Penetration TesterJob Description, Salary, Career Path, and Trends

Penetration testers assess the security systems within an organization. They conduct tests and purposefully attempt to exploit existing computer systems and software to detect and correct system weaknesses. This practice is a form of ethical hacking and requires creativity, imagination, and a strong understanding of technology systems. Penetration testers use these test results to develop recommendations and implement solutions to build the strength of an organization’s information technology (IT) systems. 

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] needs a qualified penetration tester to join our IT team! As our penetration tester, you will be responsible for conducting regular audits and inspections in order to make sure our network and computer systems are secure. You will work regular office hours and will be required to configure information systems as well as design and create new systems in order to fix known vulnerabilities. The ideal candidate will have previous experience in the IT field, as well as ideally previous experience in a position as a penetration tester. You may also be required to assist other IT employees with tasks and present information to the correct supervisors when requested. If this position sounds of interest to you, please don’t hesitate to apply! We would love to have you on your team.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Conduct formal testing on computer systems 
  • Assess the security of computer software and hardware
  • Conduct security audits and legal cyberattack simulations by designing and utilizing hacking tools to access designated pieces of data during a predetermined time frame
  • Generate tools for breaking into security systems 
  • Detect and correct system weaknesses 
  • Provide recommendations based on an assessment of hardware and software systems 
  • Implement solutions to enhance data security
  • Provide IT support

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, information technology, or a related field. 

Required skills and qualifications

  • Robust creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to think analytically
  • Knowledge of technical systems and terminology 
  • Proficiency in scripting languages 
  • Ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities 
  • Advanced written and verbal communication skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Deep knowledge of at least one programming language (Python, Go, Java, PowerShell, etc.)
  • Advanced knowledge of Linux and/or Windows OS and experience in supporting and installing multiple software products
  • Strong written/verbal communication and interpersonal skills

Average salary and compensation

The average salary for a penetration tester is $88,500 in the United States. Position salary will vary based on experience, education, company size, industry, and market.

LocationSalary LowSalary High
Phoenix, Arizona$88,000$119,100
Los Angeles, California$99,300$134,350
Denver, Colorado$82,750$111,950
Washington, DC$100,800$136,400
Miami, Florida$82,350$111,450
Orlando, Florida$76,000$102,800
Tampa, Florida$76,750$103,800
Atlanta, Georgia$80,500$108,900
Chicago, Illinois$92,550$125,200
Boston, Massachusetts$100,050$135,350
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota$79,750$107,900
New York City, New York$105,300$142,500
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$85,750$116,000
Dallas, Texas$83,500$112,950
Houston, Texas$82,750$111,950
Seattle, Washington$96,300$130,250
National Average$75,250$101,800

Typical work environment

Penetration testers are required to understand cybersecurity and database penetration techniques. These techniques may be employed by conducting internal experiments with the security system of computer networks in order to ensure security from outside threats. As a penetration tester, it will be your job to assess the physical security of servers, systems, and networks. A penetration tester will also be required to conduct audits and tests of network security to evaluate the system and ensure that it is up to the correct standards and credentials. As a security system penetration tester, you may be in charge of the security system of a larger firm, business, or organization. This work will often be done inside of an office. Penetration testers may also work for a subcontractor and have separate firms and businesses as clients. This may require the ability to travel to different locations and company bases depending on the size of the organization, so having transportation may be required.

Typical hours

Penetration testers typically work during regular business hours, 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. 

Available certifications

A penetration tester must have extreme competence and the ability to properly understand the latest security measures and testing methods. Because of this, having good certifications is extremely important for this position. Some of the best certifications include:

  • EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). As an EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker you will be certified by the largest cybersecurity certification program available. This certification is widely recognized and allows candidates to understand the proper ethical hacking methodology and techniques, as well as ensures that candidates understand the proper complex security concepts.
  • IACRB Certified Penetration Tester (CPT). The IACRB Certified Penetration Tester certificate is offered by the Information Assurance Certification Review Board, which is a widely recognized and legitimate certification board. This certificate allows a penetration tester to prove their expertise and experience in penetration testing, system security, and general security procedures. Because of this, this certification can be immensely beneficial as a standard for any penetration tester looking to get the proper certificates and training.

Career path

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in cyber-security or a computer-related field. Employers may prefer candidates who have a master’s degree, as well as those with on-the-job experience. Penetration testers can advance to positions such as information technology manager, developer, programmer, and consultant. The skills a person learns as a penetration tester can apply to various sectors, opening opportunities to pursue freelance work, begin consulting, or form a new business.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 15-1299

2020 Employment442,200
Projected Employment in 2030479,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift37,500 increase

According to industry website Computer Science Online, the IT security industry is growing exponentially and driving the need for encryption, authentication, certificate management, firewall infrastructures, and anti-malware. These needs have resulted in very high demand for penetration testers. They will become integral in the success of organizations in nearly any industry. 

Sample interview questions

  • How would you define penetration testing?
  • What would you say is the best way to test the security of a system?
  • How would you go about fixing any security breaches or potential breaches of a system?
  • As a penetration tester, do you have any previous experience in the IT or penetration testing fields?
  • Do you have any certifications which are related to penetration testing?
  • What is cross-site scripting?
  • What are common methods to prevent DDOS attacks and hackers from breaching a system?
  • What are some common open-source penetration testing tools, and what penetration testing tools do you employ?

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