First off, thank you, Aaylla, for your question. It is my pleasure to use this as my first blog post of the new year. I love when readers interact with me. I don’t bite, I promise. Reach out with questions and let me know how I can help.
So Aaylla wants to know, and I am going to infer a little bit here, as a person looking to land their first role in cyber, how do you balance building your skills with looking for the first job? I have a few tools that I use to help me be more efficient with my time.
TLDR: Prioritize your job postings, set at least 2 hours aside to apply, and spend the rest of your free time learning. Try to keep it around 25% job hunting/75% learning split.
Honestly, that is what this is about, Time Management. If you want to continue on your rocket ship of learning in infosec while working a full-time job, you need to get good at time management.
Get a Certification
First things first. If you don’t have a certification yet, that is your first priority. Do not even apply for a role yet. Focus everything on the certification. I offer several reasons. One, you will likely land a better position with better pay. Two, you will likely be wasting tons of cycles putting in applications where you are at the bottom of the resume pile because you are least qualified. We want to get you in the top 10% of applicants, not the bottom 10%.
Once you have your certification start looking for roles but be strategic. You only have so much time, and you need to continue your studies. Make a list of qualities you are looking for in a job posting, and use that list to decide which postings to apply to first.
What do I mean by this? The biggest divider I have seen is whether you are willing to move, want to stay local, or looking for remote only. This is huge. I will say those willing to move will have an easier time finding a job. Remote roles are getting more common, but they are more competitive because the candidate pool is larger. Staying local may or may not be an option. You will have to do some research and see if there are any opportunities available for you.
Other things to look at are how old the posting is. Personally, I only apply to roles that have been posted for less than two weeks. From my experience, recruiters will refresh their roles if they are actively looking. This keeps them at the top of the results. If the role is still open after that time, especially after a month, they are likely not actively pursuing candidates. This can happen for several reasons, such as the hiring manager not being responsive, they have a candidate in the final stages, or the role is no longer a priority.
Next, take a look at the company. If they have a terrible reputation, I urge you to skip over them. However, sometimes you have to hustle to get that first bit of experience. I get it. If you have a ton of other options, just deprioritize these.
Next, I like to prioritize roles to which I can quickly apply. LinkedIn calls these Easy Apply, and other sites use similar terminology. Either way, knock these out first because they only take a few minutes.
Splitting Your Time
Now we are left with a nice organized list of possible roles. How much time should you spend applying?
This depends on your resume. If you have no experience and one certification, spend more time studying than applying. If you have a degree, a certification, completed several additional courses, and really understand the basics, then feel free to spend more time applying than studying. You are ready to get in the game!
However, if you are bombing interviews, go back to prioritizing studying and incorporate the feedback you are getting and the areas of knowledge you are weak in.
For organizing my day, time blocking is the easiest way to make sure I have time to do high-priority tasks. I like to work on whatever my priority is first thing in the morning. As the author said in some self-help book I read, first things first. If you work, this means waking up a couple of hours early to study or apply for jobs. When you get off, do whatever is left. The same applies if you are in college.
If you have trouble finding time to study, take a good hard look at your life and what is eating away at the time. For most people, this usually involves streaming shows, video games, social media, and going out. But the key is to figure it out and cut it out. You need to ask yourself what is more important, this other stuff or getting a job.
Sometimes we can’t help it. Family comes first, especially if you are a parent. But sometimes, it is ok to say no. I have found that nobody cares about your time or money more than you, which means you must be your biggest advocate. No one else will do it for you except maybe a spouse. But I have found that the wrong partner can be your worst enemy here. Personal experience.
Moving on, one thing that I use to help keep things fresh in my mind is notecards. You don’t have to carry physical ones around anymore, although if that's your thing, go for it. You can use one of many apps to keep all this knowledge fresh in your mind for the interviews. I use these to drill the information into my head because I find it helps me more quickly understand the topic by memorizing key pieces.
Interviews Are Always Priority
One last thing I would like to note, if you have a technical interview coming up, hands down, that is your priority. Technical interviews are hard to get and even harder to be one of the top candidates. Put all your time into preparing for the interview. For a cheat sheet of interview questions, check out Daniel Miessler's Infosec Interview Question. For interview tips, check out my video on the topic, Junior SOC Analyst Interview Tips to Help You Standout.
That is my take on time management. It comes down to filtering your “to-do” list and then prioritizing your activities. Aaylla, hopefully, this answers your question; if not, feel free to reach out again. Best of luck landing that position.
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