Securing your next role in cybersecurity: Tips for acing the interview

Article by Kristina Balaam, Senior Staff Intelligence Researcher, Lookout

Cybersecurity is a fascinating industry filled with potential. As our society continues to introduce technology into nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives, the demand for cybersecurity professionals continues to grow.

Over the past several years, I’ve been involved in the hiring and interviewing of dozens of candidates for various positions and levels of seniority. While I’ve truly enjoyed every conversation with these candidates, those who that stood out the most to me (and usually to the rest of the interviewing team) all seemed to succeed because they were able to do the following things:

Know your reason for applying for this role

Whether you’re transitioning into cybersecurity from another field or just looking for a new job in a different organization, it’s important to have a genuine answer when asked, “Why do you want this job?”

Despite it being a relatively standard interview question, I’ve spoken with a number of candidates who weren’t able to provide an answer. Even though “a salary bump” or “a more senior title” might be the truth behind your decision to apply, these won’t  always resonate with the hiring team. At least a few of the people interviewing you will likely be the individuals you’ll end up working with, and there tends to be an expectation that a new hire will be enthusiastic about the role or the organization – or both.

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Be honest about your skills and knowledge gaps

Your resume is an opportunity to brag about what you know and what you’ve accomplished. It’s important, though, that it’s a true representation of your abilities! Even in non-technical roles in cybersecurity, there’s always a good chance that you’ll be asked about the skills or knowledge you have listed on your resume.

If you can’t answer basic questions related to that area of expertise, it will be difficult for an interviewer to believe you truly have the experience you’ve claimed.

Be able to provide details about your most recent work experience

Your interviewers will probably want to hear in detail about the work you’ve been doing in recent years.

Interviewers won’t expect you to recount every little detail from your first ever job, but being able to speak confidently about the projects you’ve completed and your successes (and “failures”) will help reassure your interviewer that the details on your resume are accurate. Be sure to highlight how the good and bad experiences contributed to your career growth.

In lieu of work experience, be able to talk about relevant projects or research

If you’re transitioning into cybersecurity, being able to talk about side projects or personal research (and experience with cyber threats) related to your intended role can demonstrate your interest and experience in the field.

While most entry level positions don’t typically require relevant work experience , having some demonstrable experience – whether through independent study, post-secondary coursework or a CTF (Capture the Flag) competition – can set you apart from other candidates.

Always be prepared to ask your interviewer questions

There’s no guarantee your interviewer will give you time for questions, but have a few ready to ask anyways. While both acting as an interviewer and interviewee, I’ve found that questions for the candidate tend to be left until the end of the interview.

Preparing several questions for the interviewer in advance helps demonstrate your genuine interest in the role, and in the organization / team with whom you hope to work. These could be questions about the corporate culture, the company’s growth plan, and/or the technology used by the team or even something generic like, “Can you tell me your favorite part about working at Company X”?

Interviews can be an exhilarating and nerve-wracking experience. Your interviewers know this too. Good interviewers want you to succeed and want to learn about who you are and what you’re excited about. Keep these tips in mind, be yourself and try to have fun! Remember: even though you’re interviewing for a position, this is also your chance to interview your future employer. Have confidence in yourself, and good luck!


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Being a mum and returning to work

desk-with-laptopArticle by Steph Ashby, Sales Manager within the Public Sector for UiPath, the market leader in robotic process automation (RPA)

I love my kids and they were the most beautiful babies in the world, ever, - fact- but I definitely would have been stark raving mad if I’d stayed at home with them, so getting back to work was a priority.

It was hard.  I went through the whole gamut of buying guilt presents for my first born in my lunch hour, trying desperately to reconcile getting that bid out the door with getting home for bath time, heart aching for them when away for work. The fact is you just can’t do it all.

I remember waking up one day, my tiny daughter vomiting and unable to go to childcare or a friend’s house, my boyfriend already at work, no family locally and me with a full diary including a meeting with half the board.  Crisis. Stress. Cue wonderful Mother in law driving 50 miles to take care of the sick baby. I virtually threw the ill baby at her and ran out the door, ran to the station, made it to the meeting 10 minutes late. I slid guiltily into my seat (the only woman, and the only one late, the only one sweating profusely) as my lovely colleague surreptitiously handed me pen and paper. ‘ what did I miss gentlemen?’. Honestly if they knew what it had taken to get there they would have made me a cup of tea (or a large gin), awarded me a day off, and pinned a ‘dedicated to the cause’ medal to my breast.  But no, they just noticed that I was a bit late. And they probably didn’t care. And several years on I still remember it, but they won’t.

Career Development

  • Say ‘yes’ to things.  Experimenting may lead you to find something that you love and are good at, that you may initially think isn’t suited to you.  Whatever the outcome you will learn from it. For me changing direction to be a programmer and working in IT (way back in ancient times before the internet was invented) was a huge departure and everyone thought I’d fail as I was rubbish at maths (I thought I might fail too, but actually ended up a fully-fledged tech geek).  Here I am 30 years later proving them all wrong .  But don’t be afraid to change direction – there are always options and new paths – you just need to look for them.
  • Ask! Women can be reticent about asking to take on new roles and responsibilities, or to be considered for promotions. We assume that everyone can see how good and efficient we are. News is, they often can’t , or don’t notice because they are too busy dealing with their own stuff – or listening to the people who are telling them how wonderful they are at their job. How many times have you seen a less qualified but more vocal person get the promotion?  My move into sales from a long career in delivery roles came about by me asking a board member to sponsor me.  He did and even arranged for a coach to help me transition. My coach became a life-long friend and supported me to move successfully into the ‘dark side’ of sales (as delivery people call it!).
  • Be ‘good enough’, not perfect We often wait until we have the ‘full’ set of skills before taking the leap to the next level.  Sometimes 70-80% is good enough.   Training, mentoring and coaching are all there to help you add to your skills and grow into a role.  Use those resources to their full extent.
  • Be brave – you are better than you think.  Put yourself out there. If you haven’t read ‘ Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by Susan Jeffers, please do. It will honestly change you for the better.
  • Be nice – this is a biggie.  Be the person you’d want to work with.   There’s a fallacy perpetuated that senior women need to be ‘queen bees’ and that they squash the ambitions of younger women.  Don’t be that woman.  Be the one who aims to help that clever, amazing grad to be your boss one day.  Being nice makes work so much nicer, and if you help people they help you back – often when you need it most.  My current team is my favourite team ever. We have fun, work hard, challenge each other, drink wine together and collaborate - everyone wins and we have a ball whilst working in what is a pretty pressurised sales business.

Interview tips

  • Prepare – an obvious one, but do it.
  • Be yourself – If they don’t like the real you then the job wasn’t for you anyway
  • Don’t assume  - it’s a bit like an exam when you were at school – don’t assume that they know your skills and expertise – show them. For example ‘how would you grow a new sales territory?’ the answer is not ‘Marketing’. It’s your whole potted strategy for identifying the market, segmenting it, finding spend, current suppliers/competitor analysis, finding partners etc etc….’ Be succinct but flesh out your answers. You’d be amazed at how you can miss ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ and how important it is for the interviewer to see your knowledge and ideas.
  • If you don’t understand, or are totally baffled, I was given this as a brilliant tactic (especially for acronyms and tech stuff that might bamboozle you): The question  ‘how would you approach BlockChain ?’ you answer ‘mmm, what do you mean by Blockchain?’ often you’ll find out that a) they haven’t a clue either and that line of enquiry fizzles quickly, or b) they tell you what they mean and give you the answer.

CV Writing

  • Be brief – no more than 1-2 sides of A4. No flowery language. Use a thesaurus if you need to but edit, edit, edit!
  • Bespoke it – a CV is a sales tool. Make sure that your introduction and overview meets the needs of the role spec and the corporate tone of the organisation.  You will fail in the first 2 seconds otherwise.
  • Facts and figures – show off!  Values, % improvements , team sizes achievements.
  • Include quotes from people who think you are fabulous ‘ xxx was the best project manager I’ve ever worked with’.  Collect a store of these over the years and use them.  A CV is no place for modesty.
  • Be interesting – a simple hook of a conversation starter can be a real godsend for the poor interviewers who may be seeing countless ‘drones’ before they get to you!

About the author

Steph is a diversity role model who has made waves in the IT industry. She started off as a programmer – during a time when the industry was made up of predominantly men – and has followed a meteoric career trajectory, overcoming several hurdles along the way. Steph has survived workplace bullying, two cases of sexual harassment, and being smashed against the glass ceiling. These setbacks simply made her more determined than ever to succeed, and to help other women around her do the same. During her career, she’s coached, mentored and supported the people around her that aren’t white middle-aged men.

Outside of work, Steph has appeared in a BBC programme called ‘Back in Time for the Weekend’ about leisure, and how technology has changed the way we live and enjoy our spare time.