While writing my free 30 day online career hacking course I spent a lot of time learning about the interview process from different angles. I learnt about what a HR manager looks for in an Interview, what the hiring manager wants and looks for, I studied the role of the supporting interviewers and of course the interviewee. While researching all of this, I realised that there were certain things that so many people I’ve interviewed (and I myself) forgot when doing a face to face interview, so here’s my top 12 interview tips.
1. Remember you’re interviewing them more than they are you
Just because you want a job doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the job that might be on offer. Remember that job descriptions as advertised and as offered rarely match, and are typically oversold when recruiters are involved in order to reel you into an interview. Make sure you find out about your possible future working environment so you can look before you leap.
2. Dress one level up, but no more
Find out what the typical dress code is in advance of the interview. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re told something ambiguous like “business casual”. Typically you want to dress one level more formally than your interviewers for an interview but no higher.
3. Be prepared for a test in advance
Sometimes, especially with penetration testing job interviews there’s a test rig to see how you stack up technically. I hate those sort of tests as a lot of people will buckle for various reasons ranging from stress to things just not working, but make sure that you know in advance if there’s going to be one and whether or not you’re supposed to bring your own pre-configured laptop or use one they’ll provide for you. If in doubt, either bring kit just in case or be prepared to walk out if a test is sprung on you.
4. Build rapport quickly
Rapport is critical in any social interaction with new people. It’s not about impressing people, it’s about coming across as being likeable and trustworthy. In an interview for a penetration testing job being able to build rapport is an extremely valuable and powerful skill to demonstrate, as it shows that you’ll probably be good with customers and colleagues. Without rapport, you’ll struggle no matter how technically competent you may or may not be.
5. Find fit or f*ck off early
I once spent 17 glorious weeks at a big four consultancy firm. Possibly the only thing that kept me from wanting to kill myself was the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t be able to take that many partners out in the process, even with some heavy weaponry. I didn’t fit in there at all, and as the quality of my work declined along with my sanity it became evident that it just wasn’t the right place for me. Learn from my mistakes, find out if this is somewhere where you’ll get along with the people you’re going to work with and the organisational structure. You’re going to spend a hefty chunk of your waking moments with them after all.
6. Follow non-verbal cues
In telephone interviews there’s very little to go on in terms of non-verbal cues, but body language, leading and pacing play a massive role in a face to face interview. At worst, being able to read people allows you to work out how the interview’s going. At best, you can use this to hijack the interview and use it to your advantage.
7. Answer questions like a seer
Booker consultants invented the SEER format as a method to teach executives how to handle difficult questioning by journalists at press conferences. You know, questions like, “Why have you stated record profits on your share call but paid no tax due to losses this year?”, or “What is your company doing about that environmental disaster?”. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. I cover the format and process in my free 30 day online email course, but to summarise, the acronym SEER refers to:
- S (Summary)
- E (Elaboration)
- E (Example)
- R (Restatement)
I’ll cover these one by one in a later blog post, but for now sign up to my 30 day career hacking course if you want to know more. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time.
8. Use questions to take control of the interview
Combined with rapport, questioning can be an incredibly powerful tool to influence the interview. Remember that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you, but avoid questions that are difficult to provide an accurate answer to, such as “What training will I get while I’m here?” (it’s better to ask what training others have had, as this is something they can factually respond to rather than guessing and is a better indicator of what you’re actually likely to get while there). Make sure your questions are short and open. “What have you read recently online that impressed you?” is better than “Do you read security blogs?”
9. Ask questions, but structure them properly
If you ever get to a point in an interview where an interviewer asks if you have any questions, and you not only haven’t got a question but haven’t asked one at any point, then you’re doing it wrong. There’s a big long email on my free 30 day email course on career hacking dedicated to using questions to take control and lead an interview. Asking questions is the easiest way to take control of the interview’s conversational flow. Control the flow and you can control the interview. Control the interview and you’ll have the biggest influence on the outcome that you could possible have short of writing your own job offer.
10. Ask one question at a time, no more
I cannot stress this enough. I’ve seen people ask questions where they say is “it this or is it that?” Then immediately follow up with, “If it’s this, then what about that? How do you feel about this?” If you find yourself anywhere near this point, apologise, tell them that you’re just keen to work there and got a bit ahead of yourself and start again, one question at a time. Ask a question. Wait for an answer. Discuss the answer given, trying to improve rapport and if reasonable demonstrate positive qualities about yourself in the process. Then once an opportunity opens up to smoothly lead onto the next question gently carry the interview into the next question and repeat.
11. Resist correcting people in an interview, even when they’re wrong
I know how you feel. There’s a feeling of wrongness in the universe if you don’t, but in an interview you’re trying to get people to like you, not to be shown up in front of colleagues and/or their boss. It’s an interview, not Well, actually.
12. Close the deal, then GTFO
Think you’re at a point where the man from del monté is about to say yes? Close the deal and get out. These people interviewing you don’t know you. They don’t know about your secret love of Nazi paraphenalia, nor your penchant for whistling birdsong continuously in the office while wearing headphones and listening to music, nor about that thing you do with your throat every 15 minutes (seriously, see a doctor about that). Neither an interview nor immediately afterwards are the places for your future coworkers to learn about these things. That’s the sort of thing they can find out after they hire you. If you’re not there you can’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, unless they take you to the pub afterwards to get you blind drunk. Just remember that the interview isn’t over until you finish your first day.
If you liked these 12 tips, then sign up to my free 30 day email course on hacking your career. It’s written with penetration testers in mind, but if your only thoughts of jobs involving penetration are less than pure then the broader career advice is just as relevant.
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