5 Tips to Nail Your Startup Interview


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So you landed an interview with your dream startup. Not only have visions of this position been dancing in your head for weeks—nay, months! —but this company is actually interested. Nervous? Don’t be. Just be prepared.

Interviewing at a startup may not be as formal as donning your best suit for the Big Scary Law Firm, but this encounter won’t be like a relaxing chat with your best friend either. Before you walk through those unconventional doors into a loft, apartment, or co-working space, check out these tips to stay grounded, sound sharp, and put your best, most authentic foot forward.

1. There are no wrong answers.

None. Nada. De rien. Don’t get me wrong, something you say might not be what the employer is looking for—but if you’re truly representing yourself and your interests, not what you think the team wants to hear, then you are giving the right answer. The worst thing you can do is anticipate their needs and desires based on the company site, perceived culture, or press. Be informed, but be you. Absorb your research and think about how your own professional experience or personal interests compliment the role. Through a candid interview, you might find that this company is far from ideal, or you might realize that you’re able to contribute much more than you imagined.

2. All work experience can be relevant.

Startups are called as such because these neat pockets of innovation are serious companies starting up. This means there’s a “roll-up-your-sleeves-and-do-what’s-necessary” attitude that has to excite you in order for you to succeed. So if you’re hired for programming, don’t hesitate to bring up your music review blog, because it might just happen that the company is looking to create a product review portion of their website, and you’ll then get the chance to add a hobby skill—writing reviews—to your resume as part of your job.

3. Don’t mistake your potential boss for your BFF.

The perks are great, the culture relaxed and there are Happy Hour Thursdays in the office. You can wear whatever you want, are encouraged to work wherever makes you comfortable, and the people sitting across the table from you in the interview look your age. Maybe younger. That’s the nature of a startup: millennial workers creating young, exciting companies to the tune of their preferences. This does not mean the team around and across from you are your friends, especially during the interview. Dress professionally, even if you know everyone will be wearing jeans, and don’t drop the f-bomb or worse during your interview. A casual culture does not mean casual workers and certainly does indicate a casual relationship with the people signing your paychecks.

4. Discuss what you can contribute.

Everyone knows the best thing to do before an interview is to research the company and understand how it works and just what goes on there. To really shine at a startup interview, it is essential that you bring your own ideas to the position, keeping in mind what systems are already in place. Startups are always growing, and your bosses will want someone who can help the company evolve into a huge success. However, avoid criticism, trying to show off or simply disparaging the company in any way when talking about your offerings. This company is someone’s baby, their brainchild. Poking holes in it won’t do your candidacy any favors. Rather, build upon ideas, contribute, if asked, and think about how you can make this company just that little bit more special.

5. Ask questions. Then ask some more.

Startups are, by nature, flexible and uncertain. When it comes to hiring, employers need to know that not only can you rock the job description they’ve outlined, but you can bring even more to the table. Before you step into the interview, ask yourself if this kind of environment is right for you. Do you thrive in change or prefer stability? Be honest. Once you determine that the startup world is right for you, make sure to ask your potential employer thoughtful questions about company culture, work expectations, performance metrics, strengths and weaknesses about the company. These questions will help you stand out from the crowd and determine if the startup is right for you, which is just as important.

Ready to take your career to the next level?

It starts with “yes.”