How to Prepare for a Startup Job Interview

While preparing for a job interview at a startup can be a daunting task, it can lead to employment at the startup, which can be quite rewarding considering its unique work environment and flexible culture.

Startups are becoming increasingly popular, but if you’ve never worked at a startup before, you might not know where to start your interview preparation. As startups are newer companies, they face different challenges than other more established companies do. Therefore, thorough preparation is essential for acing the interview. You should adapt your job interview technique so you can promote yourself as the ideal candidate for the role.

When applying at a startup, here are a few things you should keep in mind before walking into the job interview.

1. Do research on the company

Understand their mission, vision, and values

Researching the company’s mission statement, vision statement, and values can give you an idea of the startup’s culture and goals. Once you’ve researched, think about whether you identify with the vision, and how you can demonstrate these values. Prepare a few examples of how you showed a particular value.

Keeping these company values and vision in mind, you should express your enthusiasm and passion when talking about them to the interviewer. Startup culture is built on passion and creativity. By showing that you’re excited about the company, the startup can see your passion and that you can fit into the company culture and mission.

Try their product and know what they do

Startups aspire to improve the lives of others or make things more efficient by building unique products or services. Make sure you give their product or service a try, be it beta testing versions, free trials, or other special early stage discounts for potential consumers. This allows you to see firsthand the customer experience, and you can even come up with a few suggestions to help them improve their offering.

Know their industry and competitors

If the startup is in an industry that you have not worked in before, research the industry - What are the latest trends? Who are the biggest players in the industry? What are some recent news? What is the jargon they use? By becoming familiar with the industry, you can better understand the challenges the startup potentially faces and promote yourself on how you can be part of the solution for the company.

2. Get in the startup mindset

Be flexible, autonomous, proactive, and versatile

Since startups have limited resources and funding on top of having to prioritize other parts of early stage business operations, they look for employees who are self-directed, proactive, and independent. These type of employees are very much valued since they require less time and resources to manage and direct, so do a self assessment and see if you possess these traits.

Show those traits in your experience and work

At the interview, you need to show how you can be autonomous and versatile by demonstrating you can handle a variety of tasks that require specific skills. Give examples of you learning and applying technical skills and knowledge that are most applicable for your position. Show how you have been flexible, autonomous and proactive in the past by relating it to your experience. Some examples you can talk about in the interview include:

  • When you had to be flexible when a project changed
  • When you needed to solve a problem and your manager was unavailable
  • An example of a new idea you suggested to improve a product or process in your company

By making the examples relatable to the interviewer, you are showing how you can solve potential problems the startup faces.

3. Understand the role and bring your ideas

Be initiative and brainstorm ideas for the product and company

A question the interviewer may ask in the job interview is how you might approach a particular startup problem. This is a way for them to test your problem-solving skills and how aware you are of the challenges they face. Prepare for this by noting possible issues the startup faces as you’re researching them.

Come prepared with ideas on how the startup may improve their business. Start by thinking of a favorite company of yours and what it is that you like about them. Take those inspirations and see how you might apply the same potential ideas to the startup you are interviewing with. You want to prove your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, how you can innovativel create solutions, and that you can take the initiative in being part of the solution.

Differentiate yourself

You need to set yourself apart from other candidates. What makes you different and why should the startup hire you? This point of difference can come from your unique work background or even applicable life experiences. Relate these experiences to an intense work environment to show the interviewer you have the ability to work productively in the startup setting. Examples could include times where you work on a tight budget, a challenging project that required you to adapt quickly, or a time you handled a completely unfamiliar situation at work.

4. Show your interest in the startup during and after

Have questions ready

At the end of every interview, the interviewer will ask “Do you have any questions for me?” This is an opportunity to not just find out more about the startup and the role, but to differentiate yourself from other candidates as well.

Before you walk into the interview, try to find out who your interviewers will be so you can prepare a question list tailored to them. When you ask the questions, phrase the question in a way that further showcases yourself. For example, instead of simply asking “What is your most recent marketing campaign?”, try explaining why you are interested in learning this by saying “I’d like to see if my digital marketing experience applies to your marketing needs, so can you elaborate more on your most recent marketing campaign?”

Asking smart questions can show the interviewer that you are well-prepared and interested in this job opportunity - and for startups, your strong interest in the role is always a plus!

Write a follow-up email

Writing a follow-up email after finishing your job interview is an essential step since it creates a stronger and lasting impression in the interviewer’s mind. Follow-up emails separates you from other candidates, shows your genuine interest in the position, and demonstrates your written communication skills. It also gives you a chance to further elaborate on ideas you didn’t cover in the interview.

Be sure to write and send the follow-up email within 24 hours of the interview so it is still fresh in the interviewer’s mind. Include some key points from the interview to remind the interviewer who you are, thank them for taking the time to speak to you, and show some personalities! Keep the message short and concise so that it’s easy to read.

Conclusion

By following the steps above, you will ace the interview and place yourself in a strong position to be hired at the startup. Don’t forget that you should be assessing the startup during the process too. Take note of the startup’s culture, financial health, leadership team, and vision. Good luck!

James Free
James has a background in marketing and international business. With experience in working in international relations and connecting with stakeholders globally, James has helped organise various business development and career seminars for industry professionals to learn more about target overseas markets. He has also coordinated events in networking and foreign investment for other countries.