Security Engineer Interviews – An Interviewer’s Perspective

Full Disclosure: I am a security engineer @ Google and the following are my own opinions.

The last post focused on cracking the security engineer interview for a prospective candidate. In this post, we turn the tables and focus on the interviewer’s side and their perspective.

First and foremost, interviewing others is HARD. While it may appear that the interviewer is having an easy time asking questions, that is nothing farther than the reality. Interviewers are like the rest of us who have been in the interviewee’s shoes at some point, most probably have a developed skillset and it is part of their job to help in growing their team by hiring their peers. Just like the interviewee, an interviewer likely also spends time before the interview preparing the set of questions to ask, notes feedback during the interview, and participates in the interview follow up process depending on the company.

Every interviewer has their style and uniqueness in the way they go about conducting an interview. While this may vary depending on the interviewer and the type of interview (open-ended, coding, soft skills, etc.), there is an underlying purpose behind the interview round which boils down to getting an accurate sense of the candidate’s strengths, areas of improvement and the level of thereof. With the above in mind, I have developed a framework called “PCEGA” for interviewers that can serve as a guide to carry out productive interviews that lead to better candidate experience irrespective of the type of interview.

Prepare: This goes without saying but generally preparation prior to conducting an interview is beneficial. This might involve looking at the candidate’s background (and other data available), preparing a list of questions and follow up questions to ask. It is also a good idea to have an extra set of questions available as a backup in case the candidate goes through the list faster than expected.

Connect: This is an essential step when meeting the candidate. Taking some time to connect with the candidate generally offers a good experience for both. This might involve greeting them, making the candidate comfortable in the interview setting as much as possible, and giving them an overview of your role, the structure of the interview, etc. The idea behind connection should be to put the candidate at ease and aware for them to perform their best in the interview. This step will also greatly vary depending on the company, position, interviewer on the amount of information that is accepted “okay” to be shared but the central idea remains the same.

Explore: In this phase, the interviewer will go through the set of questions they prepared to ask to explore the candidate’s strengths and areas of improvement depending on their style and the type of interview. It is hard to comment on a guideline here as it is very specific to the role, position, company, and interviewer however the general idea here to be comprehensive and get enough “signals” to accurately comment on the candidate’s assessed skills. An informed decision with supporting data is better accepted than an uninformed opinion.

Guide: During the interview, an interviewer can also serve as a guide, helping the candidate get unstuck (if needed) and providing a general sense of direction if desired. The interviewer is also responsible for answering follow up questions from the candidate to provide more clarity on questions, especially open-ended ones. This step is highly subjective based on how the interviewee performs but the general idea is that the interviewer can be essential in unblocking the candidate and also steer the candidate in the right direction if the situation demands. Once the candidate has taken up the guidance, the exploration can continue (denoted by the dashed line in the depiction of the framework). The explore and guide steps can continue in a loop until enough signals have been received.

Answer: Finally, an interviewer can spend some time answering any questions a candidate might have. The idea here is to not only provide a balance in the interviewing process but also to clarify and inform the candidate about things that they might be curious about related to the job/company. This is fairly freeform but the interviewer can try their best to answer as much as possible (and permitted) to provide a smooth experience to the candidate.

The above framework provides a structure for interviewing candidates and provides them with a good interviewing experience.

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