15 tips for landing - and acing - a job interview

Talk about teamwork, be prepared to discuss your weaknesses, don't forget to interview the interviewer, and more advice from an executive recruiter

1. Write a great resume to open the door: Interviews are granted to those whose resumes demonstrate accomplishments, contributions and value. If you're not a great writer and you have trouble tooting your own horn, seek help from industry friends or consider a security-resume writer.

2. Keep phone interviews brief: Even if you're a local candidate, nowadays first interviews are frequently conducted over the phone. Listen very closely to the questions asked and answer them concisely. This is not the time to sell yourself because the caller is usually only trying to confirm what your resume suggests. Have a set of examples prepared in advance to back up any claims you made on your resume.

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3. Wow them face-to-face: Since companies have a variety of dress codes, it is important to find out how a prospective employer wants you to dress for an interview. A company that has a business-casual dress code may want you to interview in a suit and tie. Don't assume, ask.

4. Listen carefully: Interviews are won or lost in a matter of minutes based on whether a job candidate is listening and answering the interviewer's questions or whether they bring their own agenda to an interview. Focus on the interviewer's questions first.

5. Maintain personal integrity: Employers do care whether the claims on your resume match up to what you can actually do. Don't put information on your resume that you can't back up with experience and examples. If you've only read about new video surveillance systems or you've only been briefly exposed to a new firewall technology, be careful not to oversell your experience.

6. Know yourself: You can't know everything about a company before you interview, but you do have to be able to articulate your strengths. Don't be caught unprepared. Everyone has weaknesses and is not good at something. Know before you walk into an interview what you're not good at and how you're going to talk about that.

7. Rehearse selected interview topics: If you've been laid off or fired from previous jobs, don't wait until you step into an interview to decide how you're going to explain gaps in your employment. This is the kind of topic that's good to rehearse ahead of an interview so you know exactly what you're going to say when you're under pressure.

8. Articulate how you can contribute: Most businesses are doing more with fewer resources these days. Prepare examples of past contributions to give an employer an idea of how you might contribute to their organization. Often what will separate you from your competition is talking about the way you see yourself contributing to the team, as opposed to only focusing on your individual contribution. This means that you need to prepare examples of how you've identified risk, how you've mitigated risk, how you've made a company more secure or more aware of threats and vulnerabilities, and so on. Be able articulate what you've done to move a business forward.

9. Research corporate and risk culture: Do your homework before going in and avoid interviewing with companies where you won't appreciate the corporate culture. Researching a company beforehand allows both you and the potential employer to avoid investing time in an incompatible pairing —for example, if a company frowns on multiple piercings or visible tattoos but that is your chosen style.

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Learn about a company's risk culture before you interview. If your experience is from a highly-regulated bank, for example, and you dont know how to build a business case without leaning on the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to make your case, you probably won't interview well at a company that is much less regulated and where you have to support your case with business value.

10. Use LinkedIn for research appropriately: LinkedIn is a handy research resource. Use the site to research people who will be part of your interview process, or to find people who used to work where you're about to interview. Don't, however, make the mistake of sending an unsolicited LinkedIn invitation to people you've researched. Some people will think this is creepy and it could adversely affect your interview process.

11. Prepare business and technical questions: If you've done your research on a prospective employer, one of the best ways to demonstrate that is by asking questions. Prepare a few questions for the employer based on your research. In many cases, you may wind up knowing more about the company than the person whos interviewing you. Some of your questions should be technical security-centric questions. Others should focus on business issues you learned about while conducting your research. Some questions should be specifically for the hiring manager. Get to know the person you're considering spending eight or more hours per day with.

12. Interview the interviewer: It is your job to interview a prospective employer as much as it is the employer's job to interview you. Build questions that will help you learn about a hiring manager's managerial style and expectations. Ask others you'll interview with who are not the hiring manager what it is like to work for the hiring manager. Do this homework before you accept an offer. Don't wait until you've already given up your current job to determine that you've gone to work for the wrong boss.

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13. Don't put the interviewer on the spot: There is a fine line between showing interest in a position and backing an interviewer into a corner. Come up with a way to clearly demonstrate your interest in a position if you're truly interested, but don't press the interviewer for an immediate assessment of your interview performance. The goal of asking questions is not to put the interviewer on the spot but to gather information.

14. Stay sharp from beginning to end: You want to be yourself when you interview. Stay relaxed from start to finish, but resist the temptation to get too comfortable too soon by assuming that the job is yours and that you can let your guard down.

By the way, there is no excuse for being late to the interview. Always arrive early and if need be just relax in the parking lot and get a feel for the organization until 10 minutes before you are expected. When asked to deliver documents or complete an online application process, do so with diligence and deliver on or before the agreed-upon due date.

15. Follow up after the interview: Interviewers aren't thanked for their time as often as you might think. Have a follow-up plan in mind before you engage in an interview. If you're going to use email, make sure you get business cards from those you encounter. If you're going to use a handwritten thank-you note, make sure you have the correctly spelled names and titles of the interviewers, and make sure you have correct mailing address information.

Be sure you don't leave anyone out when you follow up. You never know who might be impressed by your follow-up or who might be offended if they've been left out.

Jeff Snyder is the president of SecurityRecruiter.com, an executive search firm specializing in the recruitment of ­security, risk-management and compliance professionals.

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