by Wim Remes

Job interviews aren’t the core of my existense. If I’m going to be completely honest, I’d have to say I would love for someone else to conduct them instead.  But, like most of the things I do, I want to do it to the best of my ability. It’s difficult.  The best-case scenario is that we get locked in a room for 60 minutes. In that brief timeframe, I have to verify that your technical skills match the profile I’m looking for and that your personality is a good fit for our ‘culture’.  In that same timeframe YOU need to assess whether this is the job you’re looking for and whether this is an environment you can thrive in.  It is NOT easy !

First, let me set things straight.  If we are sitting face to face, I have read your resume. You can call it laziness, but I’m already assuming that you KNOW what you have put on there. I may throw you some fish to assess your technical knowledge, but these rarely influence the image I have of you.  Surprised? You shouldn’t be.  There is no way I will be able to see if you have earned every single certification you mentioned on your resume by studying books or by experience.  It may even be that I don’t have a clue what half of those TLAs mean. I’m sorry.

Then, where’s the beef? How can I really know whether you are the guy or gal I’m looking for ? Here are three questions I ask that give me a pretty good idea about you, the person I’m looking to have join the team. Because in the end it is all about you, as a person, adding value and allowing us to grow together.

What is the project or achievement you are most proud of?

On several occasions, I’ve thought about abandoning this question because you can’t imagine the number or people that just sit there with a blank stare on their face.  I can’t eliminate it because your answer tells me so much about your passion for what you are doing or, even more, your passion for life.  The catch is that, with this question, I don’t require you to answer with something work-related.  Your work helping out at the local homeless shelter, your world trip after you graduated, or something you did at your kids school all fit the bill.  However, if you can’t come up with even one thing you are proud of, things start to look grim.  But you still have a chance.

If I went out to have a drink with two of your best friends, what would they tell me about you ?

Don’t answer this with, “Nick is a cool guy,” “Frank can drink 10 beers in an hour and still drive home,” or “I don’t have friends.” I want you to tell me how you think other people perceive you, as a person.  Again, I frequently get lots of blank stares when I ask this question. The catch is that your answer tells me whether you are well-grounded and that you have a good perception of your strong and weak points and are not afraid to name them.

What do you do in your free time ?

This isn’t a question I always ask, but it does come up – and most often in interviews that are information security-related.  Let me be clear: I don’t ask you to work evenings or weekends, and I don’t want your availability on a 24/7 on-call basis.  Rather, I want you to spend time with your family and friends to recharge the batteries for when you come to work.  So why this question? In my humble opinion you can only do this job with passion. The field of information security is so wide and so deep that there is very little chance that the paycheck will be enough to keep you motivated to stay on top of it. I want you to be 100% in love with what you are doing.

After those 60 minutes and these three questions, I will have a pretty good view of who you are and what you stand for.  For your part, I do expect you to ask questions about me, our projects, and the company.  I want you to engage in the conversation rather than just answer my questions.  That also gives me a lot of information.

Then again, I read somewhere that the best decisions are made in the first few seconds.  I might just as well have hired you after we shook hands and went to get our coffee 60 minutes ago.

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