Your ability to secure data using the right mix of hardware and software is critical to a company’s operations, and even its bottom line. Among the most important things recruiters and hiring managers look for during an interview seems basic: technical competence.
This means you can expect your interview to cover areas that seem to have little relation to one another. So be ready to shift gears quickly as the conversation goes on. Here are some of the questions you should be ready to field.
What’s the size of your network?
- What you should say: Your answer depends on who’s asking the question. For example, if it’s a technical person conducting the interview, you might want to answer in terms of nodes. However the idea of a 1,300-node network probably won’t mean anything to a businessperson. For an executive or someone in sales, it’s better to say you have 1,500 users.
- Why you should say it: You want to qualify your audience. Before you answer, be sure you understand how it will resonate with the person who’s asking. If that executive doesn’t know what you’re talking about, he’s got no basis on which to judge some of your critical experience. Bottom line: Know your audience.
What’s the most successful firewall project you’ve worked on? What was your role?
- What you should say: If you’re a senior engineer, managers want to hear that you led the project and designed it, not that you just did what you were told to do. Structure your answer to identify the possible solutions you looked at, which one you chose and why, and then get into details of your role. Come prepared to get into detail about your biggest projects.
- Why you should say it: This is where the interviewer gets a sense of who you are. If you just say you were part of a team, that tells them you haven’t really worked on a lot of cutting-edge projects. Good interviewers are moving away from black-and-white questions and pat, right-or-wrong answers. A lot of their questions will be meant to gauge the complexity of your environment and how effective you were in working with it.
Describe the biggest security breach you’ve encountered. How did you handle it, and what would you do differently?
- What you should say: Some might say they’ve never had a breach, but that could imply you lack experience. Assuming you have experienced a breach, be sure to help the interviewer understand what controls and measures you put in place and, again, highlight your specific role. Don’t just say you had a problem — show how you overcame it.
- Why you should say it: Contrary to the usual advice to be a team player, it’s important to emphasize your individual contribution. You want the interviewer to know exactly what you bring to the table. You’re interviewing for you, not your team.
What percentage of your responsibilities is dedicated to IT security?
- What you should say: Tell the truth, but bear in mind having security as just one of many roles could be a liability to some employers. If security is one of five or six responsibilities you have, you won’t have knowledge that’s as deep as someone who handles it full-time. So be sure to put it in perspective. If you have multiple responsibilities and security is the major one, emphasize that.
- Why you should say it: People want to get to the core of how much of your day is devoted to IT security. If it’s simply 20 percent of your role, face the fact that this job’s probably not for you. Bottom line: Make sure you’re a perfect fit when targeting this position.
Why do you want to work here?
- What you should say: Avoid a cookie-cutter answer like “to grow my career” or “I’m fascinated by your business.” Show that you’ve researched the company, that you’re motivated, interested and have ideas about how you can contribute. Prepare by following the basics: Get onto the company’s website, look at its press releases and financials, and incorporate relevant details into your answers.
- Why you should say it: First, you want to impress the interviewers with how much you know about the company and tie it back to how you can contribute. That shows your interest in the job. Second, as important as it is to demonstrate your technical skills, proving that you can fit into the employer’s culture can be even more critical. Recruiters say successful hiring decisions are 60 percent about technical skills and 40 percent cultural fit. While the technical skills will get you the interview, it’s the cultural fit that lands you the job.
In compiling these questions and answers, we spoke to Steven Stewart, technology practice leader at Charles Aris, Inc., in Greensboro, N.C., and Rob Byron, principal consultant and team leader in the information technology search division at Winter Wyman.
If you have other suggestions for questions firewall engineers might hear and how they should be answered, add them in the comments below.
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