Career Advice Tuesday – “Help Me Find My Interview Mojo”

February 1, 2011

Dear Infosecleaders:

I think that I may have lost my mojo.  Plain and simple, I have been interviewing for information security positions and I have been politely rejected in my last three attempts to secure my next position.   What makes this worse, is that for the first 10 years of my career, I never interviewed for a position that did not result in an offer for employment.

To give you more background, I am a highly technical information security professional with (what I think) is a very good background in both application security and network security.   I have about 2 years of people management experience, and have led some technical teams in these initiatives.  I think that I am fairly well paid for what I currently do, but my current position has gotten stale, I am out of new challenges, and quite frankly I want to transition to more of a management type of role.  These are the positions that I have been looking for.

During these interview processes, I easily make it by the technical screen, but I seem to have trouble when the interview advances to the more senior levels of both the information security team and in speaking with the business..

In the end, I get vanilla feedback like – “We went another direction.”, “We just did not thing you were the right fit”, “Another candidate had more experience.” Or simply radio silence.

Can you help me get my mojo back?


Dear Austin:

I can tell you that the hardest part of my job as a recruiter is giving qualified people the news that they were not selected for a particular position.  No matter what your profession, facing rejection is not an easy thing for anyone to accept, especially if you have been successful in the past.

I will say that information security professionals as a group are going to have to accept that being rejected in pursuit of an information security position, may become the new normal.  Lets face it, the competition has increased, many others have your same career goals, and it is very likely that may be more qualified and have more relevant experience as it relates to the position that you are pursuing.

Listening to your situation I can give you a couple of reasons that you may be failing:

1)   Your strength may be in your technical knowledge and you are pursuing managerial roles. Many highly technical information security pros believe that a transition to management is a natural one.  This is not an accurate assumption.   Management roles require different skills and it is often challenging for highly technical security pros to demonstrate this, at the level that an interviewer is expecting.

2)   You are highly paid. These future employers may see your required compensation level to not represent the value for the role they are recruiting for.  For example, it is possible that as a technical resource, your skills may represent the value of your compensation, but as a manager, your skills would command a lower salary (as compared to other managers in their organization, with similar managerial experience)

3)   Finally, it is possible that you are too overconfident considering your past success. Look, you would not be the first information security professional with a bit of an ego (hey that probably is one of the things that made you successful in the first place), but you may need to honestly assess yourself and ground yourself.   There is a fine line between confident and arrogant – and you may be crossing it.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Take some time to think about your career path and the positions that you are pursuing.  It is OK to “reach for the stars” – but if you have lofty goals, they may be harder to achieve considering that they are most likely shared by others.

2) Play to your strengths. Since it is clear that you are still technically competent,  use that as an advantage.  You can search for a hybrid position that requires deep technical expertise, but has a management component. In this type of role, your technical skills are what the employer would be after, and your strength in this area will play to your advantage.  Once you land a role like this, you can focus on the development of your management skills – through practice and career investment.

3) Ask for feedback. I hope that you will have a past manager that you respect, if so, invite them for lunch and ask them for their advice.  Since they know you, and you view them as a successful manager, they may have some good advice as it relates to you (personally) to address your skill gap, and hopefully they will be honest with you regarding the skills you need to develop and project during an interview process.

The best piece of advice that I can give you during an interview process is to be yourself.  Focus on the value that you can provide an employer, not necessarily the role, title, or org structure.  During the interview, put these skills in context of the immediate problems the employer is trying to solve.   Once you have convinced them of your value, you can then speak about some of your aspirations for future growth and professional development.

Keep your head up – don’t get discouraged!  Your mojo will return.

Good luck in your pursuits!

Mike and Lee

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Career Advice Tuesday, Interviewing, Recruiting, Skills 


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