Interviews at startups are pretty tricky situations if you think about it: how do you present yourself as a professional and qualified candidate when everything you’ve read and heard about startups is that they’re fun, casual and love beer? It’s a dangerous balance–how can you make yourself seem like a serious potential employee, while still coming across as a cool person and someone the company could see themselves hanging out with?
Last week, we covered the dos and don’ts of cover letters and resumes when applying to startups. There’s no textbook rule on standard interview behavior at startups, but the universal understanding is this: an interview at a startup is an entirely different beast from one at a big corporation. Sound daunting? Fear not: SpareFoot recruiting maven Rachel Morse is back with tips and advice for a successful startup interview that could just land you the job.
Do Your Research and Ask Questions–But Not Too Many Questions
An interview is defined as a conversation between two or more people, but most people rarely approach it this way. Instead, the general population seems to view an interview as a stressful question-and-answer scenario where they’re being grilled to come up with hollow and desirable answers on the spot.
Don’t let this happen at your startup interview–come prepared with questions, insights and comments on the startup’s product or services. Have you used their product before? How did that work out for you, and do you have any suggestions for augmenting the experience? Make sure you do your research as well–you don’t want to embarrass yourself by asking a question that could have easily been found on the company’s website (for example: “Who are your founders?” or “How long have you been a company?”)
“By the time you get to me,” said Rachel, “you should know exactly what the job entails and have follow-up questions on the job position after you read it.”
At the same time, however, be careful not to ask too many questions that end up turning the tables on the interviewer. For the majority of the time, you want to show that you’re a fit for the role, rather than inundating the interviewer with too much information.
“Don’t ramble,” said Rachel. “One time, I had a phone interview where it took me 20 minutes to say my second sentence. You’re talking too much when you start losing breath. And always ask yourself: if your interviewer hung up eight minutes ago, would you have noticed?”
Ultimately, remember that an interview is a two-way street; the company isn’t the only one who gets to decide if you’re a fit for them. You have the power to determine if the position and company are a fit for you as well. Questions are encouraged and show that you have interest, but be judicious and reasonable with the quantity and quality of your questions and comments.
There’s a reason why everyone from your mom, to Neil deGrasse Tyson, to Tyra Banks offers this piece of advice: it’s the truest and most honest adage there is. It’s easy for startups to find qualified candidates for any particular position, but finding someone who is both a culture fit and has the technical skills? It’s nearly impossible.
Startups aren’t looking for people with big egos or inflated titles. Drop the pretenses and act how you would act if you were working with these people on a daily basis. Be the best version of yourself, and don’t be afraid to be human. After all, it’s hard enough to be yourself in everyday life–being able to do so in an interview will leave a lasting impression and you’ll leave knowing that you were honest, direct and relatable.
“Try not to use any vocabulary or language that you wouldn’t use on a daily basis, because you’ll find that everyone here is definitely themselves,” said Rachel.
Stay away from those three-syllable words if you don’t use them regularly. You do not want to be the person who misuses “anthropomorphic” and then feels the hot sting of shame later when you’re lying in bed thinking about embarrassing moments in your life (not speaking from personal experience).
Most startups thrive off a casual atmosphere, so don’t come to your interview dressed like you’re ready for box seats at the opera. If you’re unsure, ask the company’s point of contact about the dress code.
“Dress casual for SpareFoot interviews, or else you’ll be the only person in a suit, I guarantee you,” said Rachel.
Insider tip: getting to an interview early is always appreciated, but coming too early can sometimes make it uncomfortable for everyone involved, especially at busy startups where people are juggling multiple things at once.
“If you get here too early, you’ll be sitting in the lobby and awkwardly in the middle of everything,” said Rachel. “And everyone who walks by you will ask, ‘Have you been helped?’”
However, if someone challenges you to a Foosball game before your interview here, it’s neither a trick nor a hazing ritual; they just genuinely want to play Foosball with you.
“Have you ever seen someone play Foosball by themselves? It’s the most heart-wrenching thing you’ll ever see.”
Your date doesn’t want to hear about your “crazy” ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, and your interviewer certainly doesn’t want to hear about your “crazy” ex-boss. Don’t complain or trash-talk your previous employer–it’s in bad taste and introduces unnecessary drama to an interview. Use good judgment, and stay away from disparaging your ex-coworkers. Additionally, your references will get checked, so being on good terms with your previous managers or bosses is essential–it shows good character.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire,” said Rachel. “Even if your last job sucked, there’s a way to phrase that experience in a more constructive way. You can say that it wasn’t a culture fit or something that doesn’t focus on the negatives. That gives you a chance to explain exactly what you’re looking for.”
This advice also ties into how you can answer the dreaded, “Where do you want to be in five years from now?” question. Use what you didn’t have or get from your last job to supplement what you want from this new job.
“It’s a cliche question, but in all seriousness, we do want to know where you see yourself going. There’s a difference between being flexible and open, and saying “‘I have no idea what I want to do, I’m just going to try a few things out.’”
Stay away from dishing out too-personal narratives or sob stories as well–an interview is not the place to talk about family issues or other things that don’t tie in directly with what you’re here for: the job. You’ll come across as pandering to the interviewer, and in some cases, make them very uncomfortable.
After the Interview
You’ve made it! What happens now? It’s always good form to reach out and thank the company or interviewer for seeing you, whether it be through a quick email, tweet or other nudges on social media. In most cases, your recruiter or hiring manager will follow-up with additional details.
Don’t forget, SpareFoot is hiring! Also keep an eye out for our official Recruitment Video, coming soon to a Youtube screen near you.