CISM vs CISSP: Which is the Best Certification for You?


The IT industry is constantly evolving and becoming more complex. As a result, certifications have taken on greater significance for IT professionals looking to advance their careers. Two of the most sought-after certifications for information security professionals are the CISM and CISSP.

The CISM is focused on managing, developing, and overseeing information security systems within an organization. It covers risk management, incident response, and governance issues. Professionals look to notch up this certification to round out their skills and stand out when angling for leadership roles in cybersecurity.  

The CISSP covers a broader set of topics across cyber defense. It delves into network security, access control, cryptography, operations security, and more technical aspects. IT professionals get certified to expand their core competencies in protecting infrastructure and data. The CISSP carries weight across industries and is seen as a must-have for advancing in the field.

Both CISM and CISSP certifications require passing a rigorous exam covering all aspects of the body of knowledge. Professionals usually need several years of experience before qualifying to sit for the exams. However, obtaining either credential pays off in terms of job prospects and higher salaries down the line. The CISM and CISSP both have become well-recognized and valued certifications in the industry.

Figuring out which one suits your career aspirations best can feel overwhelming. That’s where this blog post comes in. In this CISM Vs CISSP comparison blog, we will break down the value of obtaining these credentials, why they stand out, look at CISM Vs CISSP salary, CISM Vs CISSP difficulty level, and CISM Vs CISSP jobs.

What is CISM Certification?

In this section, we’ll dig into the nitty-gritty of what’s involved in obtaining the CISM credential, the kinds of jobs it qualifies you for, and how it can give your salary a boost. We’ll lay out the definition and importance of CISM, run through the process of getting certified step-by-step, and give an overview of typical job roles and salaries for CISM holders. This should set you up and provide a solid foundation before we dive in and delve deeper into the ins and outs of CISM certification.

Definition and importance of CISM

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CISM (Certified Information Security Manager) certification, administered by ISACA, is a globally recognized certification for information security managers. It demonstrates expertise in information security governance, program development and management, and incident management.

With CISM skills under your belt, you’ll be able to dig into risks, put effective governance measures in place, and get ahead of incidents before they strike.

The impact on your career? Major. 70% of CISM holders report tangible on-the-job improvements. And 42% have cashed in with a pay bump after adding the certification to their resume.

The focus of CISM certification

The focus of CISM certification is on the management side of information security. It shows that holders have deep knowledge of infosec management best practices and are equipped to take on senior security leadership roles in organizations.

Process of obtaining a CISM certification

Here is the process of obtaining a CISM certification:

Step 1: Ace the Exam

You’ll need to pass the CISM exam within the last five years. Plus, rack up at least five years of relevant work experience across three of the certification’s four domains.

Step 2: Fill in the Application

Download and complete the application form within five years of passing the exam. Then, have your manager or supervisor sign off on your experience by endorsing the verification form that comes with the application.

Step 3: Submit Your Application

Before submitting your finished application through your MYISACA account, you’ll have to pony up the one-time $50 processing fee. Pay up, then log in and send in your completed application materials.  

Job roles and opportunities with a CISM certification

There are several common positions that CISM holders can look into based on their background, abilities, schooling, and qualifications.

Some of the typical roles in the arena of Information Security Management(CISM are:

  • Security Administrator: Oversees and carries out security policies to safeguard systems and data.
  • Security Analyst: Assesses vulnerabilities and risks to develop solutions for protecting sensitive information.
  • Security Engineer: Designs and builds secure networks, systems, and applications.
  • Security Architect: Lays out and integrates security controls across an organization’s systems and infrastructure.
  • Security Software Developer: Writes code for tools and applications that boost security and block threats.
  • Cryptographer: Develops schemes and protocols to encrypt sensitive data and messages.
  • Cryptanalyst: Works to decipher encrypted information and break codes.
  • Security Consultant: Advises organizations on best practices for shoring up vulnerabilities and responding to incidents.

The CISM opens up possibilities for specializing in numerous facets of information security management. By pairing certification with experience, CISM holders can break into and move up in the field.

Average salaries for CISM professionals

CISM professionals really take home the bacon with their paychecks. On average, they rack up about $123,582 annually in the United States. When you factor in bonuses and other compensation, the total pay package comes out to around $151,557 per year.

So, these information security managers are definitely bringing home big bucks and living large with the lucrative salaries they command. Their specialized skills and in-demand expertise allow them to cash in and make bank in the cybersecurity field.

If you’re looking to get paid and maximize your earning potential, getting CISM certified seems to be a surefire way to fatten your wallet. The high pay really seals the deal for pursuing this career path.

What is CISSP Certification?

Below, we’ll explore the definition and importance of the CISSP, the focus of the certification, the process of obtaining it, the types of job roles and opportunities it opens up, and the earning potential for CISSP certified professionals. The CISSP can really take a cyber career to the next level, so let’s delve further into what this prestigious certification entails.

Definition and importance of CISSP

CISSP stands for Certified Information Systems Security Professional. This credential, offered by ISC2, demonstrates proficiency in subject areas like security architecture, operations, software development security, and business continuity planning. It is one of the most well-known and respected certifications in the field of cybersecurity. 

What sets the CISSP apart is its focus on the big picture: looking at cybersecurity from a broad, organizational, and managerial perspective. It goes beyond just technical knowledge to cover governance, risk, compliance, and management of security.

The focus of CISSP certification

The CISSP certification zeros in on information security governance and management. It digs into the various domains that make up a robust information security program in an organization. 

The certification squares away the critical skills and know-how required for senior security roles. It qualifies professionals to take on leadership positions and spearhead security initiatives in an organization. 

Process of obtaining a CISSP certification

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Obtaining the CISSP certification requires jumping through a few hoops. Candidates must prove they have at least 5 years of experience working in at least 2 of the 10 security domains covered in the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge.

You can get a one-year waiver of the experience requirement if you hold a four-year college degree, an advanced information security degree from a U.S. National Center of Academic Excellence, or certain approved credentials like the MCSE, Security+, or CISA.

Note that you can only claim one of these waivers: having multiple qualifying credentials still only gets you a one-year experience reduction.

Once you meet the experience requirements, you’ll need to sit for and pass the CISSP exam with a score of 700 or higher. After passing, reach out to an active CISSP holder to endorse your work experience. Submit the endorsement, and once approved, congratulations: you’ve obtained your CISSP!

Once certified, you’ll need to keep up with continuing education credits to maintain it. Within each 3-year interval, you’ll need 120 CPEs, with at least 80 relating directly to information security. The remaining 40 can cover more general professional development.

Once certified, (ISC)2 will give you all the details on CPE requirements.

Job roles and opportunities with a CISSP certification

The CISSP opens up doors across a wide range of cybersecurity and information security positions. It’s a go-to certification for security consultants, specialists, managers, engineers, analysts, architects, and chief information security officers.

Folks who obtain their CISSP often move into roles like:

  • Chief Information Security Officer: The top security position at many organizations. Responsible for overseeing and implementing an organization’s overall security strategy.
  • Security Systems Administrator: Manages, troubleshoots, and upgrades an organization’s security tools and systems on a day-to-day basis.  
  • Information Assurance Analyst: Assesses and reports on an organization’s security posture, risks, and compliance issues. Identifies weak spots for improvement.
  • IT Security Engineer: Designs and builds secure networks, systems, and application architectures for organizations.
  • Senior IT Security Consultant: Provides expert guidance to clients on optimizing their security programs. Conducts risk assessments and recommends security solutions.
  • Senior Information Security Assurance Consultant: Works with clients to ensure their security controls and solutions are functioning as intended. Validates security through audits and testing.
  • Information Security Assurance Analyst: Tests and monitors security tools and controls. Looks for weak points and recommends fixes.
  • Chief Information Security Consultant: Leads a team of consultants providing security services and advice to clients.
  • Principal Cybersecurity Manager: Leads all cybersecurity strategy and operations for an organization.
  • Senior IT Security Operations Specialist: Oversees security monitoring and response. Manages a team handling security events and incidents.
  • Senior Information Security Risk Officer: Identifies, assesses, and reports on information security risks to the business. Recommends risk management strategies.

Key Differences: CISM vs CISSP

Both the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certifications are well-regarded, but they have some key differences that set them apart.

Below, we have broken down the main distinctions between CISM and CISSP to help decide which credential may be better suited to your career aspirations and skillset. We will touch on the skillsets targeted by each certification, which industries tend to prefer one over the other, how the CISM Vs CISSP difficulty levels stack up, and how the exam structures and requirements compare. Read on for an in-depth rundown comparing and contrasting CISM and CISSP.

Main differences between the two certifications

  • CISM is tailored for information security managers and focuses on security strategy and governance, while CISSP covers a broader set of topics around security principles and practices for IT professionals.
  • CISM has a narrower, management-centric scope, whereas CISSP covers a wider range of technical and managerial security topics.

Skill sets targeted by each certification

CISM focuses on skills needed to design, build, and manage enterprise information security programs. It covers risk management, program development and management, information security governance, and incident management.

On the other hand, CISSP focuses on a wide spectrum of security skills and knowledge covering security engineering, asset security, security architecture, communication and network security, identity and access management, security assessment, etc.

Which industries prefer which certification

CISM is geared more towards information security managers and professionals in that role. It is well-recognized in industries like finance, healthcare, government, etc.

On the other hand, CISSP has broad appeal across industries like technology, telecom, information security, and cybersecurity, and for roles like security engineer, analyst, manager, etc.

Comparing the difficulty levels of each certification

CISM is considered moderately difficult as it focuses in-depth on a specific domain, i.e., security strategy and management.

On the other hand, CISSP is considered to be more difficult than CISM owing to its much wider scope covering technical and operational security concepts.

Comparing the exam structures and requirements

The CISM exam is made up entirely of multiple-choice questions and requires 5 years of information security work experience. Examinees have to work through 150 questions, each with four possible answers, within a four-hour time limit. Scores are tallied on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 points. To pass, examinees need to rack up at least 450 out of the 800 possible points.

The CISSP exam covers the eight domains of security across a four-hour test containing 125 to 175 items that require responses. The items show up as multiple choice questions as well as more advanced innovative question types. Test-takers have to score 700 out of 1,000 points to pass. Candidates sign up to take the exam through Pearson VUE. CISSP requires 5 years of cumulative paid work experience in 2 or more of the CISSP domains

The CISSP test incorporates more advanced question types beyond multiple choice, while the CISM is entirely multiple choice. The CISSP also covers a broader range of security topics across its eight domains. Both tests are time-limited at four hours, but the CISSP has a variable number of questions versus the fixed 150 questions on the CISM. The CISSP also has a higher passing score requirement of 700/1000 points compared to 450/800 for the CISM.

Which Certification is Right for You?

When picking between the CISM and CISSP certifications, it’s important to weigh up your options and think through which one will set you up for success down the road. We’ve laid out some key points below to help you make up your mind and figure out which certification lines up with your career goals, plays to your strengths, and is the best fit based on your specific circumstances. 

Keep reading to hash out where you want to end up, play up your talents and interests, and zero in on the right choice. With the information below, you’ll be well-equipped to opt for the certification that will pay off for you and your aspirations in the long run.

Factors to consider when choosing between CISM and CISSP

Here are some factors to consider when choosing between CISM and CISSP:

  • Play to your strengths. The CISM focuses more on the policies and procedures side of infosec. If you excel at establishing governance and managing risk, it could be a great choice. The CISSP covers a wider technical scope, so it suits those with broad security knowledge.
  • Weigh the exam formats. The CISSP requires more technical expertise across 8 domains, while the CISM targets 4. Consider which test style suits your strengths better.
  • Think about your current role. If you’re in management, the CISM may help validate and advance those capabilities. For hands-on technical roles, the CISSP can be a better resume booster.
  • Evaluate experience requirements. CISSP needs 5 years in 2 of 8 domains. CISM only requires 5 years total in any infosec job. The CISSP requirements may take longer to meet.
  • Consider your willingness to re-certify. The CISSP requires 120 CPEs every 3 years to renew. The CISM is less intense at 20 CPEs per year. If you don’t want heavy re-certification burdens, CISM may be more appealing.

In the end, think critically about what matches your goals and situation. Talk to mentors, evaluate all factors, and choose the certification that fits your aspirations. With some reflection, you can determine if CISM or CISSP is the right path.

Career goals and aspirations

  • Think about where you want to go in your career. The CISM is more focused on information security management roles, while the CISSP covers a broader range of cybersecurity knowledge. If you aspire to move into a management position, CISM may suit you better. But if you want to remain more technical, CISSP could be preferable.
  • Consider which certification aligns better with your long-term career vision. Map out what roles you’d like to work toward and see which credential fits into that pathway. This will help guide you.

Personal interests and strengths

  • What topics and areas within cybersecurity fascinate you? Go with the certification that allows you to play to your strengths and passion. If you love diving into technical details, CISSP may be up your alley. But if you prefer bigger-picture thinking and leadership skills, CISM is likely a better match.
  • Evaluate what you enjoy about your current role and what comes naturally to you. Lean into those tendencies and choose the certification that caters to them. It will feel more rewarding.

Recommendations based on individual circumstances

  • Talk to mentors and advisors in your network. They may provide perspective on which certification suits your particular background and experience level. Their insight and guidance can prove invaluable.
  • Consider your current job role and responsibilities. Opt for the certification most relevant to your day-to-day work. This will maximize opportunities for immediate application and impact.
  • Weigh practical factors like costs/benefits, exam requirements, and maintenance. This may also help tip the scales one way or the other.

Preparing for CISM and CISSP Certification Exams

Let’s now delve into some tips and resources to prepare for CISM and CISSP certifications and successfully pass these exams.

Helpful resources for studying for these certifications

Here are some tips for preparing for the CISM and CISSP certification exams:

  • Take advantage of free or low-cost online resources. There are many great websites, YouTube channels, practice exam sites, and online study groups that can supplement your studying. Leverage these to get different explanations and perspectives.
  • Use official study guides and books from the certification providers. These will give you the full rundown on all the exam topics you need to dig into. Pair these with practice tests to pinpoint knowledge gaps.
  • Find study groups, either locally or online. Running through practice questions and discussions with others can help the material click. Lean on each other’s strengths to fill in knowledge gaps.

Test-taking strategies for each exam

  • Read through the exam content outlines and blueprints. Make sure you’re familiar with all the topics that could come up.
  • Get your hands on study materials- textbooks, online courses, practice tests. Go through the content methodically and take notes on areas you need to brush up on. Stick to reputable sources like the ISACA and ISC2 official review manuals.
  • As you study, focus on truly understanding concepts rather than just memorizing terms. Think through real-world examples and scenarios to reinforce learning.
  • Take practice exams under timed conditions to simulate the real test environment. Review your mistakes and identify weak spots to improve.
  • Make use of flashcards, mnemonics, and other memory aids to help recall key facts, processes, and definitions.
  • Read each exam question carefully and eliminate the wrong answers first. Watch out for subtle distinctions in wording that can change the meaning.

Training courses and bootcamps

Supplement studying with in-person or online training courses and boot camps. These can help instill knowledge through instruction and hands-on activities. Just make sure they align with the exam content.

CCS Learning Academy’s online CISSP training course thoroughly covers all the domains you need to know backward and forward. And their instructors really dig deep into the content to break complex topics down into understandable chunks. The practice exams also help you zero in on areas you still need to brush up on before test day comes around.

CISM certification from ISACA is another great credential to have under your belt if you’re looking to move up into management roles in cybersecurity. CCS Learning Academy can get you prepped for the CISM exam too. The online course lays everything out step-by-step so you can feel confident and avoid any curveballs on exam day.

If you’re just getting started out in cybersecurity, one of the intensive cybersecurity bootcamps could be a good way to dive in head first and skill up quickly. The top programs fully immerse you for several months and cover all the bases, from networking fundamentals to ethical hacking and risk management. Just be prepared to put your head down and grind for a bit if you want to make it through! But it’s a great jumpstart if you’re switching career fields.


Choosing between CISM and CISSP comes down to your specific career aspirations and skillset. If management is your goal, CISM is tailored to that. But if you want the most versatile security credential recognized globally, CISSP has the edge. It’s also wise to research the job market and see which cert is more sought-after by employers in your location.

The key is finding the certification that aligns with your long-term professional objectives. While CISSP and CISM have similarities, their differences are distinct enough to suit separate niches. Evaluate what matters most for your career and let that guide your decision when preparing to take the CISM or CISSP exam. The investment will pay dividends by validating your expertise in either the managerial or technical realms of information security.


Q1: What is CISM, and what does it stand for?

CISM stands for Certified Information Security Manager. It is a globally recognized certification offered by ISACA, focusing on managing and governing an organization’s information security.

Q2: What is CISSP, and what does it stand for?

CISSP stands for Certified Information Systems Security Professional. It is a renowned certification offered by ISC2, concentrating on various aspects of information security.

Q3: What is the main difference between CISM and CISSP certifications?

The primary difference lies in their focus areas. CISM emphasizes information security management and governance, while CISSP covers a broader range of topics, including security engineering, risk management, and more.

Q4: Which certification is more suitable for someone interested in managerial roles in cybersecurity?

CISM is the ideal choice for individuals aspiring to take on managerial roles as it specifically addresses information security management and governance.

Q5: What are the prerequisites for the CISM certification?

To pursue the CISM certification, you should have at least five years of work experience in information security management, with at least three years in three or more of the CISM domains.

Q6: What are the prerequisites for the CISSP certification?

CISSP candidates should have at least five years of cumulative, paid, full-time work experience in at least two of the eight CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) domains.

Q7: Which certification is more technical in nature, CISM or CISSP?

CISSP is more technical as it covers various technical domains such as security engineering, cryptography, and network security. CISM focuses on management and governance.

Q8: Can I hold both CISM and CISSP certifications simultaneously?

Yes, it’s possible to hold both certifications if you meet the respective requirements and believe that the knowledge and skills from both certifications will benefit your career.

Q9: Which certification has broader international recognition, CISM or CISSP?

Both CISM and CISSP enjoy global recognition. However, CISSP is known for its wider acceptance, especially in technical and cybersecurity roles.

Q10: Do these certifications require renewal, and how often?

Yes, both certifications require renewal. CISM holders need to earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits every three years, while CISSP holders must complete CPE activities annually to maintain their certification.

Q11: Which certification offers better career prospects and earning potential?

Both certifications can significantly enhance your career prospects and earning potential. However, CISSP is often associated with higher earning potential due to its technical depth and broader application.