How to Become a Penetration Tester

by Anwesha Sarkar

With data breaches constantly in the news, skills to proactively probe networks and systems for vulnerabilities are in high demand. If you’re intrigued by hacking and have an analytical mindset, consider pursuing a career as a penetration tester.

Category Details
Education Bachelor’s degree in computer science, cybersecurity or related field. Certifications like CEH, OSCP, GWAPT.
Salary $99,220 average annual salary in the US (according to Bureau of Labor Statistics). Can earn $120,000+ with experience.
Work Environment Office and field work. Conduct security tests on systems onsite or remotely. Travel to client locations.
Main Role Conduct penetration tests, vulnerability scans and security assessments. Identify weaknesses in systems. Provide recommendations to improve security.


Here’s a guide to what pen testers do, the required skills, the steps to get started, and tips for landing your first role.

What Does a Penetration Tester Do?

Penetration testers, also known as ethical hackers, simulate cyber attacks to uncover security weaknesses in networks, applications, systems, and physical facilities. Their key duties include:

  • Performing authorized penetration tests using tools, techniques, and social engineering to gain access, just as real attackers would. This involves thoroughly probing defenses to identify every possible entry point.
  • Finding vulnerabilities like unpatched systems, default passwords, unencrypted data, and misconfigurations that could be exploited by hackers.
  • Assessing the potential business impact and risk levels of discovered vulnerabilities based on factors like data sensitivity, affected users, compliance implications, etc.
  • Documenting extremely detailed findings from engagements, including step-by-step proofs of concept for critical risks. Clear remediation guidance is provided.
  • Staying constantly up-to-date on the latest attack techniques used by criminal hackers in order to replicate them during tests.
  • Developing custom hacking tools and scripts as needed to bypass unique defenses. Programming skills are highly useful.
  • Clearly explaining technical risks and solutions in written reports, presentations, and discussions with clients of varied backgrounds.

In short, penetration testers hack legally and ethically to harden defenses before malicious actors strike. It’s an exciting career on the front lines of Careers In cybersecurity.

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What is the Work Environment Like?

Most penetration testers work full-time in office settings, although significant travel is often required for on-site testing at client facilities. You’ll collaborate closely with red teams (offensive security) and blue teams (defensive security).

Trustworthiness is mandatory when handling sensitive client data. But the thrill of legally hacking systems and succeeding against simulated defenses makes the role uniquely rewarding.

Pen-testers literally get paid to hack! Sounds Good Right? 😎
Now let’s check what are the technical skills needed To Become a Pen Tester.

What Technical Skills Are Needed?

To excel as a penetration tester, core competencies include:

  • Networking – Have an intricate understanding of protocols, infrastructure, services, and vulnerabilities to slip through defenses undetected.
  • Operating systems – Be intimately familiar with Windows, Linux, and other common OSs down to the kernel level.
  • Programming – Languages like Python and PowerShell allow the creation of custom hacking tools and scripts.
  • Patience – Be willing to meticulously attempt numerous angles of attack to find openings. Persistence pays off.
  • Creativity – Devise innovative ways to break in using social engineering and other techniques. Think outside the box.
  • Communication – Clearly convey technical risks and solutions to clients of all backgrounds through writing, presenting, and discussion.

Steps to Starting a Penetration Testing Career

To break into a pen testing career, the usual steps are:

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or IT. Programming, OS, and networks courses build foundations.
  2. Obtaining respected certifications like the CEH or OSCP to validate core ethical hacking knowledge.
  3. Gaining experience through cybersecurity internships or IT/systems administration roles. This allows for honing technical skills.
  4. Learning penetration testing techniques through books, online platforms like Hack The Box, and legal self-practice. Build your library of methods.
  5. Landing an entry-level role as a security analyst or junior pen tester. Get mentored by experienced professionals.
  6. After 2-4 years of experience, demonstrate hacking skills to advance to a full penetration tester position managing engagements.

What Should You Highlight in Job Interviews?

To impress as a pen-testing candidate, be ready to:

  • Discuss the latest attack techniques and tools you see hackers using in the wild, like DDoS, ransomware, supply chain attacks, and password spraying.
  • Explain the penetration testing methodology from recon to scanning, exploitation, maintaining access, and reporting.
  • Share exciting legal hacking challenges you’ve completed, such as CTFs, detailing the creative approach you took.
  • Ask thoughtful questions that show enthusiasm for authorized testing and securing organizations.
  • Articulate your commitment to conducting tests ethically and responsibly for clients’ benefit. Establish trust.
  • Solve technical problems out loud to demonstrate your analytical reasoning abilities.
  • Exhibit passion for hacking alongside stellar communication skills. Convey you can engage with both technical and non-technical audiences.

What Should Your Resume Include?

To construct an effective penetration testing resume, be sure to:

  • List respected certifications like CEH and OSCP up top. These credentials grab attention.
  • Feature your expertise with essential tools – Metasploit, Burp Suite, Nmap, Kali Linux, etc. Name-drop key technologies.
  • Highlight specific penetration testing achievements, compliance assessments completed, and vulnerabilities discovered through legal hacking. Use metrics.
  • Detail offensive security projects conducted legally, like CTFs, hackathons, and self-challenges.
  • Incorporate key skill keywords – OS internals, network protocols, programming languages, social engineering techniques, tools, and more.
  • Use consistent formatting, clean sections, easy-to-scan bullets, and powerful action verbs. Quantify achievements.

Best Pen Testing Tools

Try To get Hands-on experience on the following Tools.

  1. Kali Linux
  2. nmap
  3. Metasploit
  4. Wireshark
  5. John the Ripper
  6. Hashcat
  7. Hydra
  8. Burp Suite
  9. Zed Attack Proxy
  10. sqlmap
  11. aircrack-ng


With cyber threats growing, skills to proactively probe defenses for weaknesses are indispensable. If you enjoy hacking legally and ethically to help organizations reinforce their security posture, an exciting career awaits as a penetration tester. Gain technical expertise, communication abilities, and some key certs to get started securing our digital landscape.

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