5 Tips for Interviewing Successfully with a Start-Up

So, you’ve been a part of the big corporate machine for the most part of your career and now you’re ready for a change deciding to take on the new kid on the block: the start-up. You’ve been invited to interview and you can already picture yourself being an indispensable member of the next Facebook fairy tale. Prepping for a Fortune 500 interview is quite straightforward for a seasoned participant of the corporate world, while the start-up territory dotted with bean bags, ergonomic chairs and Nerf guns may be alien to you.

Interviewing at a start-up is not at all like interviewing for a business monolith, hence why we’ve decided to discuss how it will differ so you can channel your inner Mark Watney (main character in ‘The Martian’ for you philistines out there!) and be ready for whatever is thrown your way.

Bespoke Interview Process

First off, depending on the size of the start-up, the HR function is most likely inexistent. The CEO and more senior members will act as HR, Payroll, Marketing, you name it and therefore will have their own way of doing things that probably varies from interview to interview. Best case scenario, they have a recruiter or two, but even then, realistically the recruitment process is run in whichever way the CEO sees fit. They will be involved in the process and will want to make sure that they’re hiring the best talent as they can’t afford to bring on a new hire just to tick some quota- they need someone who will help drive the business forward.

Be Prepared To Pitch Yourself

If you’re all prepped for a series of formal questions, then you’ll be caught off guard when the CEO goes through a couple of questions then gives you the floor. You’ll be able to take charge of the interview and make your case for how you can hit the ground running. What you need to remember is that they most likely don’t have a comprehensive training programme where they’ll mould you into the perfect cog, instead they’ll expect you to start off with a bang and be an asset to the business from day one. This will be clearly visible in your interview so don’t expect to sit through a lengthy process guided by pre-set HR questions. Instead be ready to have a conversation where you can discuss what your input will be and come up with ideas as how to make that happen.

Use the Product, Believe in the Product

Before your first interview try using their product (if it costs thousands of pounds you don’t have to use it, just make sure you do extensive research). This will give you an insight into what it’s like for the user and give you a distinct advantage when discussing what you can bring to the table. Once you know what they’re all about and more importantly whether you can be passionate about it, use this knowledge to impress them by discussing what new functions you could build, how you can make the experience better for the end-user and don’t forget to tell them what you loved about it as well. Remember that this start-up is the CEOs baby so a little flattery can go a long way if it’s genuine.

Growth Strategies

Future expansion is a big talking point as well, go in with a couple of strategies that may have not been considered by them. You may not be privy to their 5-year plan, but that doesn’t matter! The fact that you’ve sat down and brainstormed an educated growth strategy will cement you in the CEOs mind as a go-getter that is interested in seeing the company grow. This can be anything from expanding to new geographic locations, creating other complimentary products, or expanding into a relevant niche.

What Should Your Wear?

Lastly and perhaps a seemingly inane tip in this day and age is dressing appropriately for the interview. Start-ups are renowned for being a bit more relaxed in terms of dress code, however you can’t go wrong by asking your recruiter about it. You know what they say about assuming! Rocking up in a suit while they all wear t-shirts and shorts may draw negative attention that has nothing to do with your skills. Human nature is what it is and coming across as a rigid corporate type as a subconscious first impression won’t do you any favours. If you’re struggling with what to wear, smart casual attire is your safest bet.

So, there you have it a few tips on how to make a great impression during your interview with a start-up. It’s not about teaching an old dog new tricks as much as it is an exercise in creativity and thinking on your feet. Put away all the corporate anecdotes and instead focus on looking through the CEOs eyes at the challenges they face and know how to pitch yourself as a must-have for their business.

You’ll be the proud user of an ergonomic chair before you know it!

What other differences have you found there are when interviewing with a start-up?

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