As college seniors around the country scramble to find their first jobs out of school, many students with cybersecurity-related degrees are discovering they are in high demand.
Walker Pollard, who is due to graduate in May from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in computer science with an emphasis in cybersecurity, said many classmates have job offers—some with $5,000 to $20,000 signing bonuses.
“Everyone in my group has either an amazing position lined up or is choosing between a few amazing positions,” he said. “It’s definitely a perk of the discipline.”
Mr. Pollard has an offer for a full-time job to research critical infrastructure cybersecurity at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. He interned at the lab over the last year and is committed to its public service mission, but he said he has been considering private-sector opportunities that will likely have greater financial benefits and workplace flexibility.
Government agencies are courting ever younger students in an effort to compete with the private sector, said Peter Sursi, the senior executive for recruiting and hiring in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s human resources division.
“We can’t compete on salary with the Microsofts and Amazons of the world—that’s certainly true,” he said. “We try to get [cybersecurity students] in their sophomore and junior years, and lock them in during their senior years for a job after graduation.”
The FBI is planning to hire more than 300 graduating seniors over the next several months for roles in data science, intelligence analysis and other disciplines, said Mr. Sursi. The agency has made a made a push in recent years to work with cybersecurity departments at colleges and make on-campus visits to recruit students directly for internship programs, he said.
Many private-sector firms are offering a range of perks to attract cybersecurity graduates. Mastercard Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Workday Inc. said last week that they will pay up to $75,000 in student loan assistance as part of a program to expand the cybersecurity talent pipeline.
Graduating college students who are accepted into the initiative will spend two years working at one of 11 federal government agencies and then receive a job offer from one of the participating companies.
Kelley Criddle, a senior studying network security and cyberforensics at Dakota State University, signed a contract last week for a full-time job after graduation in May as an information security consultant at SBS CyberSecurity LLC. She learned about the company through a professor, who encouraged her to apply for an internship there last summer.
The experience was formative, Ms. Criddle said, and taught her about penetration testing, incident response and network security.
Ms. Criddle said she considered applying to government jobs and positions at other companies, but liked SBS, which funded two scholarships that she was awarded for women in cybersecurity at Dakota State. She plans to obtain a certification in forensic investigation through the company.
“Usually, people don’t have it this convenient,” she said. “If you get a degree in this major, there should be no struggle to find a good job.”
Chad Knutson, a co-founder of SBS, said the company decided to recruit cybersecurity students directly from schools, mainly to keep its budget in check.
“It helps with our labor costs to recruit younger talent,” he said. The company offers perks such as paying 100% of health-care coverage and providing some employees with vehicles that they can drive for work and personal use.
The company has increased its budget for employee compensation by 30% in recent years, but bigger firms often offer larger paychecks for cybersecurity specialists, he said.
“We had a network security technician with four years of experience and a major bank hired him from under us with a $140,000 salary and big benefits,” he said. “That’s tough to compete with—finding a seasoned network security professional is becoming very expensive.”
Write to Adam Janofsky at [email protected]
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