Penetration Tester Career Guide: All You Need To Know

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Written By Charlotte Miller

As more and more businesses go online, cyberattacks are becoming a common occurrence. From large-scale data breaches to targeted attacks, no company is immune to the risks posed by cybercriminals. As a result, companies are turning to penetration testers to protect their business from these attacks.

A penetration tester is a professional security specialist who looks for vulnerabilities in a system’s safety. They also test its overall strength. Simply put, they are the good guys that break into systems to ensure the bad guys don’t.

When you want to pursue a career in penetration testing, there are a few things to consider. This guide will provide an overview of what you must know to start a career in penetration testing.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing evaluates the security of a computer system or network by simulating an attack from a malicious actor. It allows security teams to identify and remediate any vulnerabilities an attacker could exploit. It involves using automated tools and manual techniques, such as social engineering, to identify potential weaknesses in the system.

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How to become a penetration tester?

To start your career in the field, you must have an in-depth knowledge of computer systems and their security components. As a penetration tester, you must also know how to use penetration testing tools. An understanding of techniques and processes is also crucial.


A bachelor’s degree in information technology or computer science is among the most common penetration tester requirements. This degree helps you gain knowledge and skills in computer science, network security, and programming languages.


Additionally, you can obtain some certifications to increase your credibility in the security industry. These also increase your earning potential. Some of the certifications you can consider are:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
  • Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)


Hands-on experience is a must if you want to become a successful penetration tester. You can do this by working as an intern at a cybersecurity firm, participating in online security forums, or taking up freelance projects.

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What skills should a penetration tester have?

A penetration tester must possess several soft and technical skills to make a name in the field. These skills include a strong understanding of the following:


It is essential to be knowledgeable about computer networks and their components. It includes understanding network protocols, firewalls, and routing. 

Plus, these skills will help you identify potential targets and attack vectors.


Knowing at least one programming language is essential for penetration testers. It helps you better understand how software systems work and allows you to write custom scripts. Among the most commonly used programming languages are Python and Java. Golang and Bash are also helpful.

Tools and techniques

Penetration testers must know the tools and techniques used in their work. It includes knowing how to use and configure vulnerability scanners, network sniffers, and other security tools. Knowing the techniques used for attacking systems is also essential. These techniques include buffer overflows, SQL injection, and social engineering.


Cryptography helps you understand how data is encrypted and decrypted. It also allows you to detect weaknesses in the encryption algorithms so they can be patched. Some prevalent weaknesses include weak keys, insecure ciphers, and plain-text attacks.

Knowledge of exploits

Do you know the latest zero-day exploits? How about the popular software exploitation tools? These tools help you identify vulnerabilities and gain access to the target systems. Some frequently used exploitation tools are Metasploit, Wireshark, and Network Mapper.

Operating systems

Understanding operating systems and their internals is essential for any penetration tester. 

Moreover, knowing each OS’s architecture, design, security policies, and other details will help you better identify the loopholes. The operating systems you should be familiar with include Linux, Windows, and macOS.

Soft skills

There are also specific soft skills that are essential for any penetration tester. These include communication and problem-solving abilities. Good problem-solving skills will help you identify the best approach to vulnerability assessment and exploitation. Communication skills will help you communicate your findings effectively to other stakeholders. High creativity and resourcefulness are also important skills.

How to hone your skills as a penetration tester?

To become a successful penetration tester, you must continuously hone and develop your skills. Participating in Capture-the-Flag (CTF) competitions is a practical way to do this. Such competitions will help you to test and improve your skills. Additionally, reading security blogs and articles can help you stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry. Participating in online forums is also a great way to learn from experts.

Roles of a penetration tester

The roles of penetration testers depend on the organization they work for. Primarily, the job description includes the following:

  • Performing vulnerability assessments to identify security issues
  • Exploit weaknesses in systems and networks through manual testing
  • Documenting and reporting the findings
  • Developing security policies, procedures, and best practices
  • Recommending corrective measures to improve the security of systems and networks
  • Providing training to staff on security awareness
  • Staying up-to-date with the latest threats and vulnerabilities

How much does a penetration tester make?

According to PayScale, the pay for a penetration tester is between $58,000 and $132,000 per year. The average salary is about $88,545. There are also bonuses, company benefits, and other incentives that can be negotiated. These make up to $17,000 annually.


A career as a penetration tester is an exciting and rewarding one. It combines the best of both worlds – technology and problem-solving – to keep information and systems secure. To become a successful penetration tester, you must possess technical knowledge in multiple areas, such as operating systems, networking, and cryptography. You must also have excellent soft skills such as communication and problem-solving. With the right skills, you can make a rewarding career out of penetration testing.