How to Become a Data Protection Officer

The role of a Data Protection Officer (DPO) is a fairly new one in many companies. What’s more, the need to hire a DPO often comes as a response to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which were implemented back in 2018.
As such, the responsibilities, reporting and structure of the role are primarily defined by GDPR guidelines.

But though it might be a fairly new role, it can be a very exciting and rewarding one. So if you’re considering a career as a data protection officer, this guide is for you. Below, we’ll take a look at what the role entails and what you need to do to get a job as a DPO.

What is a Data Protection Officer and What Do They Do?

In a nutshell, a data protection officer is a steward for data protection and privacy within a business. They must implement effective data protection strategies and facilitate a culture of data protection throughout the company. This is to ensure companywide compliance with GDPR. The appointment of a DPO is mandatory in some businesses, particularly those in the public sector or those that process a large amount of personal data. That being said, some businesses choose to appoint a DPO even though they are not legally required to as it pays to have someone in charge of compliance and data privacy.

In the general data protection regulations, it is stated that the DPO should report directly to the highest management level. As a DPO, some of the key responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring that a business applies the laws of data protection appropriately and effectively, as
    well as following these regulations and legislations.
  • Educating and training management and all other employees about GDPR and other data protection statutes as well as about compliance and demonstrating effective measures and strategies for data handling and processing.
  • Conducting regular security audits.
  • Acting as the point of contact between the company and any supervisory authorities (SAs). For example, if there is a data breach, it is the job of the DPO to report this to the relevant authorities.

With this in mind, here’s how you can tailor your career path to lead to the role of a data protection officer.

Becoming a Data Protection Officer

In order to become a DPO, you’ll need certain skills, qualifications and experience. In general, there are five steps you can take to put you on the right career path towards becoming a data protection officer. These are:

1. Get Educated

Often, a degree is the most direct route to becoming a data protection officer. Certainly, some sort of background and education in the area of IT and cybersecurity is important. Depending on what stage you’re at in your education and/or career, consider a degree in information security, computer science or a similar field.

Alternatively, a degree or work experience in a related field such as privacy, compliance, information security or auditing could also get you considered for the job. Education doesn’t just have to take place in the classroom. To help you get ahead of the game, keep doing research on the industry and reading up on relevant topics, such as GDPR. It is also recommended that you read The Data Protection Officer: Profession, Rules And Role, by Paul Lambert, in your spare time.

2. Gain the Right Qualifications

And it’s not just degrees that help you on the way to becoming a DPO; there are also other qualifications that can help you, as well. Though there is not one formal qualification you must have to take on this role, you might wish to study and achieve one or more of the following certifications and/or credentials:

• Certified Data Protection Officer (C-DPO) Training Course
• ISO/IEC 27001 Requirement training course
• Certified Information Privacy Professional Europe (CIPP/E) training course
• Certified Information Privacy Technologist (CIPT) training course
• Incident Response for Managers training course
• EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Foundation training course

Often, these courses can be undertaken online, so you can learn at your own pace and from the comfort of your home. But, again, there is no one formal qualification you need, so boosting your knowledge and getting as qualified as possible could increase your chances of getting the job.

3. Boost your Skillset

Another important way to help you along on your career journey is to always work on your skills and boost your skillset. Some important skills you need to be a DPO include management skills, strong communication, technical skills, adaptability and, of course, expert knowledge of data protection law and practices.

As such, you should consider taking on work or courses that help you to develop these important skills. This way, when you apply for your first DPO role, you can better demonstrate why you’re qualified and why you’d be a great fit.

4. Get Some Experience

As this is an important role within a business, it often requires a certain amount of experience. If you don’t have experience in the industry, this can make it much harder to land a role as a DPO. As such, it’s a good idea to get some experience in a related position. You can do this through full or part-time work, work placements or even a relevant apprenticeship.

As a candidate applying for a DPO role, you need to be able to demonstrate that you’ve been in a related position, or at least in a security-based role. Some examples could be finance, business administration or information technology. So, aim to gain some experience in one or more of these areas.

5. Get Promoted

Finally, if you’re already established in your cybersecurity career and just hoping to take the next step, asking for a promotion to your company’s DPO position could be the key. (Note: this final step will depend on the career path you choose and whether you’re already in a closely related role.) Perhaps this role already exists in your company and perhaps it doesn’t, but if you’re already working in a position closely related to this (maybe on the security or tech team), why not approach your boss to see if the position is available, or if you could create it?


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