federal Government. Like the private sector, there continues to be more job openings than candidates for many entry-level positions in the Federal Government. Entry-level opportunities are there for students to pursue!
The Federal Hiring Process
Although employing personnel in the Federal Government shares similarities with private enterprises, there are distinct differences due to applicable laws, executive orders, and regulations. Within the Federal application process, the candidate should review the various application deadlines, additional security checks, and any competitive examination requirements.
Most Federal positions are broken into several categories, including:
- Service: Service positions that involve competition are subject to civil service laws which aim to ensure fair, open competition and selection based on an applicant’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.
- Excepted: Certain positions are designated as ‘Excepted Service,’ and subject to a distinct set of appointment, pay, and classification rules that are different than those in the competitive service.
- Merit: Employees who have been in a competitive appointment in the Federal Government for 90 days or more may be eligible to fill vacancies or job opportunities per the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 when external candidates are accepted.
Each of these hiring categories aligns with the Federal General Scale pay system.
What is the GS Pay Scale System?
The General Scale (GS) system is a payment system for civilian employees in the Federal Government; evaluation and compensation vary by grade level. The qualification requirements for each position are based on education, background, accomplishments, and experience. In the job posting, your salary may become publicly available on sites such as FederalPay.org.
Entry-Level Federal PayScale
A General Schedule (GS) grade usually begins at Step 1; however, in some cases, an employee may be authorized to start at a higher step rate due to particular qualifications or agency requirements.
- GS-3 or GS-4: typically internships, student jobs, or lower-level administrative work
- GS-5 to GS-7: mostly entry-level and administrative positions
- GS-8 to GS-12: mostly mid-level technical and first-level supervisory positions
Common Entry-Level & Advanced Cybersecurity Positions in the Federal Government
The Federal Government has several cybersecurity roles, including entry-level security operations to top-secret cryptography code breakers working for the National Security Agency. Each part has a pay scale, security clearance, and specific education requirements. Many of these positions cross between departments and agencies. This lateral movement gives students and entry-level cybersecurity personnel options to move between government departments without losing time in grades toward retirement.
Many veterans leaving active-duty service are encouraged to apply for a Federal Government position. If accepted, their time-in-grade in military service carries forward into their new role. Here is a sampling of entry-level and intermediate cybersecurity roles in the Federal Government:
Cyber Incident Response Engineer
This is an excellent entry-level role. A Cyber Incident Response Engineer works within the Security Operations teams. This group handles all incident responses and root cause analysis of a cyber attack, provides emergency patches and updates to systems, and monitors all security controls.
Information Security Analyst
As an Information Security Analyst, you must be able to recognize and report security breaches in a government network that is monitored and regularly updated. You should also be familiar with relevant research, documentation, and reporting processes related to security incidents. Desirable certifications include: CISSP, GIAC Security+ Intrusion Analyst (GIA), and GIAC Incident Management Consultant (GIAC).
Security Analysts protect U.S. Government intelligence data from hackers and other malware. They work to identify weaknesses in the system and develop new strategies. Analysts collect data to spot suspicious activity in databases, server networks, or proprietary software. If a breach happens, they lead the efforts to stop upcoming attacks. Security analysis is an entry-level cybersecurity job that usually requires a degree in Computer Engineering.
Architects must possess a comprehensive knowledge of the software and systems that protect sensitive data. This includes understanding National Security Network security frameworks, including FedRAMP, NIST, and ISO 27001, hardware configuration, network protocols, and the particular protocols at their employer.
Security Architects need five to ten years of experience, with at least three dedicated to security, before moving into managerial roles in network security because they need to establish familiarity with the systems.
Cloud Security Specialist
Cloud Security Specialists manage automated security systems and FedRAMP cloud-based employee information databases. They partner with leaders to set up company policies, cloud network utilization, and customer protection. Most Cloud Security Specialists have at least six to seven years of working with an experienced security professional. Industries that typically use security specialists are aerospace defense contracts, energy and utilities, financials, government, and university education. Cloud Security Specialists need to be up-to-date on FedRAMP cloud requirements.
The role, also referred to as a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), is often the most recruited position in Cybersecurity for the Federal Government. Federal agencies, including the CIA, FBI, DHS, NSA, and IRS, will recruit CEHs to help carry out offensive and defensive hacking and counter-hacking operations. This role requires a security clearance.
Cybersecurity professionals have the potential to advance in security audits. Security Auditors verify safety procedures, secure systems, and report on findings. Attention to detail is required when conducting an audit, as vulnerabilities should be identified and addressed promptly. Activities conducted by a Security Auditor include annual penetration testing, documentation, and communication between departments.
What are the Benefits of Working in Cybersecurity for the Federal Government?
Government work offers job security and superior benefits, which many individuals prefer to the influence of the private sector. The Federal Government also offers competitive salaries as defined under the General Schedule.
Knowledge for Today and in the Future
The USAJOBS OPM database holds job opportunity announcements (JOAs) for federal roles, including qualifications, duties, salary, duty location, benefits, and security requirements.
The JOA assists applicants in finding the most suitable available job openings by providing a list of frequently used terms that align with their skills, interests, and backgrounds.
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