When covering the art of a successful job interview, no business or startup article these days can start without mentioning the impact of COVID-19. This one, about the job market and how to secure a job post, is no different.
Business applications were down 40% in early 2020, and the 2.9M jobs created by startups each year probably won’t materialize. And while some European startups are going against the grain and hiring, the fact is that entering a new company can be more challenging than ever these days. Which is why you have to be more thoughtful than ever about your next job interview.
But don’t fret! Thanks to our handy cheat sheet, you’ll be able to feel prepared, relaxed, and in control of your next meeting with hiring powers.
The word startup might conjure up images of vast open plan offices with relaxed developers wandering about, playing table tennis and eating breakfast cereals.But no matter how casual the environment is, don’t ever forget that a startup is nonetheless a business.
No matter how much of a moonshot their next project is, or whether the job application mentioned dreamers and rockstars, you still have to be super professional when attending a job interview at a startup.
And so, the same qualities that apply in a corporate environment are also valued within startups. That means you should follow the standard practices for what is considered a good interviewee, namely:
And then of course, there’s all the stuff you probably already know about body language, first impressions, dress code, etc… But to be fully honest, we’re a bit hesitant to make you focus too much on that, especially when it comes to interviewing for startups. This is because, as we’ll see, transparency and honesty can actually be strong advantages in that world.
This is where things get interesting. Because there are as many job interview styles as there are startups. You might have heard of people head-hunted by tech companies and hired on the spot after an impressive achievement. Or Google’s famously tough interview questions.
Still, there are enough patterns we’ve found from studying startup job interview questions. Here’s what we believe you should understand:
Startups tend to move fast. They don’t have the luxury of 6-week onboarding programmes or lengthy Learning and Development courses.Which is why you have to know exactly what the company’s challenges are, and how you will solve them. You must know where you fit in, and why you’re the best person for the job.
Remember when we mentioned doing your research about the company above? This is exactly where a good understanding of what the startup does will help you. You’re not joining it so that they can help you with your career. You’ll be hired if you can demonstrate that you’ll help them meet their goals. In some cases an interviewer might mention a given situation the company is finding itself in and therefore why they might be hiring. This is your first chance at the job interview to orally accommodate their need with your skills and knowledge.
Pro tip: have a day-one plan, or a list of things you’d start doing at the company straight away. This shows you won’t need babysitting and can demonstrate initiative. Everyone loves a proactive role player on their team.
You might have heard of the term PLG, or product-led growth. It doesn’t matter if the product is Facebook, a subscription service, or a portable 3D Printer. In the startup world, the product is the most important thing, and your goal, as an employee, will be to improve it.
Which is to say, the very least you must do before you attend your job interview is to test the product.And on top of that, remember that the MVP model (minimum viable product), means startups launch products they know aren't perfect yet. What does it say about you if you’re asked about it at the job interview, and all you can say is that you like it?
In short, you have to think beyond a simple user, and effectively be more like a consultant. What are the product's strengths and weaknesses? Is there anything you’ll start working on to improve it right away? An UX issue you couldn’t work out? Suggestions for their social media marketing? Once again: you have to act like you’re already part of the company, not just someone hired by it.
Pro tip: Before the job interview, record your experience using the product and make a list of all the pros and cons you can think of.
In the startup world, employees tend to wear many hats. So yes, being a jack of all trades can be beneficial, but it’s also important to be open about what you can’t do. In fact, interviewers will favour those who can demonstrate a strong sense of their own worth in specific areas.
Let’s take an example. You’re postulating for a data science position. The interviewer asks if you’d be comfortable helping marketing with some ideas. If you don’t have any background in that area, it’s much more valuable for the company to know how they can’t use your skills. You should be open and say that it wouldn’t be not a worthy ROI when someone else could do it better and faster.
Transparency tends to be at the core of many startups. You own self-assessment should align with that code of ethics too (without underselling yourself).
Pro tip: Before the job interview, go over the job description once more, and rank how confident you feel about each of the requirements. Don’t hesitate to mention the one you’re the least comfortable with during the job interview, as long as it doesn’t distract from the one you’re passionate about!
If the initial interview goes well, there could still be a probation period. Don’t think for one second that your foot is already in the door, because it’s your chance to show how committed you are to the job.
And bonus points if you can use that stage to bring something nobody else can to the table. In business, you might hear the USP (unique selling point). If your skills crossover with another department’s, it’s the perfect opportunity that you can go above and beyond.
Pro tip: if you’re given any kind of homework with deadlines or KPIs, try your best to surpass the company’s expectations.
This is a trick question startup interviewers often rely on. They want to get a better idea of who you are as a person, and may ask you to talk about something completely irrelevant.
There are two goals here: first, see how good you are at thinking on your feet. To see if you can adapt after being thrown a curveball, which happens all the time in a startup environment.
Secondly, they want to see if the passion you feel about other things is as strong as how you feel about the company. A candidate who has nothing to say about the company's products and a lot to say about a competitor will not fare well. On the flip side, if your passion projects can be used by the company, you’re drastically increasing your chances.
Pro tip: Before the job interview, prepare a mental list of your passion projects and what you find thrilling about them. Bonus points if they align with what the company does!
Since these are becoming more common these days, we thought we’ll make a quick list of things to consider for virtual meetings:
On the surface, nailing a job interview isn’t all that much different whether you apply at a startup or a more established company. One of the key point is to research the company and their competitors.
But there are still certain idiosyncrasies worth considering. Startups value company culture and strong ethical codes. They move fast and need results immediately. And they’re less interested in providing you with a career than optimizing their product.
While it can be overwhelming at first, hopefully, these tricks will help you feel prepared, comfortable, and ready to nail that next job interview. Now go get’em!