Before Stephen Baird interviewed for the job of VP of corporate security for United Rentals, he did his homework. Sure, he checked out its financial filings and the stability of the executive suite, and he networked with a few peers. But Baird also went a step further. He visited a branch office to see what customers experience. "I learned how to rent a piece of equipment, and I basically hung around watching and listening," he says. During the interview, when the CFO asked how Baird saw security playing into revenue generation, he had a ready answer. "I told him, 'I will never make security a revenue generator, but it can contribute to cost savings and increased efficiencies,'" he says. Baird then explained how he had watched customers renting equipment and noticed that although they were offered the option to buy insurance on the equipment, there were no security products available onsite. He talked about products United could offer, like security locks for Bobcats that cut down on damage and theft of rented equipment. "The CFO [who would also be his new boss] just sat back and smiled," Baird recalls.
With the increased visibility and codependence of the CSO role with other business functions, applicants for executive security positions can expect a lot tougher job interview questions. Preparation is paramount. We asked several security executives who went through the interview process in recent years what were some of the most challenging questions they had to answer. They shared their advice on crafting the right kinds of answers and the lessons they learned from the interview and selection process.
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By the time a CSO has made it to the interview stage, the contents of his resume should be largely moot. Usually both the candidate and company have at least a rough idea of what the other is about. What they are looking for at this stageand what many of the harder questions are getting atis a sense of the unique skills and sensibilities the candidate will bring to the job. They may not always state their questions explicitly, but these are the areas that corporate executives will attempt to mine in an interview.
Security Interview Question 1: What is your vision for our security organization?
"The vision thing," as the first President Bush once termed it, is hugely important in selecting a CSO. The company's executives will have their own vision of what a CSO should be and what he should be able to do for the company, and they'll expect you to have one too. They want to know that you have experience with their particular security issues, that you can craft a plan for where security should be in their enterprise—and how you are going to get it there. "In my case, I had a very complete job description written for them and had brainstormed what I thought a CSO should be able to provide them," says Robert Champion, CSO of WGL Holdings, which owns Washington Gas. CSO candidates should try to learn as much as possible about the company and position, and be prepared to discuss ideas and strategies that match an employer's goals.