How to Prepare for Interviewing at a Startup


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Photo: WOC In Tech

It’s no secret that today’s job market is competitive. Particularly when it comes to nabbing a role at an innovative startup looking for bright people to help them do big things with a small team.

If your CV impresses the recruiter and you make it through to the first-round telephone interview, you should aim to sparkle brighter than the hundreds of other applicants competing for the same role. Here are some easy ways to do this.

1. Learn about the company

Read, read, and re-read about the company to which you’re applying. And then read about it some more. Research who they are, what they do, who they do it for, and where they want to be in 10 years – and not just by having a cursory glance around their website.

Think about why they launched, and how they’ve developed since then. Learn about projects and campaigns they’ve worked on, and get an idea of what people in and around the industry have been saying about them.

Do they have a blog? Good. Read it. And scour their social media profiles. You’ll get a better idea of the company’s personality, the sort of people who might be interviewing you, and whether you’d actually be a good fit on the team.

While you’re thinking about the team, find the founders and key members of staff on LinkedIn to see what led them to where they are today.

2. Use their product.

If the company is an app, download it. If it’s a website, spend time on it. If it’s a game, play with it. If it’s an expensive piece of one-of-a-kind wearable tech of which the only one in existence is inside a vault in San Francisco…. well, use your imagination.

Interacting with a company’s product is the best way of getting a 360º understanding of both how it works and what its limitations are. This will enable you to think creatively when asked how it might be improved – because you will definitely be asked how it could be improved. Consider which aspects of the tool or service you like most, and come armed with questions and imaginative ideas for developments.

3. Think about their industry and competitors.

Be prepared to talk about why you find the company’s industry exciting, and how you see it impacting upon the future of the world. Whether it’s a mobile app, an online gaming platform, a trendy ecommerce operation, a new type of smart watch, a virtual reality console or an innovative food delivery service, think about where the industry is going and how you see the company developing within it.

Does market research prove the company is tapping into global trends, and that there is genuinely a place for them in the world? Brilliant. Tell them. Everybody loves having their ego stroked a little bit.

Who are the startup’s main rivals? How do they all compare? What are they all doing differently? Do they have distinct clients and users? What are their best features, and why do you think that? It’s crucial that young companies stay ahead of the game, and this means offering something more valuable or attractive than their competitors are; if you come into an interview with a strategy for being better than the rest, interviewers won’t be able to resist you.

4. Consider your favorite brands.

Whatever role you’re applying for, think about other brands doing it well. Does Nike have a brilliant social media presence? Has Starbucks just launched a fabulous iPhone app? Is there a Pepsi poster on the bus stop outside your office that made you smile?

Think about why you like these brands and their ideas, and then bring some of your own to the table in the interview. Paint yourself as the sort of ambitious person who chooses to join a small company because you know it’s somewhere you’ll be able to make a difference and help them grow. Prove that you’re an individual who believes a startup with 10 employees should be doing things just as brilliantly as an international powerhouse with 10,000.

5. Hand them something pretty to look at.

Nobody can resist a printed A4 sheet of paper with lots of lovely headings and bullet points – particularly if the bullet points are genuinely relevant and thought provoking.

Handing every interviewer in the room a document with some of the questions you’ve been asked to prepare proves you’ve really done your homework and that you want to make a good impression. It will also help you monitor your train of thought if you lose your thread during the interview.

Plus, once they’re reconsidering all the candidates, you’ll be the one who they can remember most about, since everything you told them will still be in their hands.

6. Ask THEM questions

It’s important to think of job interviews as two-way relationships: it’s as much about whether you want to accept the position as whether they want to offer it to you. There’s no point getting yourself into a role that’s not right for you, only to figure it out three months later when you’re miserable.

Asking the interviewers rich questions about the position’s roles, responsibilities and trajectory will not only help you evaluate whether or not you really want the job, it will also paint you as someone with a curious mind. And that’s what every startup is looking for in a new member of staff. Don’t even think about asking if it’s a 9-5 job because chances are that when you are joining a growing startup you will be expected to work overtime and go beyond what your job spec states.

7. Relax.

You may be nervous, but just remember that interviewers are people too. All they’re looking for are enthusiastic, energetic, intelligent people to join them in making their company a success story. If you really are passionate about the job, they’ll be able to tell.

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