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Beating the Competition: How to Prepare for a Startup Interview and Stand Out

Amber Hunt

Mon, 17 Apr, 2023

  • Reading Time:
    ~ 4 minutes

If you’re looking to ace your following startup interview, you’ll want to prepare thoroughly. I spoke to over 40 candidates who recently interviewed at top startups to learn more about their preparation. Here are some of the best techniques and advice that emerged from those conversations:

1. Ask the Company What the Interviews Will Cover

Startups often have fluid hiring processes that are constantly changing, so you may receive an interview invitation without any indication of what they’re looking for. The best candidates ask the company what they will be testing for, and often the response can provide useful insight on what to prepare for.

2. Research the Company in Depth

Take the time to research the company thoroughly, going beyond the basics. If you’re applying for a sales role, for example, prepare how you would pitch the company by looking at the website, blogs, and any marketing material to understand the right tone of voice and unique selling points. Look at reviews on sites such as Trustpilot to see what customers think so you’re ready for objection handling. For marketing roles, look into recent advertising campaigns, think through what the target audience is, and pull out the key marketing messages. For product roles, trial the product and think through the opportunities for improvement. Look for public roadmaps or indications of where the business is headed to ensure you can speak confidently about the priorities.

3. Look Into the Team Structure

Spend 10 minutes on LinkedIn to understand the current team structure. This provides you with useful information and shows an understanding of the team dynamic in an interview. For example, if you find out you could be the second salesperson to join the team, you’ll stand out by showing an understanding that an early salesperson will need to help shape best practices. If you find out the manager has just taken on a dual role, and is now the VP of Product and Technology, you’ll stand out by pointing out that she is likely to have a lot of priorities, and so you can bring a lot to the role by being independent and owning decisions.

4. Think Through “Would I Fit in Here?”

Startups often have strong cultures, and their way of operating can be quite different from other types of organizations. Look for Glassdoor or Seek company reviews, blogs, and information on the careers page to understand how the company operates. Some candidates even seek out current/former employees to ask a few questions. This will give you more information to explain why you’re a strong fit for the company.

5. Assess Your Skills Versus the Job Description

Take the time to understand the requirements of the job description. Think about how your strengths align with what’s needed. This preparation means you’re ready to emphasize to the hiring manager that you will deliver value where it’s needed. Identify challenging areas and show self-awareness, such as “I haven’t led a team this big before.” You aren’t expected to be 100% perfect, but if you can identify challenging areas, you’re already ahead of most candidates.

6. Prepare Great Questions

Startups like people who are inquisitive. The best candidates understand that asking a great question at the end of the interview will help them stand out as someone curious and able to challenge. Asking good questions can also show you are excited about the company. Be ambitious, prepare follow-up thoughts, and use open-ended questions (Why..? How..? What if..?) to show your interest in the company.

7. Think Through What the Interviewer May Ask

Consider questions you may be asked, and write bullet point notes. Refresh your memory about previous experiences at work, considering the impact of a project, and the decisions made.

8. Practice your pitch

It’s common to be asked “Tell me about yourself” at the start of an interview. The best candidates prepare a compelling 1-2 minute pitch that highlights their relevant experience and why they’re excited about the company. You should practice your pitch multiple times (with a friend, or in front of a mirror) so it’s clear, concise, and engaging. This is your chance to make a great first impression.

9. Be aware of time constraints

The best candidates are aware that startup interviews often move quickly, and time management is important. If you’re given a task to complete (such as a coding exercise, or a case study), be mindful of the time allocated. If you’re given 48 hours, consider spending 2-3 hours on the task, and then use the remaining time to refine, or ask questions. Be aware of the deadline and don’t be late.

10. Follow up

The best candidates send a follow-up email to the interviewer, regardless of the outcome. This shows that you’re enthusiastic about the role and that you’re someone who follows through. You can use this email to share additional thoughts or answer a question that you didn’t have a chance to fully answer in the interview. This is another chance to stand out from other candidates.

In conclusion, preparing for a startup interview requires dedication and effort, but it can be the difference between getting the job and not. By following these tips, you’ll be putting yourself in the best possible position to impress the interviewer and stand out from the other candidates. Remember to ask questions, be confident, and show your enthusiasm for the role and the company.

Good luck with your next interview

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