Startup Company Interview Preparation
This list of interview tips was written by Jeremy McCarthy, the CEO of VentureLoop, who has over 15 years of experience working and recruiting with the venture capital community and with startups. While nothing guarantees a successful interview, the information provided can help candidates better prepare themselves for success in the interview process with a startup company.
Purpose - get an offer
The purpose of any interview is to get an offer. Even if you have concerns about the company or job during your interview, make sure you still interview your best. You can always say no to an offer when it arrives. You can rarely overcome a poor first impression if you later decide your initial instincts about the position were mistaken.
Go online and find out as much information as you can about the company and anyone you will be interviewing with. Companies are blown away when you can mention press releases, know their revenue numbers, quote statistics, know backgrounds of executives, etc. For startup companies, you should know who the venture capital investor is, know which partners sit on their board, and know how much money they have raised so far. Many times this information is not available, but some savvy online searching can turn up valuable information about a company.
Most companies like to hire people who are experts in their industry, and startups are no exception. They have to answer to their investors when things don't go well, and executives don't want to tell their venture capital investors that they had a poor product launch after hiring a product manager with no experience in their industry. Know the company, know their industry, know their competitors, and use their product if it is available.
Most successful athletes and performers visualize their craft prior to playing or performing. Try to visualize your interview and how you will present yourself and answer questions prior to interviewing. If you get nervous during interviews, you might even consider having someone you know do a mock interview before you go. The more you practice, the more comfortable you are, and the less nervous you will be when the interview arrives.
Cover strengths, weaknesses, etc.
Think about questions related to where you are in 2 to 5 years, your most difficult work situation, your most stressful job, your favorite job, what kind of person you'd like to work for, etc... Sit down and come up with answers to all of the stereotypical questions that get asked in interviews. You don't want to get caught making something up off the cuff, only to think later "DOH! I shouldn't have said that!" If they ask where you see yourself in the next X number of years, let them know that you are more focused on the current position at this time, but you would obviously want to be considered for appropriate promotions as you master this position and show high performance. And take a few minutes to write down the questions and answers so that you don't have to re-invent the wheel with each interview.
Prepare for Behavioral Questions
Many companies use an interview technique known as behavioral interviewing. This method of interviewing asks candidates to give specific examples of situations they have encountered. For example, "tell me about a time you didn't meet a deadline and how you handled it." Take time to go through the questions below and write out examples to keep for future interviews. It can be difficult to come up with good examples to behavioral interview questions on the spot, and you will be far better served if you can determine good examples in advance.
Work-related examples of:
- How you handled not meeting a deadline
- How you dealt with conflict with a co-worker or boss
- What you did when someone else's actions caused your project to fail
- When you have shown initiative
- What you did when a customer was upset with you
- A time when a co-worker blamed you for something that was not your fault
Remember to ask ahead of time what the expectation is on your attire. It is always preferable to over-dress for an interview unless you know the company has a strict casual environment. Make sure you are well groomed. If you are a coffee drinker, smoker, or have lunch/breakfast prior to an interview, be aware of your breath. Use a mint or brush your teeth prior to your interview. Do NOT chew gum during an interview. Do not wear perfume/cologne or wear little enough that someone cannot smell it unless they are closer than one foot from you. Think about how you appear when you are confident and on top of the world. Head high, standing straight and tall, a slight smile, relaxed.
Arrive for your interview at least 5 minutes early but no more than 10 minutes early. Everyone has their watch set differently, and giving a 5 minute cushion is a good idea. Some interviewers are also very time-sensitive and notice if you're even one minute late. However, arriving more than 10 minutes early will often pressure the first interviewer if they are not ready for you yet. Plan to arrive 15 to 20 minutes early in the parking lot and enter the building about 5 minutes early. If you are running late or think you might be late, call ahead of your arrival to let them know.
When introducing yourself to each interviewer, give your first and last name, make eye contact, and let the interviewer be the person to initiate a handshake. When shaking hands, match the pressure of their handshake. Do not be limp or unusual with the way you shake hands. Wait a moment and smile at the interviewer after meeting them.