Cybersecurity Interview Questions and Prep

Cybersecurity careers are exciting, challenging, constantly evolving—and booming. Today, small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and government agencies are all in need of cybersecurity professionals. And demand for cybersecurity professionals is expected to grow by 32 percent in the next decade. Which means it’s a great time to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

If you do decide to make the leap into cybersecurity, it’s essential to understand the interviewing process that’s specific to the field. After all, while your resume gets you the interview, your interview performance lands you the job. So, below, we highlight the typical cybersecurity interview format, types of questions to expect, and advice top cybersecurity employers have on how to prep for your interviews.

Interview Formats

Interview formats vary somewhat by cybersecurity employer. For example, at Cloudflare, the interview process begins with an initial conversation with a recruiter, followed by team interviews with other candidates and meetings with various Cloudflare team members. At Mimecast, candidates first meet with a member of the company’s talent acquisition team to learn more about the job, then they meet with the hiring manager to discuss career aspirations, and after that they meet with an interview panel and undergo a skills, culture, and values assessment.

The National Security Agency (NSA) conducts most of its cybersecurity interviews virtually, using the virtual interviewing platform HireVue, which allows applicants to complete live or pre-recorded interviews. And at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), initial interviews involve a multi-phase assessment process that can include online tests, in-person tests at an assessment center, and scenario-based interviews, conducted virtually or in-person at a DHS office.

Behavioral Interviews

Many employers in the cybersecurity industry now use behavioral interviews to learn about how you acted in certain situations in previous jobs, internships, and school projects. The logic behind these interviews is that past performance predicts future performance. Behavioral interview questions are more probing than general interview questions.

Some common behavioral questions asked in cybersecurity interviews include: 1) Tell me about a time you had to relay bad news to a client or colleague. 2) Give an example of a time you used teamwork to accomplish a task. 3) How did you handle explaining technical issues to non-tech members of your team? 4) Have you ever had to handle sensitive information in a previous role? If so, how did you go about it?

Preparing strong answers to these questions and others like them will demonstrate that you have top-notch communication skills, meet deadlines, are a good problem solver, and possess other admirable traits that companies seek in their employees. To practice for behavioral interviews, many people prepare responses in the form of “short stories” that present your actions in these situations in a positive light. The STAR interviewing response technique is a popular strategy when answering behavioral-interview questions. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It gives you a reminder about how to respond to behavioral questions. You can learn more about the steps in a STAR response here.

Case Study Interviews

In a cybersecurity case study interview, you or a group of fellow job seekers will receive a cybersecurity problem or other challenge and be asked to analyze the situation and identify potential solutions. This interview format is most commonly used for cybersecurity consulting and managerial positions, but it may be used for other positions.

If you’re asked to participate in a case study interview, you’ll typically receive 15 to 20 minutes to devise a solution. You can ask the interviewer questions to help solve the problem. If you’re part of a group case study interview, your team works together to solve the problem, and the hiring managers observe how effectively you communicate and work with others. Hiring managers also use case studies to evaluate your problem-solving skills, analytical ability, common sense, creativity, brainstorming ability, and strategic and logical thinking.

There may be more than one answer to a case interview question. And some participants are not able to provide a solution in the limited response time. But this is less important than being able to clearly convey your thought process, remain calm under pressure, work well with others (if you’re in a group setting), and demonstrate that you possess all the other aforementioned skills.

Technical Interviews

Technical interviews focus on determining if you have the expertise to do the job. If you’re applying for an entry-level position, these questions aim to gauge your level of understanding of cybersecurity and the quality of your postsecondary training. Technical questions vary by position, but here are some questions that you might encounter during an interview. Practice answering these and other questions until you feel confident that you understand each concept or cybersecurity scenario. You should also use your network and other sources to learn about typical questions for your target career.

  • What is cryptography?
  • What is a virtual private network?
  • How do you prevent identity theft?
  • When you’re building a firewall, do you prefer filtered or closed ports, and why?
  • If you were a cybercriminal, how would you try to gain access to secure data?
  • What is a brute force attack? What steps can you take to prevent it?
  • What is cross-site scripting?
  • Please take us through your understanding of risk, vulnerability, and threat within a network.
  • What is the difference between symmetric and asymmetric encryption?
  • What is CryptoAPI?
  • What is a three-way handshake?

Interview Advice from Cybersecurity Employers

Here’s some general advice on interviewing from some well-known cybersecurity employers.

Check Point: “Review the job description and do a bit of research on the product, team, and our company. Help us to get to know you by explaining how your prior experience and successes have prepared you for the role you’re pursuing at Check Point. Come with a few examples in mind that demonstrate your strengths, and any questions you have about the position. It’s always a good idea to get a good sleep and breakfast, too. Make sure your resume is up-to-date and tailored to the role you’re applying for. Feel confident and showcase your skills and past achievements. Be proactive. Be prepared. Be yourself.”

Cisco: “The process helps us get to know you, and for you to learn about our people, culture, and business. We’ll evaluate your skills and experience against our current business needs. We’ll ask you about your academic and work experience, and you can ask questions, too. Be prepared to tell about your achievements and the value you could bring to Cisco.”

Kaspersky: “Ask a friend to help you prepare for [the interview] by talking to them about your skills and prepare a short story about why you’re applying for the role. Let your friend ask standard questions like, ‘What are your goals for the next five years?’”

This post was excerpted from the new Vault Career Guide to Cybersecurity.

Originally published by Vault.

By Amanda Martin
Amanda Martin