Security engineering interviews are some of the toughest in the tech industry. As a security engineer, your job is all about reducing risk for technical products by thwarting malicious behavior.
Due to the essential nature of security engineering, the interviews for security engineers can be some of the most challenging in technical interviews.
We sat down with security and cybersecurity engineers from some of the top tech companies including Google, Meta, Amazon, and more to clarify what's actually asked in the security engineer interview and how to prepare.
In general, the security engineer interview has the following interview stages at most companies:
1. Recruiter screen
In this 30-45min interview, your recruiter will ask questions about your resume, light technical questions to gauge your domain knowledge of security engineering, and behavioral questions to assess your culture fit at the company. In general, try to be authentic and genuine, while also showing that you've done research on the company and are genuinely excited to work there. We often recommend looking up your interviewer on LinkedIn to understand them a bit better, and reviewing public vision documents produced by the company.
2. Manager screen
In this interview, you'll speak with the hiring manager about your technical skills and domain knowledge (this is sometimes referred to as the technical screen). Expect to talk through why you're the best candidate for the job and how you'd add value to the company.
On-site interviews also vary, but they follow a predictable structure. Typically you’ll interview for 3-5 hours total with a lunch break midway through. You’ll go through many rounds, each 30 - 60 minutes long. One of the interviews will be a coding focused interview, where you'll be asked standard algorithms and data structures interview questions. The rest of the interviews will focus more on the methodology of how you'd go about solving some security issues, and is more in a discussion format. We encourage you to gather as much information as possible about the exact structure from your recruiter, as well as reviewing our list of Security Engineer interview questions below.
While this is a generally universal structure of the interview process, the interview stages can vary across different companies. Keep in mind your recruiter is on your side–they can answer questions you have about the interview loop before you go to your on-site.
As mentioned, security engineer interview questions can vary widely from company to company. Here's a list of questions we've seen most frequently asked at tech companies.
To be successful in the security engineer interview, we strongly recommend reviewing security engineering fundamentals. Some of the fundamental pieces of knowledge you'll want to review includes this glossary below:
While covering all of these concepts may not be in your initial answer, your interviewer will likely push on your initial answer with follow-up questions related to these concepts. For instance, if you're answering a question on implementing authorization and authentication systems, your interviewer may ask you follow-up questions on how you think about the different solutions including SAML, OpenID Connect, and OAuth.
Looking for more resources? Review this study guide to security engineering interviews at Google.
Each company has its own process for interviewing candidates and evaluates candidates along different core values, so do your homework! If you understand the mission and core values of the companies you're applying to, you'll not only understand more about the company's culture and goals, you'll also be better prepared to demonstrate those values and principles during the interview. We've put together an extensive catalog of interview guides that give you an inside look at the interview process and criteria for most tech companies. Here are a few examples:
Check out our full list of company interview guides here:
Be sure to focus your preparation on the role you're applying for as well. One important tip: always review in detail the job description of the role you're applying for. Often, the job description can indicate what types of questions will come up and what skills the hiring manager is looking for. Tailor your study plan to map to the set of skills and responsibilities listed there.
Security engineer interviews are often asked coding interviews related to security standards. These tend to follow the more common algorithm and data structures interview questions asked in software engineering interviews.
To answer these questions, review the basics of software engineering, including but not limited to sorting algorithms, binary search, graphs and trees, dynamic programming, recursion, arrays, linked lists, stacks, queues, hash tables, heaps, graph search, and more.
Some common or recently asked software engineering interview questions to review and practice:
fib(n) that returns the nth Fibonacci number. Practice answer.
Coding interviews won't make up the entirety of your interview, but companies like Google are known to spend two to three interviews focused on coding interviews in addition to the conversational security engineer interview questions as well.
Lastly, be sure to get in some practice to get comfortable answering questions and smooth out your responses.
As you practice, remember to actively listen. Effective security engineers know how to actively listen to their team — it's no different in the interview process. After you hear an interview question, take the time to really truly listen to what the interviewer is asking. This means asking follow-up questions and repeating what you hear back to ensure you and your interviewer are on the same page.
After each practice session, reflect on what you think you did well and where you could improve. As you practice, list out common weaknesses so you can notice patterns and improve your performance.
If you're looking to get feedback on your practice, practice on a peer-to-peer mock interview website like Pramp, where you can conduct mock interviews and get detailed feedback on your answers, along with sample questions that you can be asked by your peers.
Ultimately, the best way to prepare for the security engineer interview is to get out there and practice. Here are some resources that could be helpful in your preparation:
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and system design skills with our interview practice tool.
👨🎓 Take our complete System Design interview course.
Good luck with your interview preparation journey!
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