12 point checklist for startup interview prep

 startup interview prep checklist

Congrats! That hot startup you’re interesting in working for wants to interview you. What’s next?

To help with startup interview prep, I’ve compiled 12 tips based upon my experience having been both a startup hiring manager and someone who’s interviewed at plenty of startups over the years.

I hope these tips help you nail your startup interview and land in a great startup job!

  1. Develop your deep interviewing stories. As I posted previously, startups are often terrible at conducting interviews and vetting candidates. Make sure that you’re ready for this likely scenario and that you’re ready to tactfully push the interviewer to go deep.
  2. Be able to answer ‘Why?’ Why is this startup the best place for you to spend the next 2-5 years of your career? If you don’t have a clear answer to this question, you might want to reconsider why you’re interviewing with this company. Startups want to hire missionaries not mercenaries.
  3. What did you build? Startups are constantly building new things – and they are looking for people who are builders to join their team. Did you start a blog, a Meetup group, or develop an app? Make sure that you prepare some vignettes about that experience, what you learned from it, and how that experience might translate to success if you end up working for this startup.
  4. Know the (small) competitors. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Google (or any other big tech company) is likely competitive with the company you’re interviewing with. What makes you stand out as a candidate is if you know all of the startups (funded and unfunded) that could potentially be a competitor to the company. This shows you really know the market. AngelList is a great place to research some of these up and comers. If you’re willing to shell out a few bucks, you could also try a service like Mattermark to facilitate your research process.
  5. Research (and maybe meet) the investors. You should identify which angels and VC’s have invested in the startup where you are interviewing (Crunchbase is great for this purpose). If you have a strong connection to someone who knows one of the investors, see if they’d be willing to make an introduction on your behalf. Often the investors will be happy to meet with you and give you their unique perspective on the company. Keep in mind that investors are going to be (rightfully so) cheerleaders for the companies in which they’ve invested, so you’ll want to balance their input with what you obtain from other sources during your due diligence of the company/opportunity.
  6. Prepare so you can bear (gifts). If you’re a salesperson then you best come to the interview with some target companies that you’re ready to introduce to the company. If you’re a developer maybe you took a couple of days to hack together a cool application that uses the company’s API. Don’t be another resume in the pile – do the work up front to show that you’re psyched about the company and ready to contribute.
  7. Are you ready to step into the fire? Startups are hard work and can push you to exhaustion – mentally and physically. Don’t find yourself surprised by that after you take a startup job.
  8. Build your 30 day plan. Prove that you’re the kind of self-starter that will thrive in a startup environment by building a detailed plan about what you think you would accomplish in your first 30 days on the job. The company will appreciate the thought and the effort that you put into this activity – and the plan will help you kickstart your stint at the startup if you’re ultimately hired. For example, if you’re going to be responsible for customer development at a startup you might want to articulate in your plan how you’re going to find early adopters for your product.
  9. Get the roster of interviewers. See if the company will give you the names (or at least roles) of the people you’re going to meet. Login to LinkedIn and see if you have any mutual connections to those folks. When you’re interviewing it never hurts to be able to casually ask about a mutual connection to help break the ice, especially in the startup world.
  10. Understand startup compensation fundamentals. I’ve provided a bunch of resources to help you negotiate startup job offers. Review these materials so that you understand some of the basics of a startup job offer and the relevant compensation levers.
  11. Use the product. If you’re interviewing at a consumer Internet company and you haven’t used the product yet, make sure you spend some time with it before you interview or be prepared to be laughed out of the room. OK, that’s a little harsh – but seriously, there’s little to no excuse for not having tried most any product. Exception granted for those of you who are interviewing with hardware startups!
  12. Prepare intelligent questions. Seriously. If you’ve done all of the other things I’ve recommended in this post you should have (at least) a couple of insightful questions about the company’s market, strategy, or product. This is a huge opportunity for you to impress the interviewer, so make sure you’re taking advantage of it. So many people don’t…

What else should be on this checklist? Please reply in the comments and I’ll be happy to update the post with your best startup interview prep tips.

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John Gannon
I have over 15 years of experience working in the trenches at successful startups, high growth companies, and VC firms. During that time, I've managed, interviewed, and coached hundreds of people -- and I've worked in almost every business functional role, including marketing, product management, and business development.
John Gannon
John Gannon
John Gannon

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