The top 10 behavioral cybersecurity interview questions

| By: Frank DePrisco

As our dependence on digital technology grows to support the modern age, so does the cybersecurity industry. The need for talented cybersecurity professionals is growing exponentially, but there is still a small pool of qualified workers to pull from.

Finding the right candidate is essential to scaling your MSP business and minimizing client churn. You need to be able to seek out and hire people you can depend on to meet deliverables and support your clients.

In our recent study regarding the growing global IT skills gap, we uncovered that one of the biggest gaps was in the realm of cybersecurity. These services are becoming increasingly more important to businesses by the day and, if you can find the right candidates, can be a great opportunity to scale your business and retain customers. Finding the “right” candidate begins with answering the right cybersecurity interview questions.

What makes a good cybersecurity interview candidate

While the right cybersecurity questions are important, it’s impossible to interview every candidate. You’ll save vast amounts of time and energy, and your interview process will go much more smoothly if you can narrow your talent pool down to a handful of candidates before the actual interview takes place.

There are 5 traits you should search for while looking at candidates:

  • Problem-solving skills. Cybersecurity is more than using tools like antivirus or antimalware. Candidates need to know how to take in information and synthesize solutions to cyber threats. They also need to spot patterns in the data before they turn into bigger issues and turn what they see into actionable countermeasure steps.
  • Strong communication skills. If sales, HR, payroll, and other company departments using technology aren’t on the same page regarding cybersecurity, it can lead to disaster. A lot of cybersecurity work involves relaying technical information to non-IT staff. Failure to do so may make a career in cybersecurity a challenging road.
  • Critical thinking. Cybersecurity professionals need to think critically about the problems they face to come up with solutions. The most effective countermeasures for a particular cyber threat aren’t going to be right in front of them, in plain sight. For this reason, hiring managers should consider mixing up their interview script with some cybersecurity scenario-based interview questions.
  • Proficiency with the latest cybersecurity technology. Technology and the cybersecurity field are constantly changing. The software tools available and digital threat actors’ techniques are continually evolving. The right candidates should be well-versed in the latest cybersecurity news, updates, and trends. It’s a necessity for them to do their jobs effectively.
  • Ability to think like a hacker. A candidate’s best chance of landing a job in cybersecurity is having the ability to predict potential threats and prevent them before they even happen. One of the best ways to do that is to “think like the enemy.” Be sure to ask cybersecurity interview questions that probe a candidate’s knowledge of white and black hat hacking techniques.

If you’re looking to hire talent and scale your cybersecurity services, you need to consider the current landscape. Our e-book, Enabling Better Cybersecurity Through Outsourcing Solutions, can help you get more familiar with the process.

Setting your interview up for success

A successful interview should contain a mix of interview questions for cybersecurity. Pertinent questions can be broken down into 2 categories: scenario-based and non-scenario questions. Finding the best candidate for your cybersecurity role requires asking some of both types. Both are important for their own reasons and will help you determine the best fit for your MSP team.

Why scenario questions are so important for cybersecurity interviews

The skills outlined earlier are soft skills. They are intangibles the proper candidate should possess. An example of a soft skill might be conflict resolution or problem-solving versus a hard skill like knowledge of Traceroute or Drupal that can be proven by a certification or job history. The only way to uncover these intangible skills is by providing interviewees with unique questions that dig deep.

The best way to implement cybersecurity analyst interview questions is to put them in unique scenarios. So much of cybersecurity work is done on-the-fly, in a real-world environment, that scenario-based questions are some of the best you could use to gather the insights you need to make a hiring decision. Here’s a library of scenario-based questions you should consider working into your next candidate interview.

Scenario 1: Sharing industry news

Question: How do you keep up to date on industry news and trends?

In this scenario, you want to get a clear idea of how the potential candidate keeps up with the latest cybersecurity news and trends. You’ll also want to ask how they plan to distribute that information to their team (or how they currently distribute it if they’re currently in the field).

Answer: You’ll want to see that your candidate regularly gets the latest cybersecurity information from a credible source. Maybe they’re constantly checking alert feeds from big names in the industry, listening to a reputable podcast, or subscribing to a cybersecurity newsletter. It would be a bonus if they also followed cybersecurity accounts on social media and had experience going to industry-specific networking events in their area.

Scenario 2: Communication skills

Question: How would you rate your communication skills 1-10 and why?

Assessing a job candidate’s communication skills in any industry is pretty commonplace. But, with so much at stake in the cybersecurity industry, it becomes even more necessary. Add to that the fact that cybersecurity pros need to convey information to non-tech employees, and you’ll see why this question makes it on the list.

Answer: Interviewers typically ask this question as, “rate your communication skills 1-10.” That part of the answer is relatively straightforward. When asking this question, understand that no one is perfect. What you’re looking for here is honesty more than anything else. You also want to be wary of anyone who answers this question with too much confidence. Interview experts see any answer in the 7.5 to 9.5 range as appropriate. You’ll also want to pay attention to the “why” portion of their answer. Look for instances when their communication skills have linked multiple departments together toward a single goal or helped to navigate client communication during a particularly difficult situation.

Scenario 3: Breaking bad news

Question: Discuss a time you had to share bad news with a co-worker or client.

Effectively dealing with cybersecurity challenges requires honest communication. You’ll want to ensure that any potential candidate can have tough conversations with clients and co-workers. Asking how they would break bad news is a great way to broach this subject.

Answer: The main things you’re looking for in a candidate’s answer are how they handled the situation. Make sure they didn’t make the problem personal, chose their words carefully, and complimented the person before criticizing them. Ultimately, the candidate should show you they can successfully give difficult feedback and not cause irreparable damage with their words. You’ll also want to see how they handle communicating system failures, dangerous system alerts, or breaches. Ask for scenarios from their prior job history and listen to see if they remained calm, communicated all the necessary information, and stuck with the team until they were helped through to the “other side.”

Scenario 4: Relaying IT info to non-tech co-workers

Question: How would you handle explaining technical issues to non-tech members of your team?

Non-tech members of your team may struggle to understand some of the more complex IT concepts. However, understanding some of those concepts is necessary for cybersecurity protection. It’s a cybersecurity professional’s job to bring everybody up to speed and ensure all departments are working in the best interest of cybersecurity.

Answer: Both parties in this scenario know there is a knowledge gap. It’s important that candidates express that they can handle the scenario with discretion and tact. Look for them to show how they would politely explain their intentions. They should assure the non-tech person in the scenario that this has nothing to do with their intelligence. It only needs to be explained this way because they’re most likely unfamiliar with the technology. It also helps to ask them their particular method or thought process when it comes to translating complex cybersecurity concepts into more accessible language. 

If you need a resource to help with this process, the ConnectWise cybersecurity glossary is a perfect fit.

Scenario 5: Handling sensitive information

Question: Have you ever had to handle sensitive information in a previous role? If so, how did you go about it?

If you’re interviewing candidates for a position with any clients that require a security clearance, or would require them to handle sensitive information, you’re going to want to ensure they’re up to the task. Ultimately, this question helps them understand what their role entails and the expected behavior in the workplace. There are a number of ways to frame this question, but you’re looking for a few key things in their answer.

Answer: This question is like three cybersecurity interview questions in one. A good answer should provide insight enough for you to assess your candidate’s knowledge of the industry, experience with sensitive information, and be able to set expectations around employee conduct for their role.

Scenario 6: Conflict resolution

Question: How do you navigate conflict resolution in the workplace?

Conflicts are an inherent part of the workplace and can occur just as a natural byproduct of working as a team. Evaluating a candidate’s ability to resolve conflict is a smart idea before bringing them into your workplace environment. They must fit well with your team and culture to properly fill an empty role.

Answer: This is another area where you’ll want to look for honesty in a candidate’s response. Also, listen for any information regarding their communication level. It’s a bonus if they display attributes of being open to constructive criticism. 

Scenario 7: Leadership capabilities

Question: Share a scenario from a previous role when you’ve had to demonstrate leadership capabilities.

Leadership qualities aren’t just for supervisors. Any role could benefit from someone with sound leadership capabilities. How you frame this question is up to you, but here’s what a candidate’s response should contain.

Answer: Your question should prompt a potential candidate to define what leadership is. Next, they should provide a story where they embodied those leadership qualities in their life. The story they tell should describe the task they needed to complete and their actions to get there. Overall, their response should be framed in the context of leadership and tie back to their original definition of the concept. It’s a bonus if your candidate has done research into your organization and can cross-reference their answer with your own team’s core values.

Scenario 8: Building rapport

Question: What strategies do you feel are necessary to build rapport with team members and clients?

This question aims to find out an interviewee’s strategies for building rapport. It would be even more helpful if they could provide anecdotal evidence of times when they’ve built rapport in the past. This can be framed as rapport with employees or rapport with clients, whatever is more appropriate. With that said, both are equally important. Teamwork is an essential part of completing MSP tasks. Client rapport is important because once you get past the technical knowledge required, your MSP business relies heavily on excellent customer communication and service.

Answer: Your goal here is to see that a potential candidate has a solid strategy for building rapport with clients or co-workers and that they’ve been somewhat successful at it in the past. Investigate and see if they’re genuinely interested in their former clients and co-workers. Watch for all of the basic concepts of building rapport. Some of this information may already be apparent based on how the interview is going, depending on how long you’ve been sitting with a particular client.

Scenario 9: Good listener or communicator

Questions: Do you think it’s better to be a good listener or a good communicator? Why?

This question, “do you think it’s better to be a good listener or good communicator,” plays nicely as a follow-up to inquiring about their communication skills. It’s also a tricky concept to grasp, and answering this correctly shows a higher level of communication skills. 

Answer: Taking the time to respond thoughtfully to this question is a great start. You’ll want your candidate to answer something to the effect of “being a good listener is part of being a good communicator.” Communicating isn’t always about the words being said. Their answer should give you a sense that they truly listen to superiors and co-workers, consider that information, and act accordingly.

Scenario 10: Presentation skills

Question: Discuss a successful presentation you’ve given previously. Tell us the reasoning behind the topic and why you think it went well.

Asking about a candidate’s presentation skills is essential for certain positions, such as when asking cybersecurity analyst interview questions. These professionals need to collect and report findings from a number of threat reports. Failure to possess or sharpen these skills will make their cybersecurity career a challenge.

Answer: Recalling a presentation that went well in their prior work history will demonstrate satisfactory written and verbal communication skills. It will also give insight into their public speaking ability and strategy and preparation skills. Additionally, the particular presentation they choose will provide you with a better understanding of their personal character.

Non-scenario questions

Non-scenario questions are more straightforward cybersecurity interview questions. Whereas scenario questions are more subjective and can be answered in several ways as long as the answer touches on the key points, non-scenario cybersecurity questions have a definite “correct” answer. These questions could be used to assess some soft skills but primarily to determine a candidate’s technical knowledge of the cyberspace industry. 

Some popular examples are as follows:

  • What is cryptography?
  • What is a virtual private network? (VPN)
  • How do you prevent identity theft?
  • Describe a disagreement with a previous manager and how you resolved it
  • Tell us a time you identified a problem at your previous company and how you resolved it

If you need cyber solutions and services to complement the expertise from your new hires, check out our cybersecurity center. Along with information about our offerings, you’ll find top-class industry insight to guide your growing team to success. 

A successful interview, for both you and your potential candidate, starts with the right questions. Keep these tips and prompts in mind, and you should have no problem filling your next available cybersecurity role.

The ConnectWise team is always here as a trusted partner in your business, here to help you grow. We welcome you to contact us with any questions about this or any other IT topics.