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Why this matters:

The role of a data protection officer draws upon multiple knowledge bases; in addition to data protection, candidates need a working familiarity with information security, computer science, software engineering, and similar fields. In addition, ideal candidates understand applicable privacy regulations and how to work cross-functionally to align and comply.

What to listen for:

  • Working familiarity with the most relevant disciplines
  • A strong knowledge of on-point privacy laws
  • Experience in data protection and legal compliance

Why this matters:

While the role of data protection officer was originally created to ensure compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), candidates must have a solid knowledge of relevant laws, regulations, and standards specific to your country, region, or sector. Examples include the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) or HIPAA, FDA, IRBs, and RWD/RWE for US healthcare. 

What to listen for:

  • Demonstrated knowledge of sector- and jurisdiction-specific regulations
  • Experience interpreting these regulations favorably for business — and yet safely
  • Knowledge of regulatory trends, both in the short- and long-term

Why this matters:

Strong candidates will have at least a passing knowledge of the data collected in your field, along with the types that call for special protection. This question examines the candidate’s track record for helping similar organizations develop safeguarding protocols to meet minimum standards and achieve compliance at all times.

What to listen for:

  • Experience helping similar organizations achieve compliance with data protection laws
  • Knowledge of sector-specific data and IT processes
  • A track record of successful compliance for similar companies

 

Why this matters:

Data protection officers are responsible for performing data protection impact assessments to diagnose existing and potential risks — and determine whether an organization is in compliance. This question reveals a candidate’s strategy and approach toward managing risks, avoiding breaches, and ensuring systematic compliance.

What to listen for:

  • Up-to-date knowledge of GDPR plus any other relevant regulations
  • An organized and systematic approach with strong attention to detail
  • Experience designing and implementing strategies and rules to ensure compliance

Why this matters:

To prevent undue bias or conflicts of interest, data protection officers must work independently. Typically speaking, they cannot be direct or contracted employees of an organization they’re working with, nor can they hold positions within the organization or report to anyone other than senior management. This question will help you assess a candidate’s track record of impartiality and integrity.

What to listen for:

  • An understanding of the ethical responsibilities of the role
  • The ability to act on behalf of their public entities
  • An objective mindset that prioritizes legal compliance over company agendas

Why this matters:

Data protection officers should act as mentors to management and staff, informing them of their responsibilities under all applicable data protection laws. They must possess strong project management skills, the ability to influence management and stakeholders, excellent communication skills, and the ability to coordinate effectively with other leaders to drive shifts in their culture and operations.

What to listen for:

  • A track record of influence and effectiveness
  • Clear communication skills
  • The ability to explain technical concepts to nontechnical people

Why this matters:

Data protection officers are responsible for educating management and employees on compliance with data protection laws. This question will help you assess a candidate’s ability to communicate complex information in simple terms, develop effective training strategies, and act as a mentoring figure.

What to listen for:

  • Track record of success of training and mentoring others
  • Ability to customize complex information for specific audiences
  • Past experience developing training material

Why this matters:

The role of a data protection officer requires balancing education with leadership and enforcement. Data protection officers often bridge people or teams — and work closely with management and stakeholders. Candidates should have experience identifying breaks in communication, solving conflicts, and working with people from diverse teams to achieve full compliance.

What to listen for:

  • A collaborative leadership style
  • Strong communication skills
  • Ability to adapt implementation to specific organizational infrastructure

Why this matters:

Data protection officers are typically required by law to document data processing activities, along with their purpose, and make them available to the public, on request. Ideal candidates will be knowledgeable about the latest policies and procedures, and be proactive in adjusting existing documentation to comply with them.

What to listen for:

  • Up-to-date knowledge of GDPR plus any other relevant regulations
  • An organized and systematic approach with strong attention to detail
  • A track record of facilitating a culture of data protection
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