How To Become A Penetration Tester

A penetration tester, or pen tester, help organisations and businesses identify and resolve weaknesses in their cyber security vulnerabilities that affect their computer systems or networks and digital assets. Some penetration testing roles have specific functions in information security or internal cybersecurity. Other penetration testers work for specialised firms as consultants which hire penetration testers and penetration testing services.

Large organisations in regulated industries that process large volumes of personal, classified, sensitive, and proprietary information would tend to have several in house penetration testers. In contrast, others will often contract in pen testers.

Most employers focus on prospective penetration testers’ experience and extensive knowledge rather than the number of certifications on their CV. Some penetration testing job may prefer candidates with master’s degrees or even a bachelor’s degree in computer science, cyber security, IT, or any related specialisation.

However, to become a successful penetration tester here in Northern Ireland (and most countries), it is essential to have some ethical hacking or penetration testing certifications that fit the recruiter’s job descriptions….or you’ll not get past the first stage. We will talk about these later.

What is penetration testing?

If you want to know how to become a penetration tester, then it is a must to know its job descriptions and everyday tasks during the actual job.

Penetration testers, also known as Pen testers, ethical hackers, white hat hackers or Red Teamers, are typically hired by the owners of the network system and some web-based app providers. The job of the penetration tester is to probe the organisations’ security systems to detect security vulnerabilities or security flaws and thereby prevent malicious hackers from invading the organisation’s network devices, operating systems or other information technology systems. Penetration testers or the so-called “ethical hackers” help secure the intelligence and sensitive data of the business company.

Certified penetration testers will use their penetration testing skills to conduct security assessments on real and simulated environments developing proprietary attack programs, tools, and other security strategies to increase the clients’ systems, networks, and web-based applications.

The main aim of penetration testing is to test and investigate all possible means to penetrate the computer systems and networks of the business organisation. If, or more likely when, penetration testers have found a vulnerability, the pen testers then report security flaws detailing the gaps and remedies in the client’s network security systems.

What do penetration testers do?

The primary duties and responsibilities of a penetration tester, or pen tester for short, include seeking, identifying, and attempting to breach possible and existing vulnerabilities or weaknesses of computer operating system, system administration, network protocols. These networks and systems are the data storage system, websites, and other types of assets in information security.

A pen testing team, often known as a Red Team, simulates cybersecurity attacks and security breaches. The pen testers provide proper documentation about their actions in generating comprehensive reports, indicating how they bypass any established security protocols or security network administration. They also need to note to what degree they have penetrated the system of the organisation.

Penetration testing is essential for all business organisations since it helps the companies increase their security posture and prevent fallout on public relations, which has been well documented to reduce the consumer’s confidence in that business company. Aside from that, tester penetration teams also help every organisation and business enhance its digital security procedures with the established budgetary requirements.

Some job responsibilities that pen testers carry out regularly are –

  • Gather and analyse Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) to find information disclosures. 
  • Provide subject matter expertise focusing on offensive security testing operations and testing defensive mechanisms in an organisation.
  • Conduct assessments on various technologies and implementations utilising both automated tools and manual techniques.
  • Develop scripts, tools, and methodologies to enhance testing processes.
  • Conduct social engineering exercises and physical penetration tests. 
  • Test wired and wireless networks for vulnerabilities.
  • Examine assessment results to identify findings and develop a holistic analytic view of the system’s environment in which it operates.
  • Publish Assessment Reports that document findings, suggest security improvements and identify potential countermeasures.
  • Upon completion of a penetration test, present the methods employed, findings, and analytics to the Blue Team (Information security analysts and other security professionals)
  • Provide technical support to ISOs in remediating assessment findings.
  • Provide technical support in network exploitation and evasion techniques to assist in comprehensive incident handling and forensic analysis of compromised systems.

What technical skills are required?

To become a penetration tester, it is essential to understand the technical skills needed for this career path fully. To become a penetration tester, you are not only required to do a penetration tester job like pinpointing security vulnerabilities on computer networks. You are also expected to develop some penetration testing methods and tools for automated testing.

It would help if you had a comprehensive understanding of computer programming languages such as Python to develop proprietary attack programs.

With some of these penetration tester skills that you possess, you can write code, conduct audits, reverse engineer web applications security binaries, and even automate processes. For a better understanding of how to become a penetration tester, here are the lists of some technical skills which you should learn:

• Understand the leading Operating Systems (OS), including Mac, Linux, and Windows.

• Get at least a basic proficiency in scripting and programming languages such as Java, Python, PERL, PHP, C#, C++, and C.

• Develop your knowledge of general information technology, network servers, and networking software and tools.

• Learn more about reverse engineering, forensic tools, and vulnerability analysis involving complex analytical skills.

• Learn more about network standards and their security protocols.

• Learn about the proper procedures of web-based apps and mobile applications.

What soft skills are required?

Aside from the technical skills, it is also essential to learn some soft skills for non-technical jobs that may also be related to cyber security. While you will be expected to write documents and reports on the vulnerabilities or weaknesses of the network system, most employers will prefer applicants with strong oral and written communication skills, with the ability to present complex pen testing, information security and computer security terms to the client’s Information security analysts and cyber security analyst.

Employers will also look for excellent communication capabilities, creativity, resourcefulness, and a self-driven attitude.

You will also be expected to have exceptional problem solving skills and the ability to work unsupervised to become a pen tester. As most of the time, you will be given a task and a time frame to work with and expected to get on with it.

What qualifications are required?

Most of the roles recruiters post have minimum requirements and qualifications for penetration testers. These qualifications always depend on the level of position available in their company.

Some positions may still need to demonstrate relevant skills or appropriate cybersecurity experience and knowledge levels. From m reading the job postings here, most recruiters put a bachelor’s degree in an IT or a related field such as computer science as required; some even require a Masters degree in computer science.

Employers and recruiters generally look for professional certifications and experience over academic qualifications. The most commonly requested are:

Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) –

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Certified Expert Penetration Tester (CEPT)

However, the above courses are costly and have not been updated in several years at writing. Therefore below are some courses and certifications that we feel would be better suited for those pen testers, especially entry-level penetration testers looking to learn penetration testing.

eLearn Security Junior Penetration Tester (eJPT)

eLearnSecurity Certified Professional Penetration Tester (eCPPT)

Practical Network Penetration Tester Certification (PNPT)

Practical Ethical Hacker (PEH)

You don’t need to have them all, but at least one will stand you in good stead to be a certified penetration tester.

What Experience Does A Penetration Tester Need?

If you are looking to become a Penetration tester, then experience is probably the hardest thing to get. If you have experience and knowledge in coding, vulnerability assessment, security administration, network administrator, web application security social engineering tasks, and security testing are the ones needed by most business employers.

If you haven’t been able to work in another cyber security role, then there are a few ways to get experience without having paid work that can make your CV stand out against other candidates

Bug Bounties.

One way is to take part in bug bounty programs. These are programs where companies offer cash bonuses to independent pen testers, ethical hackers and security researchers who find and report flaws or bugs in their code. It’s an excellent way to test your skills and start networking with other security professionals. You can find a list of bounties on sites like Bugcrowd and HackerOne

Online Ethical Hacking Training Platforms

Several websites are designed to allow penetration testers to legally practice and experiment through fun, gamified ethical hacking experiences. Here are a few to get you started:

what is the average salary?

According to Prospects Website, and looking at specialized cybersecurity job boards, starting salaries for graduate or junior penetration testing jobs typically fall between £20,000 and £30,000. Experienced and qualified penetration testers can earn between £40,000 and £65,000, rising to £70,000 for senior and team leader roles. However, this figure can be significantly higher depending on the industry you work in.

As a Freelance licensed penetration tester, you can expect to earn in the region of £400 to £500 per day.

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors, including your skills, experience and qualifications, your location, the type of employer you work for (e.g. in-house or consultancy) and the sector you work in.

You’ll usually receive a range of employee benefits that may include bonuses, a company pension scheme, private medical insurance, gym membership and sponsored training and development opportunities.

The salaries of security penetration professionals are surprisingly higher than any other level positions in the business industry. The wages of these cybersecurity professionals are commensurate enough to the degree & certifications, experiences, and extensive knowledge they have of network security, information systems, and penetration tests.

steps on how to become a penetration tester

A quick recap of the above to make sure you want to become one of the penetration tester professionals or ethical hackers, making it possible requires comprehensive knowledge, skills, and patience. Remember that you do not need to earn a degree related to cybersecurity and information systems to get a job as a penetration tester. For you to achieve these career paths, you need to work on the following things:


In recent times, computer science degrees or even master degrees are generally the first requirements for hiring a penetration tester. That’s why taking a course suitable for the penetration tester job description is highly recommended if a degree is what you want to do. I.e. you are a school leaver.

career path

If you aim to become a penetration testing professional, you should also consider some career paths related to cybersecurity. You may start your career journey as a network administrator, system administrator, security administrator, or even web-based app programmer. You are keeping an eye on the security side of every discipline since these provide a good foundation and better experiences for penetration testing as you will have a great depth of knowledge of many systems from both sides.

professional certifications

Professional certifications related to penetration testing are another requirement for being professional pen-testers. Employers want to make sure that the business has robust security measures against possible cyberattacks of hackers and accountability to its clients. By having valid and professional certifications, companies can ensure that their vulnerabilities and weaknesses will be managed appropriately, giving them peace of mind about cybersecurity.

honing your skills

If you want to become an expert as a security administrator and penetration tester, it is highly advisable to hone your skills continuously. Never stop dreaming of learning more since this way of thinking helps you become better at probing the company’s vulnerabilities and providing better solutions to the business.

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