Featured in IT World: 4 Interview Questions for Data Security Analysts

by Devin Weakland on November 4, 2015

This article initially appeared on Network World on Oct 29, 2015 and in IT World on November 4th, 2015

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Recent data breaches, like those at Xero, Experian andTalkTalk, are one of the many reasons data security analysts are in high demand.

These professionals work to keep businesses’ data safe: They perform security audits and risk assessments, enhance data systems security, know how to spot potential breaches and have quick solutions to rectify weaknesses.

Hiring managers want data security analysts with a thorough understanding of computer and network security, including firewall administration, encryption technologies and network protocols, according to IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology (RHT). RHT named this position one of the top-five highest paid tech jobs of 2015, with a salary range of $106,250 to $149,000.

That salary for this in-demand security job is expected to increase yet again, according to RHT’s 2016 Technology Salary Guide. Next year, data security analysts can expect a 7 percent increase, propelling salaries between $113,500 and $160,000.

“Finding qualified data security analysts is still challenging for companies,” says John Reed, senior executive director at RHT. “Data security isn’t anything new, but it’s difficult to find qualified talent because they’re all working. That means [businesses] likely have to recruit them from another company, which is bumping up their salaries.”

Also affecting salaries is that increase in cyber attacks on businesses and their customers. “These attacks have a profoundly negative impact on an organization’s image, productivity and bottom line,” according to IT staffing firmModis. “In this environment, analysts are needed to help companies cope with security breaches and develop highly effective cybersecurity strategies.”

Data security analysts should have a mix of technical and soft skills. You need to be an excellent communicator, problem solver and multitasker, exhibit good judgement and work well under pressure. Given the nature of security breaches, you also need to keep abreast of industry security trends and government regulations, RHT says.

Beyond technical and soft skills, hiring managers like candidates with professional certifications to prove that you have a deep understanding of security protocols, says Felix Fermin, recruiting manager at IT staffing firm Mondo. Top certifications include the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Information Systems Security Engineering (ISSEP) and Global Information Assurance Certifications (GIAC).

Now that you’ve landed an interview for this hot job, it’s time to shine. Here are four popular interview questions hiring managers may ask, plus tips to work in the important information they want to hear.


1. Help me understand a security issue that a company like ours should be concerned about.

Businesses want data security analysts to be proactive — rather than reactive — in identifying potential vulnerabilities, RHT’s Reed says. “If you were walking into our environment, where would you start? What areas are the most vulnerable?” Reed says. “Your answer to this question shows the hiring manager a few things: How well you understand the security landscape and how well you recognize possible threats, ahead of them actually happening.”

This question is designed to give the hiring manager a peek into how you’d approach security audits, risk assessments and analysis — key responsibilities of every data security analyst. Formulate your response using specific examples to prove that you’re aware of the latest vulnerabilities and prevention methods, plus how they specifically relate to that particular company.


2. How do you stay current with the security landscape?

Because the security field is constantly changing thanks to new breaches, vulnerabilities, threats and attacks, data security analysts need to stay up to date on the latest industry trends and developments, as well as any applicable government regulations, Mondo’s Fermin says. This question gives hiring managers insight into how you keep pace with an evolving field.

This is a good opportunity to name-drop any blogs, websites and newsletters you subscribe to, and highlight certifications you’ve completed, kept current or are currently pursuing, Fermin says.


3. Describe a scenario where you were able to spot a security issue. How did you identify it and what processes did you put in place?

While identifying security issues is half the battle, equally important is how you deal with them. Hiring managers ask this question both to gauge how you arrive at a solution and to get a sense of your track record in identifying and solving security issues, Reed says.

“Companies want someone who’s not just technically savvy, but someone with experience in anticipating potential problems and putting solutions into place before it becomes a problem,”he says. “They want you to be one step ahead of those who want to penetrate your network.”

In your response, detail how you discovered the security issue, then explain what you did to fix it — and why and how you arrived at that decision.


4. What is your proudest accomplishment in the data security space?

Did you prevent a particularly devastating attack or major data loss? This is your opportunity to brag about a past accomplishment, Fermin says.

Take the hiring manager through the event: how you spotted the vulnerability, the steps you took to prevent it and any security policies or procedures you put in place to prevent something like it in the future. While your answer to this question is a good indicator of your analytical, problem solving and judgement skills, it’s also a good opportunity to convey your passion for and dedication to this field.

This story, “4 Interview questions for data security analysts” was originally published by CSO.

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About this author (Devin Weakland)

Devin Weakland is a Marketing Generalist for Mondo.