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How do you gain experience when you keep getting turned down for jobs that require experience?


Casandra McMahon San Diego, CA

I recently graduated with a Bachelor's and got my security+ certification. I am ready to step into the industry! Or so I thought...I would like to get into information security or cybersecurity. I have applied and applied but every time I get that call from a recruiter or hiring manager, I get turned down from my lack of experience. How do I gain this essential experience in order to get my foot in the door?

I tried looking up some volunteer opportunities in my area and they just seem a little limited in the IT department. Anyone have some out of the box ideas to gain some IT experience?

23 July 2020 9 replies Career Advancement



Deb Yeagle Tampa, FL

Thanks for your service! Here are some ideas for you-

(1) Have you checked out the FortiVet program from Fortinet?
"Program Description: To open the eyes of veterans to the cyber-security industry with the opportunity of securing internships or employment. These positions may be available at Fortinet or one of our many partners."

(2) Find an ACP Mentor to help you make virtual connections. I recommend finding a local San Diego ACP Advisor with background in IT / Cyber that you can connect with virtually now, but work with in person post-pandemic.

(3) Check out the links at the end of this article on "Cybersecurity Jobs for Veterans," which includes some internship opportunities:

(4) Ditto here:

(5) To follow up on the ideas provided by other advisors volunteering, in addition to nonprofits, churches, etc., don't forget about your own school. Check back with your professors or school clubs and see if there are volunteer opportunities there. Also check out this article for tips:

(6) If you are not already on Linked In (I did a quick search and did not find you), then set up a profile and begin networking and joining IT/Cyber groups to open up more opportunities for job / volunteer connections. Start expanding your network (virtually) by connecting with people who work at the companies you've targeted as potential employers, then began interacting with them through Linked In or virtual networking events to build relationships.

(7) Start researching professional organizations in IT/Cyber to help you further build your network. For example: AFCEA ( Connect with members and groups on Linked In and participate in virtual network events to build relationships.

I hope this helps and thanks again for your service!

28 July 2020 Helpful answer


Nancy Brooks West Chesterfield, NH

Some great advice here already!

I would also suggest that you better prepare yourself for the interview process, Casandra. The fact that you are getting interviews is a great sign! It's clear from your resume that you are a recent graduate and veteran, and recruiters/hiring managers are still interested in speaking with you. How you handle yourself and the answers you give to difficult questions may be the real test, not your lack of experience.

There are lots of resources out there for recent grads and veterans on how to nail the interview process:

Good Luck!

24 July 2020 Helpful answer


Jeff Martin Ashburn, VA

I’d suggest that you network at the target company or industry. Use LinkedIn to find people already working there and reach out to them. Ask them the process they used to get hired and ask them to help you navigate the hiring process and if they are willing, ask them to submit you as a referral. These activities require much more time on your part but in my opinion would greatly increase your chances for success. Good luck!


Victoria Heck Ashburn, VA

Not sure if you're still looking for a new role, but I work for Parsons and entry level roles for those with Security+ certs. Please let me know if you might be interested. Do you have an active clearance?

Best regards,
Victoria Heck


Casandra McMahon San Diego, CA


You’re absolutely right. I could definitely use some guidance in interviewing. I’ve always been a nervous person with talking about myself and what I’ve done. Thank you for the resources!

Casandra McMahon


Casandra McMahon San Diego, CA


This is a great idea, I hadn’t thought about asking small business owners. Maybe I can at the least ask to shadow an employee if they have one, for a start. This would be a great first step. Thank you!

Casandra McMahon


Casandra McMahon San Diego, CA


Recently I was on the phone with a hiring manager that asked “What professional experience do you have with risk assessments?” And I froze. I’m sure I have something I can come up with that I learned in the Navy to transfer as experience. But at that moment, all I had on my mind was an IT centered risk assessment and I know I have no experience with this outside of an educational setting.
When asked “what experience do you have with Linux and do you know Bash?” Nothing, besides some classes I took. I try to stress that I know it in an educational setting, but it’s not enough. I can’t even think of a way to turn this into professional experience because I never knew about it until I learned about it in school.
I’m not making excuses and I understand that many people have been in this position before me, this is why I’m asking if anyone has some outside the box ideas for volunteer work. Something that I may not have thought about, maybe.
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my post.

Casandra McMahon


Maxine Pearl Phillips McKoy Raleigh, NC


I agree with Ronald's answer. I want to add that you should dig deep within yourself and revisit what you have done to secure hardware and software, houses, school supplies, money, and family. Show your passion for this area of your life. Also, consider designing or creating something that protects your technology.

When it comes to volunteering, yes, there might not jobs listed but give some thought to asking faith-based and non-profit organizations or small business owners to assist them in cyber-security. Explain that you want to help them, but you also need to apply your training to gain experience. You never know, it could turn into full-time employment.


Ronald Carvalho Avon By The Sea, NJ

You are not alone. Most of us had a similar experience when starting our careers. There are trade offs that an employer will consider. If an employer specifies some experience, you have experience. Your experience may not be hands on in your field of endeavor, but you have acquired quite a bit of knowledge and experience from your career in the Navy. Stress what experiences you have that are transferrable to an employer. Do not make any excuses for a lack of hands on experience in your appointed field.

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