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Once you’ve made it past the initial screening process and secured that all-important interview, it’s time to seal the deal. These 10 tips will put you on the right track.
18 Sep 2023
6 min. read
The cybersecurity industry has a shortfall of 3.4 million professionals worldwide. But that doesn’t mean that employers have lowered their standards. While there are plenty of opportunities for ambitious job seekers, it pays to be prepared.
We’ve previously put together five reasons to consider a career in cybersecurity, looked at how to get started in security, as well as answered questions about what working as a security researcher is like. This time, we’ll share 10 general ways for cybersecurity jobseekers to impress at their interview.
What to expect
Nailing the interview will likely require a combination of technical knowledge, problem-solving skills, and the ability to effectively communicate your expertise. So, once you’ve made it past the initial screening process and secured that all-important interview, it’s time to seal the deal.
The first thing to remember is that, depending on the role, there are likely to be multiple interview rounds. These may start with an HR representative, and proceed to the hiring manager and your prospective boss. There may also be an interview with prospective colleagues, and somewhere along the journey some kind of practical assignment will likely be set.
Remember also that since cybersecurity is a multidisciplinary field, interviewers may assess a range of skills and knowledge areas. You may want to tailor your preparation to the specific role you’re applying for, whether it’s a security analyst, penetration tester, or security engineer.
Indeed, preparation is everything. The HR interview will often focus broadly on job requirements and mindset, while the hiring manager will want to get into specifics about your technical abilities and how you’ll fit into the team. Peer interviews are a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the role and the organization, and to ask pointed questions to find out more about the culture. An interview with someone senior in the company, possibly even a C-level executive, will come last, and is the time to prove you’re the right cultural fit and that you’re hungry for the role.
10 top tips for interview success
) Do your research
This might sound obvious, but the first step is to understand the company you’re applying to join. Check out their social media pages and website, and look for information on the organization’s culture, values and mission, as well as its core product offerings and any industry awards or recognition. Get into the details here: it could make all the difference if you’re able to demonstrate your knowledge of the organization.
) Get comfortable talking about your experience
Experience can make the difference between a great candidate and an also-ran. But it’s important to showcase that experience as much as possible to a prospective employer. The starting point here is your resume. Learn it back to front and top to bottom, and get comfortable recounting how various roles and projects enabled you to accrue that all-important experience. These don’t even need to be in paid roles – anything relevant can be mentioned in the interview.
) Think of practical examples to show off your capabilities
An interview is the ideal time to bring that resume to life and demonstrate what you’ve accomplished in the past. Just as an artist would bring a portfolio of their work, a cybersecurity professional may bring along a laptop to show their interviewer examples of previous work to highlight their skills. Particularly impactful are examples when you saw a project through from start to completion.
RELATED READING: Getting into cybersecurity: Self-taught vs. university-educated?
) Have your certifications at the ready
In a competitive job market, having relevant certifications can give you an edge over other candidates. If you have completed any IT training or have industry-recognized certifications, make sure to mention them, especially if they are relevant to the job and are up-to-date – even if they’re just entry-level.
Be prepared to discuss the knowledge and skills you gained while earning these certificates – interviewers may ask specific questions related to the content covered in the exams. Which brings us to the next point and a few more general tips.
) Rehearse answers to some common interview questions
This is another no-brainer and an exercise where having an interview partner really helps. Research some questions commonly asked of candidates in your role and rehearse some detailed answers. Even if the exact same questions don’t come up in the interview, it will be a great way of organizing your thoughts, and will help to build confidence and fluency during the real thing.
Questions could be specific to the role (what’s the difference between symmetric and asymmetric encryption? what is a zero day?) or more general (what excites you most about working here?). There’s no substitute for putting in the hours here: the more practice you and your partner can do, the better prepared you’ll be.
) Be ready for the unexpected
When it comes to interviews it always pays to expect the unexpected. That’s why it’s important to try and prepare as much as possible, but also to be agile enough to cope with the odd curveball. It could be that when you arrive, or log on, you’re met by not one but several interviewers.
Be open-minded to different interview formats; this will vary depending on the role, employer or interviewer. Senior leaders in particular may want to go off script a little to see how you tick.
) Have questions to ask
Many people treat this as something of an afterthought. But it can be a great way to differentiate you from the rest of the pack, by showing a genuine interest and understanding of the organization and role. It’s also a useful way to find out more about the role. After all, interviews are also an opportunity for the candidate to check whether it’s the right role and company for them.
) Keep it conversational
It’s in the best interests of the person asking the questions to put you at ease, so they can really get to know you and what you’re capable of. Nerves get in the way. So try to keep it as conversational and confident as possible, to let the interview flow rather than be stuck in a rigid Q&A format. That will also tell the interviewer that you’re in control of the material.
) Be courteous and honest
Among the basic housekeeping rules of good interview etiquette are some obvious ones. Be polite and honest, and don’t badmouth any former employers. Humour can be subjective and therefore is generally a bad idea in such situations.
0) Dress smart and be online friendly
Many of the roles you’ll be interviewing for today will be conducted remotely, so slightly different rules apply. Check your background before the call, and test your tech to make sure it works. Remember to look at the camera rather than yourself on screen. And, it goes without saying, dress smart but don’t wear anything distracting.
Some people are naturally better at interviews, but with plenty of practice and enough background research, anyone can set themselves up for success. Good luck.