The most desired skills and qualifications for cyber security jobs, 2020

Cyber-attacks are becoming more and more prevalent, with some sectors being targeted more than others due to a lack of cyber security training. Thus, to neutralize risk and protect businesses from being compromised by cyber-attack threats, companies are beginning to see the importance of employing cyber security professionals to protect their assets, data, and key functions, and educate staff on the best ways to keep their information safe.

With job competition rife, those that best understand and develop the skills most sought after by recruiters in the cyber security field will excel. In a bid to support the UK’s cyber security hopefuls, Specops Software analysed 843 cyber security job listings on the recruitment website, indeed, to identify the skills needed for cyber security roles in the current job market, as well as which certifications and programming languages are most desirable, helping aspiring cyber security professionals land that all important job.

The most sought after cyber security skills in job adverts

With recent governmental reports exposing a significant cyber security skills gap, we sought to reveal the main skills needed for cyber security roles, by researching which skills appear most frequently when analysing more than 800 job listings.

The most sought after skill in cyber security is technical ability and mindset, which was found in 831 of the 843 job listings studied, meaning this skill is desired by 99% of those in the industry. Following behind in second is responsibility, with eight in 10 vacancies stating that they want candidates to be responsible and take ownership of their work and strive to meet both personal and company goals.

Strong written communication skills ranked as the third most sought after skill in cyber security, featuring in just over half of job listings. In fact, 427 of the 843 job advertisements analysed on Indeed stated that successful candidates should have good written communication skills.

Just like any job, candidates looking to start a career in the cyber security field are expected to be passionate about the industry and their role. This skill was listed in 314 job listings analysed, which equates to almost four in 10 roles, thus ranking as the fourth most sought after skill.

Almost a quarter of cyber security job advertisements specified “attention to detail” – 188 out of 843 jobs to be exact – thus ranking this skill as the fifth most sought after from employers. Following closely behind in sixth is being “proactive”, with a fifth of cyber security job advertisements wanting candidates to have this skill – 172 out of 843.

The seventh most sought after skill in cyber security is “penetration testing”, with 120 listings out of a possible 843 on Indeed stating this as a desirable skill for candidates looking to apply – 14% of all cyber security job advertisements analysed. Closely behind in eighth is being “self-driven”, with 12% of cyber security job listings looking for candidates with this skill – 104 out of 843 roles.

“Experience in coding” and “good organisation” ranked as the ninth most desired skills in the cyber security field, with 11% of the 843 job listings analysed featuring these in the job’s criteria. Following behind in tenth spot is “good oral communication”, with one in 10 job listings stating that this is an important skill for candidates to possess.

Rounding off the top 15 most sought after skills are being reliable, enthusiastic, forward thinking and showing a willingness to self-learn, with 9%, 8%, 7% and 4% of job advertisements listing these skills as important, respectively.

The most sought after coding languages for cyber security jobs

With a variety of different programming languages to learn, we sought to find out which coding languages are the best for cyber security roles by studying more than 800 cyber security jobs listed on Indeed.  

Our analysis can reveal that Python is the most sought after programming language when applying for cyber security jobs, appearing in 97 (12%) of the 843 job listings analysed. This could be due to the fact that anything can be written in Python – from web apps to data analysis – making it one of the most versatile coding languages today.

C++ was found to be the second most sought after programming language, since it appeared in 9% of listings studied – 79 out of 843 job listings. Meanwhile, C proved to be the third most desired programming language for cyber security roles, with C appearing in 53 (6%) of the 843 job listings studied. As one of the oldest coding languages around, it forms the foundations of many other languages, like C++, C#, and Python, so it should come as no surprise that this language is the third most sought after.

Placing as the fourth most desired programming language for cyber security roles is SQL (Structured Query Language), which was mentioned in 40 of the 843 job analysed – comprising 5% of all listings. As a database query language, it is useful to know if you are working with datasets or scraping data from large databases.

The fifth most sought after programming language for cyber security jobs is Perl, which was mentioned in 32 of the 843 job listings studied – 4% of roles studied.

Despite being one of the most popular programming languages, our analysis found that Java is the sixth most desired programming language, appearing in 29 of the 843 job listings on Indeed – 3% of all cyber security jobs studied. Listings containing the programming language Ruby also were found among 3% of listings analysed too.

Following closely behind Java and Ruby are JavaScript and PHP, with both programming languages featuring among 24 of the 843 cyber security job roles analysed.

The best cyber security certifications for cyber security jobs

One of the most significant requirements in the cyber security industry are the specific cyber security certifications companies seek. To determine which cyber security certifications are the best and most sought after in cyber security roles, we analysed more than 800 job ads on Indeed.

1.    System Security Professional (CISSP)

The most desired professional certification is the System Security Professional certification, also known as CISSP, which appeared in 279 of the 843 job advertisements analysed – one third of job listings. Roles specifying candidates to have this certification were also found to be the third best paid, on average, with an annual salary of £58,675.

2.    Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

The Certified Information Security Manager certification, known as CISM for short, is the second most desired professional certification, appearing in 174 of the 843 job listings analysed – just over one fifth of job listings (21%). Of all of the cyber security certifications studied, CISM had the second highest average salary per annum, at an impressive £59,689.

3.    Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

Found in 116 of the 843 job listings analysed, the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification is the third most desired professional qualification among cyber security roles, found in 14% of job advertisements. Roles that specify candidates to have a CISA accreditation boast an average yearly salary of £57,936.

4.    Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

The Certified Ethical Hacker qualification (CEH) is the fourth most desired among cyber security jobs, with the certification found in 41 of the 843 job listings analysed. According to our analysis, roles that require the CEH certification could expect to receive an annual salary of £46,500, on average.

5.    Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

Placing as the fifth most desired professional qualification among cyber security roles is the Certified Cloud Security Professional certification (CCSP), found in 30 of the 843 job ads analysed. Although the CCSP was only mentioned in 4% of job listings on Indeed, the roles requiring this certification had the highest average salary of all: £60,000.

6.    Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Security

The Cisco Network Associate Security certification is the sixth most desired among cyber security roles, with the CCNA qualification mentioned in 28 job listings analysed. The 3% of listings that required this certification had an average yearly salary of £31,738.

7.    CompTIA Security+

The seventh most sought after cyber security certification is the CompTIA Security+ qualification, which featured in 3% of job listings studied – 25 out of 843. The average salary for roles requiring this certification were found to be £34,253 per annum.

8.    Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

The Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator certification featured in just five of the 843 jobs analysed on Indeed, making the CHFI certification the eighth most desired certification in the cyber security field. On average, the 1% of roles that mentioned this certification had an average annual salary of £45,000.


  1. Initially, Specops Software found a list of the most important certifications within cybersecurity to determine which certifications to study in the research.
  2. Then, Specops used to find the total number of cybersecurity jobs, which is referred to throughout the study.
  3. Next, they entered cybersecurity followed by the certification to find the job vacancies by certification.
  4. Then, Specops used PayScale to find the average salary for cyber security and the value of each certification.
  5. A list of skills demanded for cyber security jobs was found by looking through a variety of job postings in addition to a list sourced.
  6. Specops then used to find most in demand programming languages for cyber security postings.
  7. All data gathered was correct at the time of analysis (13/10/2020). However, since Indeed is a live job search engine where job listings are constantly edited, updated and removed, these are subject to change which is out of the control of this study.

(Last updated on October 30, 2023)

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