How to Ace a Startup Interview
“At a startup, we look for hackers,” says Greg Skloot, co-founder and CEO of startup Attend.com, the event planning software maker. “We want to see people that can get a lot done quickly, and with very few resources. A startup might not care as much about formalities like GPA, attire, etc. Startups champion the underdog.”
Whether you are a senior executive or someone fresh out of college, nailing an interview with a startup company is going to take work on your part. After all, these companies are looking for people who are nimble and aren’t afraid to wear multiple hats. Most importantly, they are looking for people who are passionate not only about what they do but what the company does, all of which can be hard to convey. It also means you have to be able to thrive in an environment where the rules are being made on the fly.
“Job seekers should honestly expect a little bit of chaos, less structure, and lots of enthusiasm for the enterprise, because you have to keep in mind that something new is being formed,” says Nell Merlino, chief executive of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence. “One of the biggest differences between interviewing at a startup is that at an established company, you will be expected to try to fit into the pre-established culture of the company, whereas in a startup, you will be a part of creating the culture.”
If you think you’ve got what it takes to be part of a startup, follow these three tips to ace the interview process and get hired.
1. Do your homework
Preparation is key for all interviews, but with a startup you’ve got to prove you know a lot about the company, its mission and the industry they are playing in. But it’s not enough to know the company makes x,y, or z; you also want to be able to bring something to the table, even during the interview. That’s is why Matt Trotter, a director at Silicon Valley Bank, which works with a lot of startups, says job seekers should choose a startup that they are passionate about instead of just applying to any startup. If you take the latter approach, your passion won’t come through because it isn’t real. “You want to come in with an idea of the general space, what the company does and ideas on how to improve what they currently have,” says Trotter.
2. Be prepared to think on your feet
Startups are exactly that, companies at the early stages of development, which means they want to hire people that can think on their feet. Skloot says interviewees have to be prepared to handle direct and bold questions. “Why are you here? How specifically will you help push our company forward? How will you add value from day one? Why are you better than everyone else that wants to join the team?” are some of the questions likely to be thrown your way, says Skloot. “Getting a job at top startup is competitive — we really respect recent grads that understand that and demonstrate extra effort to stand out.”
3. Refrain from asking about salary, benefits and bonuses
Unlike an established company where there are processes in place at a startup, there will be very little hand holding. You’ll be responsible for making your name and helping the company grow. One of the easiest ways to convey that is to refrain from asking what the company can do for you during the interview. Leave questions of salary, benefits, vacation time and other perks for a later conversation. “Startups are looking for someone who can take some direction, but you will have to figure many things out on your own, so looking for hand-holding during the interview will not go well,” says Merlino. “The best thing you can do during the interview is express your genuine enthusiasm for working at that startup, and emphasize how you will help them grow.”