So you want to work at a startup? You want to be a part of something innovative, something inspiring, something you care about. The thought of slaving away inside a cubicle at a mammoth corporation makes your right temple quiver and your throat dry. That’s great — you're perfect for the startup world. But if you want to nab a job at a startup, you’ve got to know some things. The application and interview process for a startup will likely be very different from what your academic advisors and parents taught you. Here are some things you can do to increase your chances of landing the job.
Startups invest in human capital differently than larger companies. When a startup needs to fill a position, they’re aren’t just looking for a warm body with the hard skills. They’re looking for someone who fits the culture of their company. Startup hiring managers have no problem giving a job to a less qualified candidate who meshes well with the company instead of a higher qualified candidate who doesn’t mesh.
These kinds of companies rely on working smarter, not harder and longer. They don’t want someone coming in and ruining the workplace flow. So be real. Be yourself. In every correspondence and encounter, be yourself and don’t worry about saying the things you’re “supposed” to say. Even if your hard skills aren’t exactly where they need to be, you’ll get a shot if your personality seems to resonate with the culture of the company.
Expect the Unexpected
Because startups desire earnest people who fit in with the company’s culture, they will likely use some unorthodox techniques to weed out unfit candidates. The easiest way for them to feel out a candidate’s real personality and not their “interview” personality, is to make them think on their feet.
I was once part of a “speed-dating interview” for a local startup. I and 4 other candidates had 10 minute interviews with 5 different managers. When the bell rang, we moved on to the next manager who had a fresh set of questions. I had never done anything like before, but I took it in stride and had fun with it.
So the lesson here is that you’ve got to be ready for anything and everything. Connect with current employees and ask them about the interview process. See if there are any possible curveballs coming your way. You could even try a quick Google search for “interview process at [insert startup here]”. It’s possible someone has blogged about it. Above all else, you’ve got to be a good sport about anything they throw at you. The company isn’t trying to hurt your feelings or make you uncomfortable. They’re only ensuring that they preserve the culture they’ve spent precious time building. Play along.
Research and Over-Prepare
Luckily, I did well at the speed-dating interview. I got invited to a final official interview! The first thing the top manager asked me at this interview was “Do you have a printed copy of your resume?” I didn’t. I made the mistake of thinking that because this was a "cool and hip" workplace, I wouldn’t need to bring a printed version of my resume. After all, I sent my resume when I first put in my application. But they didn’t want my resume so they could look over it. They wanted it because me having it was a sign to them that I was prepared. Bummer.
To make things worse, one of the first “official interview” questions was: “What’s our CEO’s name?” I choked. I didn’t know. I knew I wasn’t going to get the job; especially if the other candidates showed up more prepared than me.
This is what I hope you learn— startups take a lot of pride in their story. It’s very important that you know their story as well as you know skills for the role you’re applying for. They will likely ask you things like “What do you like most about our company?” or “What do you think about our philosophy on this topic?” If startup companies were humans, they would have strong personalities and convictions. They want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and they especially want to make sure you actually care about what they do as a business. They don’t have time for a candidate who “just needs a job”.
So, spend all of your free time preparing by researching the company. Follow them on Twitter. Visit their page on Facebook. Read their blog. Memorize every employee’s name on the “about” or “our team” page. Learn everything you can about them. And yes, you should even take a printed copy of your resume with you anytime you have a meeting with them.