Main image of article Hacking Job Interviews

Want to improve your chances of snagging the tech job you want? At the recent BSides Las Vegas conference, which attracts information security pros, Adam Brand (an associate director for Protiviti’s Security and Privacy practice) discussed the common mistakes he’s seen from tech candidates in job interviews. Brand is in a position to know something about hiring: This year alone, he’s conducted more than 60 interviews while searching for pros who are qualified to do fairly complex security assessment work, including forensics and penetration testing. Here’s his advice:

Tweak Your Resume

Brand recommends providing context around the technical skills you list on your resume. “People need to fix the wording on their resumes and they need to think of the resume as a roadmap for the tech interview,” he said. “It’s a roadmap for the technical interviewer to know what are the areas this person is most likely to have experience in.” Adding phrases such as “some exposure to” or “significant experience with” before skills—such as Windows administration or Cisco firewall management—will help the interviewer know the candidate’s areas of deepest experience. In a job interview, that will also help you avoid being hit with a really technical question in an area that you don’t know really well.

Study What You Know

Brushing up on topics you already know can jog your memory, Brand pointed out, especially when it’s a subject you haven’t worked on in a while: “Your brain needs a warm-up. You can’t just go cold on a topic you haven’t touched in a long time.” That means a bit of studying before the interview. “I think the mistake people make is they assume that they’ll be able to remember something in the moment of an interview,” Brand said, “and that’s a pretty high pressure situation. Everyone gets a little nervous in a tech interview.” If you were a Linux sysadmin five or six years ago, for example, and were really good at your job, spend a little bit of time looking up commands to configure IP tables or compile programs from source. “You really need to refresh yourself so that your brain starts making those connections ahead of the interview,” Brand added.

Answer Questions Smartly

Much like Tiro Security CEO Kris Rides, Brand acknowledges the possibility of interviewees being hit with questions to which they don’t know the answer. And like Rides, he warns against making up answers; a better choice is to explain what you do know about a topic, to show the interviewer that you at least have some relevant knowledge. Another mistake? When asked how they’d go about finding an answer, some people say they’ll just Google it. “I can Google how to replace a light switch, but that doesn’t make me an electrician,” Brand said. Nobody should ever tell a real-world client that they’ll “just Google” a problem, especially when the problem in question involves security. “If you don’t know anything about that area, just be honest about it.”