NEWS + ADVICE
How to Hack Remote Interviewing
We had the pleasure to attend an informative talk at BSidesLV, presented by Will Baggett III. Will is the Director of Digital Forensics for Operation Safe Escape and is in a Cyber Threat Intelligence leadership role. Here are some key insights from Will’s discussion, diving into ways to maximize your remote interviews and minimize distractions.
As someone who was looking for a job during COVID and the sudden push towards virtual interviews, Will started discerning what was working for him and what wasn’t. In his presentation discussing the lessons learned from his remote interviewing experience, Will noted every job is temporary.
You’re either going to exit the airplane on your own timeframe or when someone else wants you off. Whether there’s a merger, acquisition, or management change, things happen, but Will says the time to prepare to get off the plane isn’t in the air. You need to prepare yourself now. Consider Will’s tips to improve your remote interview outcomes and stand out from the crowd.
What Can You Control?
The key to hacking remote interviews lies in controlling your environment. While tips like plugging in your computer may appear to be very basic principles, Will reminds us that when the plane crashes and you’ve received notice that you’ve been laid off, you’re not going to be thinking about all these minute details. So refer to the following checklist items to ensure you hack the interview when it matters.
Check Your Tech Before Showtime
Checking your tech to help ensure a smooth virtual interview is important for all job opportunities—but especially for remote roles. “When you interview for a remote job, you’re demonstrating your ability to work remotely,” explains Will. “If you show up late, if you’re distracted, if you’re playing with your phone, these are all negative things.” Consider these quick tips to control your technical environment.
CHARGE YOUR DEVICES
Charge your phone and connect your computer to AC power. When it comes to the battery on your laptop, Will notes there is a difference between should be fine and will be fine—so plug in your devices. Your phone dying in the middle of an interview is not going to help build rapport. Will also suggests disabling all but the necessary apps on your phone, as some are battery hogs that drain power more quickly than others.
MAXIMIZE YOUR BANDWIDTH
Disconnect every device in your house except for your router, smartphone, and computer. Will suggests this from personal experience when a massive PlayStation download in his household killed his bandwidth in the middle of a video interview. “If you don’t have a good connection and make a good impression, the rest is lost,” says Will.
TURN OFF AUTO UPDATES
Updates are great, but you don’t want to risk functionality during your interview for one. “If your laptop switches over to update mode during an interview, guess who’s not getting hired?” asks Will. “That’s you.”
CLEAR YOUR DESKTOP
Prepare your laptop by cleaning off all the debris on your desktop. If you end up sharing your screen for whatever reason you want it to be clean. The only accounts visible should be for the interview (i.e. Teams, Zoom, WebEx, etc.), so that you’re ready to meet them at a moment’s notice.
INVEST IN A BETTER MIC
Will suggests getting a better microphone if your budget permits. This is because the built-in microphone on your device is generally the lowest quality mic that a consumer focus group could tolerate. It’s all about perception and presentation. If the interviewer can’t understand you now, they may assume stakeholders and customers in the future will also have trouble.
CHECK YOUR PROFILES, EMAIL, AND PHONE NUMBER
You want an email account just for your job search. Take your email and phone number and look them up to make sure they’re not associated with anything unprofessional. OSINT (Open-source intelligence) is your friend, but Will warns you can expect the interviewer to turn around and do the same for you. If they search for your accounts and your Cash App or Venmo shows transactions for things like weed and bail, guess who’s not getting hired for the privacy role? Lock down your profiles.
BONUS: CONFIRM DETAILS LIKE TIME ZONE
Don’t let your technical prep go to waste by flubbing a key detail like the time zone of your interview. Don’t assume—confirm the details with the recruiter ahead of time.
Control Your Setting for the Best Impression
With the big technical components checked off the list, next you’ll want to ensure your setting and appearance set the right tone. Consider these tips to present yourself professionally.
HAVE A PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND
Aside from dressing the part, you also want your background to look professional. A bookcase may seem professional but it can be distracting. You can bet they’ll be trying to read the book titles behind you instead of listening to you. Go for a minimalist background that is distraction free.
CHECK YOUR LIGHTING
What time of day is your interview? You don’t want to be squinting with the sun hitting you wrong because you didn’t think about drawing the curtains in front of you. Will reminds us that all these little things do matter to help you get the job, so do a test run at the same time of day ahead of time to check your lighting.
MANIPULATE YOUR PROPS
While you don’t want negative distractions in your background, it is possible to plant some props for conversation that may benefit your interview interaction. If you’re in security, having something like a SANS or DEF CON mug might help. Will says not to mention it yourself, but if it comes up and they mention the mug, you can now casually add how you got the mug when you were a speaker at DEF CON for instance.
HIDDEN STICKY NOTES
In your interview preparation, Will suggests taking advantage of looking up standard interview questions that some companies repeatedly use. Why not add some of your responses or examples that you can draw upon to a sticky note along the side of your monitor? Having some cue cards can make the remote environment work to your advantage, but keep your background in mind. Do you have a mirror behind you that will show your cheat sheets?
During the Interview Be Sure to…
Once your prep is out of the way, stay diligent and keep these tips in mind during the remote interview.
MAKE A PLAN IF YOU GET DISCONNECTED
At the start of your interview make a reconnection plan. You might say, “if we get disconnected for any reason, I’ll hop back on Zoom. If that’s not working, I’ll call you.”
DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE
“The only acceptable use of your phone during the video interview is as a clock,” urges Will. Understand that perception is reality. You may be reading your notes on your phone, but it may appear that you’re not paying attention. So put your phone on silent and out of reach.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
Another big one is language. Profanity is a deal breaker for most hiring managers. Will suggests you avoid colloquialisms, regional phrases, and obscure references.
LOOK AT THE CAMERA
Maintaining eye contact is a little different when it comes to remote interviews. You actually need to look at the camera to appear like you’re looking at them.
KEEP OPERATIONAL SECURITY IN MIND
And finally, be cognizant of what questions the interviewer is asking you. Don’t be so anxious to answer with the truth that you throw operational security out the window. It’s a common tactic for foreign adversaries to pretend to be someone they’re not to see if you will give up sensitive data.