What to Expect in a Privacy Interview
You've started your privacy job search and found some interesting roles. But what should you expect in a privacy interview?
We've completed countless privacy interviews with 20+ companies. We focus primarily on privacy engineering jobs. However, we've also interviewed for various roles like privacy product managers, privacy program managers, consultants, etc.
The most important thing we found? Most of the interviews are similar.
Non-disclosure agreements are a thing, so we can't tell you how to ace the privacy interview at DreamTech. However, we can share the common question types you should expect in your privacy interviews.
We provide 15 privacy-specific interview questions and 5 questions you should ask your interviewers. Before interviewing for your next job, review these sections:
- Evergreen Interview Advice
- General Privacy Questions
- Behavioral Questions
- Scenario-Based Questions
- Questions to Ask Your Interviewers
Evergreen Interview Advice
Let's talk about nerves.
Even with countless interviews under our belts, we still get nervous before each interview—this is normal.
Expect to be nervous going into your privacy interview, regardless of how many you've completed. We found that treating interviews as a conversation, rather than a personal critique of your privacy knowledge and capabilities, is best. Think about interviews as a collaborative exercise between future colleagues.
While this may make you more comfortable, you should also adequately prepare.
One of the best way to prepare for interviews is to practice example questions. We provide 15 privacy-specific interview questions in this article. While your exact questions may differ, the type of questions will be similar. Instead of us answering these questions for you, we believe practicing these questions will increase your likelihood of success.
Practicing interview questions is one part of preparing for your interviews. However, you should also prepare for interviews that will go wrong.
Companies are still figuring out how to interview privacy practitioners. Because of this, you'll encounter inexperienced interviewers and ineffective questions. Hiring managers and interviewers have different, stark, and sometimes uninformed opinions about how to evaluate privacy candidates.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, remember that interviews are a conversation. Ask clarifying questions, redirect the interviewer as needed, and take ownership of your success in the interview. Here are a few other tips:
Here are a few other tips:
- Develop your career narrative. Most interviews begin with introductions and you should be able to provide your career elevator pitch in your sleep. Your career narrative should be a deliberate showcase of your roles, education, certifications, etc. Highlight the deliberate choices and investments you've made in your career and focus on your passion for privacy. Keep it brief.
- Prepare some good anecdotes. Always prepare to talk about your key accomplishments, projects, and work experience. Use these anecdotes to answer almost any behavioral question you encounter. Think through these examples and practice how you would share them ahead of time. By doing so, you'll feel more prepared when asked about them by your interviewer.
Above all else, do your best to relax and be yourself. You've got this.
General Privacy Questions
Regardless of the role, interviewers love to test your general privacy knowledge.
General privacy questions evaluate your understanding of core privacy topics. Interviewers often use these questions as part of phone screens, but expect them in on-site interviews as well. While not always thought-provoking, make sure you review any applicable privacy topics for the role.
These questions may ask you to explain privacy itself, compare and contrast privacy topics, or explain a niche topic in more depth, e.g., anonymization. Expect these topical questions to test the breadth and depth of your privacy knowledge.
During your privacy interview, expect questions like:
- Explain the difference between privacy and security. Do privacy and security conflict with each other? Can you have too much of either?
- Is an IP address personal data? If so, explain when and why this is true.
- Pick a privacy-enhancing technology. Explain what it is and when to use it.
- Privacy laws and regulations are ambiguous and change frequently. How do you monitor these changes and ensure your organization remains compliant?
- Explain the difference between a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) and records of processing activities (ROPAs). When do you need each?
While not exhaustive, this list should get you thinking about privacy topics to review before your privacy interview.
While General Privacy Questions focus on privacy topics, behavioral questions measure your effectiveness based on your past work.
Behavioral questions are not unique to privacy, but you should prepare for them.
Behavioral questions start with phrases like "tell me about a time when" or "give an example of". Their intent? To evaluate your track record of solving problems. A common method to succeed at behavioral questions is the STAR method.
You may encounter 1 or 2 behavioral questions on a phone screen, but they typically come up during an on-site interview. Before your interview, reflect on your career and identify your greatest challenges and wins. Try to identify privacy-specific examples if you can.
Prepare to discuss what you did, what you learned, what you would do differently, etc. for all of your examples. Be sure to identify key facts and metrics, as well as ensure the example has sufficient depth for follow-up questions.
You may get general behavioral questions, but a few privacy-specific ones are:
- Think of a time when you worked on a large, cross-functional privacy project involving lawyers, engineers, and product teams. What was the project? What made it challenging and how did you succeed? Did anything go wrong? What would you do differently next time?
- Think of a time when you received push-back and conflict from a cross-functional stakeholder. How did you resolve the conflict, move the project forward, and deliver on time?
- Engineering teams often view privacy as a blocker that slows down product releases. Give me an example of how you communicated the importance of privacy to a product team that's on a short product launch timeline.
- Tell me about the most challenging privacy problem you had to solve. What made it difficult? How did you succeed? How did you measure success?
- Describe a situation where your proposed solution to a privacy problem failed. What did you learn from the failure and what would you do differently?
You're not likely to get these exact questions. However, be prepared for these questions by reviewing the STAR method, and identifying key professional experiences that you can showcase—bonus points if these focus on privacy!
Behavioral Questions ask you to share your professional experiences, while scenario-based questions ask you to analyze hypothetical privacy scenarios.
Scenario-based questions are often complex and open-ended.
Interviewers will ask you to apply various privacy topics, processes, and requirements in a job-based setting. These questions focus on your ability to fulfill specific job functions, e.g., building a privacy program, doing privacy reviews, responding to privacy incidents, etc.
A good interviewer can guide you along, but you must showcase the breadth and depth of your privacy knowledge. Interviews are short and may restrict you from raising everything you'd do in a particular situation. Be sure to mention these topics so the interview knows you're thinking about them.
Some example scenario-based questions include:
- What would be your first steps if you joined an organization without an established privacy program, and why?
- Review the provided hypothetical product requirements document. How would you conduct a privacy review of this product? What would be your recommendations and remediations be for the product team?
- Review the code associated with a hypothetical product. Identify relevant privacy and security findings, prioritize them based on risk, and provide recommendations and remediations.
- A development team identified a potential incident affecting their product. The team provided you with some access logs and database entries. Review these artifacts, ask the team for any additional information, identify the root cause of the incident (if one occurred), and provide the best next steps.
- A development team is deploying a new machine learning model that uses customer data from multiple sources. Identify privacy requirements and risks, and determine how the project may proceed.
These scenario-based questions evaluate whether you have the requisite privacy knowledge and whether you can apply that knowledge on a practical level.
Questions to Ask Your Interviewers
Don't forget to prepare some questions to ask your interviewers.
It's easy to forget that an interview is a 2-way conversation—you're interviewing the organization as much as they're interviewing you. Flipping the interview script and asking high-quality questions helps ensure you join an organization that matches your values and expectations.
So what should you ask your interviewers? Glad you asked—a few suggestions:
- Where is the privacy team within the organization? Does the team report through the security, legal, or compliance teams?
- What are the major challenges your privacy program is facing? Where do you think I will make the largest impact?
- How large is the privacy team? Are there multiple privacy teams? How large is the overall privacy program at the company?
- Does my job have a dedicated job family? How long has the job family existed? If not, how will you measure my performance against my assigned job family?
- How many people in my role, e.g., privacy engineers, exist at the company?
Why These Questions are Important
The answers to these questions tell you a lot about the organization.
The reporting structure of the privacy organization is important, but not necessarily a deal-breaker. Depending on who the team reports through can tell you how mature the organization is or what's important to them. A team reporting through legal may imply a legal-heavy organization, but reporting through security may exhibit more of an engineering culture.
Getting clarity on the challenges and opportunities facing the team ensures your knowledge, skills, and interests are a good fit for the team's needs. IF the type of work doesn't interest you, move on!
The last 3 questions help ensure you're properly supported.
Depending on the size of the organization, you may be one of a few privacy practitioners. Make sure the organization can support you based on where you're at in your career, your needs, and how you'd like to grow in the future.
Many privacy disciplines are still new and may not have dedicated job families—this is true for both large and small organizations. The lack of a job family can make performance measurement and promotion difficult. Organizations may evaluate you against more general criteria, e.g., project management, or against different roles entirely, e.g., security engineering.
These questions shouldn't qualify or disqualify an organization on their own.
However, make sure you understand the health and maturity of the privacy program you're joining—you'll thank yourself in the long run.
We sincerely hope this post was accessible, useful, and practical for you. If you have any feedback on this post, please let us know. Cheers.