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Penetration Tester Career


What Is a Penetration Tester? 


Penetration testers or “pen testers,” are IT professionals who identify security flaws in websites, web applications, data storage systems, and other digital assets. By taking on the role of a hacker, they test the strength of an organization’s cybersecurity system and find the vulnerabilities that unethical hackers could exploit during a cyberattack. Penetration testing is an integral part of an offensive security strategy. Instead of reacting to a cybersecurity attack that has already occurred, penetration testing allows organizations to take a proactive approach to security system optimization. 

Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and companies need skilled penetration testers to protect their data against the latest cyberattack strategies. Many penetration testers work for cybersecurity firms that offer third-party penetration testing services to clients in a range of different industries. Companies hire these firms to audit their security systems and provide constructive feedback about how to protect their data against cyberattacks. Organizations may also hire penetration testers to work alongside their in-house IT departments. Healthcare companies, government agencies, financial institutions, and other companies that handle sensitive data rely on penetration testers to keep information safe and ensure that the organization is complying with industry regulations and privacy laws.  


What Does a Penetration Tester Do? 

Penetration testers spend most of their time testing computer systems and networks to find security vulnerabilities. They can work on-site or remotely. A penetration tester’s typical workday often includes: 

  • Researching the latest hacking techniques and devising strategies to test security systems.  
  • Using open-source intelligence (OSINT) to determine a strategy to bypass a system’s security measures. 
  • Executing a simulated cyberattack and attempting to access sensitive files or data.
  • Using social engineering, phishing scams, or other techniques to evaluate existing security protocols and responses from targeted employees. 
  • Generating detailed reports on security flaws, inconsistencies, and weaknesses that unethical hackers could exploit to gain unauthorized network access.  
  • Providing recommendations to organizations to help them improve network security and reduce the chances of a data breach. 


How Do I Become a Penetration Tester? 

Penetration tester requirements vary depending on the industry. The typical journey to becoming a penetration tester begins with gaining basic technical skills and a functional working knowledge of operating systems, networks, coding, scripting, and programming. Earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or cybersecurity and information assurance will provide you with the most up-to-date industry knowledge and skills you need to succeed. 

If you’d like to gain work experience and earn a degree simultaneously, search for an online IT degree program with flexible scheduling. Some degree programs also include industry-relevant professional certifications at no extra cost. Certificates can: 

  • Help differentiate you from other job candidates. 
  • Improve your skills and help you do better in your role. 
  • Position you for promotions or advanced-level opportunities. 

Some of the top professional certifications for penetration testers include:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)–Associate of (ISC)² designation 
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)–Associate of (ISC)² designation 
  • Certified Encryption Specialist (EC-Council ECES) 
  • A+ (CompTIA) 
  • Cybersecurity Analyst Certification, CySA+ (CompTIA) 
  • Network Vulnerability Assessment Professional (CompTIA) 
  • Network Security Professional (CompTIA) 
  • Security Analytics Professional (CompTIA) 
  • Security+ (CompTIA) 
  • Project+ (CompTIA) 
  • PenTest+ (CompTIA)  
  • IT Operations Specialist (CompTIA) 
  • Secure Infrastructure Specialist (CompTIA) 
  • ITIL®1 Foundation 
  • Network+ (CompTIA)

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pen Tester? 

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to become a penetration tester. At many universities, that takes at least four years. However, at WGU, many students finish their bachelor’s degree coursework more quickly than this. On average, WGU students complete their degrees in 2.5 years while many traditional university students take up to 5 years to finish. Penetration testers typically need IT experience and robust operating systems and cybersecurity knowledge. Individuals entering the field often earn professional certifications in addition to their degrees to show employers that they have the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a cybersecurity career.  

Best Degrees for a Penetration Tester


Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – B.S.

Protect your career and earning potential with this degree....

Protect your career and earning potential with this degree.

  • Time: 60% of graduates finish within 29 months.
  • Tuition: $4,265 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 34 total courses in this program.

Certifications included in this program at no extra cost include:

  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) - Associate of (ISC)2 designation
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) - Associate of (ISC)2 designation
  • ITIL® Foundation Certification
  • CompTIA A+
  • CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst Certification (CySA+)
  • CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Network Vulnerability Assessment Professional
  • CompTIA Network Security Professional
  • CompTIA PenTest+
  • CompTIA Project+
  • CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist
  • CompTIA Security+
  • CompTIA Security Analytics Professional

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Secure Systems Analysis & Design
  • Data Management
  • Web and Cloud Security
  • Hacking Countermeasures and Techniques
  • Digital Forensics and Incident Response

Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – M.S.

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information safe....

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information safe.

  • Time: 63% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition: $4,555 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 9 total courses in this program.

Certifications in this program at no additional cost include:

  • CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)
  • CompTIA PenTest+
  • CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+) Optional Voucher
  • ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) Optional Voucher
  • (ISC)² Certified in Cybersecurity (CC)

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Cybersecurity Strategy
  • Information Assurance
  • Incident Response
  • Penetration Testing

The curriculum is closely aligned with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Workforce Framework. The program was designed in collaboration with national intelligence organizations and IT industry leaders, ensuring you'll learn emerging technologies and best practices in security governance.


Computer Science – B.S.

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your task:...

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your task:

Lay the groundwork for the computing breakthroughs that will enable tomorrow's technologies. Utilize your previous college courses or IT experience to help you complete your degree faster.

  • Time: 60% of graduates in similar programs finish within 25 months.
  • Tuition: $3,985 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 38 total courses in this program.

You'll have the opportunity to earn these certifications:

  • Linux Essentials
  • Axelos ITIL Foundation

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Architecture and systems
  • Data structures
  • AI
  • Computer theory
  • Version Control
  • Linux

Information Technology – B.S.

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this online...

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this online program a top choice.

  • Time: 61% of graduates finish within 39 months.
  • Tuition: $3,625 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 36 total courses in this program.

Certifications included in this program at no additional cost:

  • CompTIA A+ 
  • CompTIA Network+ 
  • CompTIA Security+ 
  • CompTIA Project+ 
  • CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
  • CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist 
  • Amazon AWS Cloud Practitioner
  • ITIL®*^ Foundation Certification
  • LPI Linux Essentials

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Scripting and programming
  • Networking and security
  • Systems and services
  • Data management
  • Business of IT

Leadership Certificate – School of Business

Enhance your résumé and take a step in your educational journey with the...

Enhance your résumé and take a step in your educational journey with the help of a leadership certificate from the School of Business.

  • Time: 4 months from start to finish.
  • Cost: $2,250 for the certificate.
  • Courses: 3 courses total in this program.

This program is for emerging leaders, however this program does not require a bachelor’s degree, and provides transferable credit towards a WGU degree program.

Whether you aspire to work for a Fortune 500 organization, a government agency, a non-profit organization, or a fast-paced start-up, this certificate can give you the keys to success in a variety of industries, including:

  • Finance and Banking
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • IT
  • Consulting
  • Nonprofit
  • Government

Master of Business Administration

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on business management,...

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on business management, strategy, and leading teams:

  • Time: Graduates can finish in 12 months
  • Tuition: $4,755 per 6-month term
  • Courses: 11 total courses in this program

Skills for your résumé you will learn in this program include: 

  • Leadership strategies
  • Talent management
  • Communication
  • Data collection and interpretation
  • Financial statements

Our competency-based model gives you an innovative learning experience you won't find anywhere else—and our MBA grads tell us they loved accelerating their program to see a faster ROI.

How Much Does a Penetration Tester Make? 


Penetration tester salaries range from $60,000 to $138,000 a year; the median annual salary is $92,159. Pen testers with graduate degrees, significant job experience, and advanced cybersecurity knowledge can typically expect to earn higher salaries than entry-level penetration testers.   

What Is the Projected Job Growth? 


The information security field is booming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that security analyst jobs, including penetration tester jobs, will increase by 32% between 2022 and 2032. There will be an estimated 16,800 openings each year. 


What Skills Does a Penetration Tester Need? 

A mobile application support analyst needs various skills, most notably:

Being an effective penetration tester requires both creativity and technical skills. Here are the most common proficiencies you’ll need to stand out from the competition:  

Hard skills  

  • Cybersecurity knowledge. You’ll need a comprehensive understanding of cybersecurity, hacking techniques, and security flaws that can increase the chances of a cyberattack.  
  • Programming knowledge. Proficiency in scripting and coding will allow you to spot coding errors and oversights that increase network vulnerability.  
  • Technical proficiency. To be a strong penetration tester, you’ll need a comprehensive understanding of operating systems, web applications, and network protocols such as TCP/IP, UDP, ARP, DNS, and DHCP.  
  • Solid writing skills. Writing reports about security vulnerabilities and remediation strategies is a crucial aspect of the job.  

Soft skills  

  • Adaptability. Hacking strategies continually evolve. Penetration testers must stay current on the latest security risks and methods for mitigating those risks.  
  • Teamwork. As a penetration tester, you’ll likely collaborate with a team of cybersecurity professionals. 
  • Written and verbal communication. Penetration testers must articulate complex security issues in an easy-to-follow format that nontechnical professionals can understand. 
  • Creativity. You’ll need out-of-the-box thinking to solve complex security problems and help organizations optimize their cybersecurity procedures.   

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Interested in Becoming a Penetration Tester?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.