18 Tips for Cyber Security Interview Success

Interviewing for a cyber security job, or any job for that matter, can be intimidating.  It’s just something that we don’t do very often, and in an interview, the interviewer is in control.  They control the format, the location and the questions. But successful interviewing is critical in getting your first, or next cyber security job.  Let’s take a look at the best method to prepare for and ace a cyber security job interview.

The steps for cyber security interview success

Step #1:  Make sure your resume is very, very well done.  Most people apply for a job without spending much time at all in developing and improving the resume. In fact, many people never even have someone else review their resume before they submit it to an employer. A well formatted and well-written resume is critical in getting your resume moved into the interview pile and away from the rejection pile.  Keep in mind that every word on a well written resume is where it is and what it is on purpose, in order to give you the best chances for success. To write a resume that best represents you and reflects your skill set, and gives you the best chance for an interview, visit our resume writing guide.

Step #2:  Get the interview date, time and location in writing.  I personally have been burned by this before.  It was a situation where the agreed-upon interview time was different than what the administrative assistant communicated to the interviewer.. The end result was that the company thought the interview was taking place a half hour before the time that we had agreed upon, so when I arrived it appeared that I was late. There is no amount of convincing that you will be able to do to show that you are correct and they were not. Be sure to get the date and time and location of the interview in writing, preferably via email.

Step #3:  Do extensive research on the company.  This next step is critical, and the fact that it is overlooked so often is amazing. I can’t even begin to tell you how many potential employees I’ve interviewed who had done no research on our organization. They had no knowledge about what we did, how long we have been established or who are leadership was. On the other hand, the interviewees that came into an interview having done prior research we’re always impressive.

Once you are contacted to schedule an interview, begin working on researching the company in detail.  Review every page of their website and complete a Google search on the company and any employees that you know or can find out about.  You really can learn a great deal by doing basic internet research. I have seen examples where people have uncovered that a business is filing for bankruptcy or has been fined or sued, or that they have a long list of disgruntled former employees.  While searching, try to learn about their product or service, how large of an employer they are, and how the are marketing themselves.

Drive by or visit the organization during the workday to see where they are located and how busy the facility is during normal work hours.  You may find that their building is in a bad location, or that there is no parking, or that they are busy with activity. Having scoped out where they are located and how to get there will also make you feel more comfortable when you do go in for your interview.

Step #4:  Complete a mock interview with at least two different people.  Musicians and athletes warm up before a concert or event, and public speakers review their notes before a speech.  You need to do the same. Check out my list of common interview questions and make sure you have solid, accurate and strong answers to all of them top of mind before you go for your interview.

Step #5:  Dress the part.  At the least, do not wear jeans or a non-collared shirt, but you certainly want to dress better than that for the best chances of success, even if the job is in a casual environment.  A suit, jacket and tie, or just a jacket works best for men, and women should wear business attire as well, such as a dress, skirt or pantsuit. Make sure that your clothes fit well, and fit correctly.  A jacket or suit that is too large often makes people look very young or childlike.  In fact, many lawyers will have their clients dress in oversized clothes in order to make a young adult appear more like a juvenile.  Having dress clothes that fit appropriately subconsciously shows an employer that you care about your appearance, and therefore you care about your reputation, and therefore you care about the quality of the work that you do, and therefore you will care about the quality of work that you do for their company.  if you’re unsure what business dress to purchase or where to start, know that business clothing stores often have sales people trained to assist and take measurements. Common options for men are Jos. A. Banks and Men’s Wearhouse, for example.

Step #6:  Arrive early.  If you made it to this step you now have an interview scheduled, you’ve done your research, and you have the interview details in writing. Do not, under any circumstances except for a true emergency, be late to the interview.  People value their time a great deal, and in a western society like the United States, lateness is often viewed as disrespectful, since it is wasting someone else’s time. Also keep in mind that the company may have an application for you to fill out before the start of the interview, or they may even give you a copy of the questions beforehand to review.  Being early gives you time to get settled in, use the restroom, fill out an application or anything else they may need you to do.

Step #7:  Do not arrive empty handed.  A pet peeve of mine is when someone arrives to a meeting with nothing in hand.  How serious can they be when they don’t even have a pen to write something down?  I will often ask people how they intend to write anything down or how they intend to take notes.  Some people, like myself, subconsciously view someone arriving with nothing in hand as disrespectful since they have no way to write down anything that we may say or share with them.  

For your interview, be sure to bring at least four copies of your current resume, a portfolio binder that holds your resume copies, a pen and a notepad. Having something in your hands while you’re on your way to an interview, or any meeting for that matter, makes you look like you’re prepared and going someplace.  You can, and should use the notepad to take notes and jot down things during the interview. And having multiple copies of your resume is convenient for the employer who may not have made copies for everyone that is interviewing you.

Step #8:  Be ready for multiple interviewers.   Hiring well is so important, and often so challenging, that many companies will have multiple people interviewing you at the same time.  This is in line with the very true saying “be slow to hire and fast to fire.” This means that companies are best off when they interview and hire very carefully, but should fire someone at the first sign of a bad employee.

During your interview, you may even be faced with interviewing in front of a committee. Employers do this so that they can share notes after the interview and pull from multiple perspectives in order to make their best decision.  They also may want to make sure their team is comfortable with the person. Interviewing in front of several people is nothing to be concerned about, but it is worth being aware of so that you don’t feel overwhelmed when you walk into the interview room for the first time.

Step #9:  Be ready for any type of format.  Interview styles and formats vary greatly from employer to employer and from interviewer to interview.  Be ready to go with the flow and be aware that the interview may have a lot of structure or looseness. The interview may even include a tour of the facility, a tour of the technology or an opportunity to meet additional employees.

Step #10:  Be nice and likable to everyone.  I’ve heard stories in which people were not hired because they were inconsiderate, not to the interviewer, but to the receptionist when they arrived.  People hire who they like, and will not tolerate some who is disrespectful or rude. Be kind and charismatic to everyone you interact with.

Step #11:  Turn off your cell phone.  A cell phone going off during an interview interrupts the flow of the interview and can be seen as disrespectful.  Turn your cell phone off before going into the interview.

Step #12:  Write down the names of the people interviewing you and confirm the correct spelling if you are unsure.  At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer or interviewers should take a few moments to introduce themselves. Take this opportunity to write down their names and ask them what positions they hold in the company.  You’ll want this information for later, but it also helps you to speak to each interviewer by name, which will be easier to do since their names are written down right in front of you. Also, the act of writing down their names subconsciously shows the interviewer a sign of respect and that you are interested in them and their company.

Step #13:  Do not make jokes, talk about politics or speak poorly about anyone, including your former employer.  Jokes are tough to pull off in an interview because you don’t know their personality and the expectation is that the meeting is formal.  Don’t attempt to make jokes or talk about politics. Also, refrain from speaking poorly about your current or former employer, or anyone working there, including your supervisor at that job.  If you do, they will assume you’ll do the same to them.

Step #14;  Ask a question or two at the end.  The employer should give you an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview.  If they do, be ready to ask a few questions in order to show your interest and get their responses.  You can ask how long they have worked at the company, if they enjoy their work or about future plans for the company.  You don’t want to say that you don’t have any questions at all. Some employers will forget to give you an opportunity to ask questions, which brings us to the next step.

Step #15:  Remember that you are interviewing them too.  It’s easy to feel like we’re on the hot seat in an interview.  So much so, that we can often forget that we are interviewing the company as well to determine if they are a good fit for us.  Do you best to get your most important questions answered so that you can make an informed decision about whether you even want to work with this employer.

Step #16:  Remember that the best interviews are conversational.  Try to be relaxed and conversational.  Interviews often start as a basic question and answer back and forth, but when they flow more conversationally, that often puts everyone more at ease. Conversation is how we get to know a new person, so it makes sense that a conversational style during an interview will help them to get to know you better too.  Use a conversational approach to appear at ease and confident.

Step #17:  Thank them and follow up with an email thank you.  Be sure to acknowledge everyone and thank them for their time, and follow up later that day with an email thank you note to all of the interviewers.  This should be easy to do since you have their names written down. You can ask the receptionist for email addresses or look at their website if they have that information listed.  Either way, following up with a thank you can move you from the maybe pile to the hired pile.

Step #18:  Remember that everything is negotiable.  Often in life, we get too tied into rules.  We think that something has to be because a store has a sign or because a company put something in writing.  But all rules were made up by someone, and they can be changed or broken by someone too. Just because you receive an offer for a certain pay with certain benefits for a certain schedule, doesn’t mean that those factors can’t be discussed or adjusted.  Keep in mind that a job offer, or lack of offer, isn’t the end-all, be-all.

Related Questions

Should I pay a resume service for resume help?  Many resume services charge $200 to $300 to write and format your resume.  A better use of that money may be to invest in a certification exam or professional association membership fee.

I’ve formatted my resume but am still not getting interviews.  What should I do?   A properly formatted resume, as we’ve described above, is still just a piece of paper.  Most people will still get jobs from networking and who they know. People hire who they know and who they like.  Fortunately, you’ve identified professional associations in your resume, and a great way to land your first cyber security job is to meet people through those professional associations and show them your skill set with your new resume.

Matt Day

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity and technology training fields. He holds CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications, and is the author of the book CCENT Troubleshooting Guide.