How to Ace a Tech Startup Interview
Interviewing can be stressful, doubly so if you don’t do it frequently. Making matters worse a lot of common wisdom about how to interview is outdated or just plain wrong.
As the owner of a tech startup-focused recruiting agency I see both sides of dozens of interviews every week. Often I get feedback that is not freely shared with candidates. Below are some simple tips gleaned from these experiences, geared to help you ACE your next interview.
Communication & Setting Expectations
Every act of communication, from submitting your resume to sending a simple email, is likely to be factored into a hiring decision. A simple miscommunication or mistake here can cost you the job.
With some diligence and thought however, acing this element is simple. Focus on being friendly, polite, and professional at every stage with every prospective employer. Even if a company is your second or third choice treat them as if they hold your dream job. Preferences often change, and you can’t go back and fix sloppy communication later.
Simple things like saying, “I’ll call you Thursday @ 2pm,” and then actually calling at 2pm may seem trivial, but hiring managers always notice. Just remember they expect how you handle things at this stage is how you will handle the actual job.
Taking the Test
Nothing can prepare you for a technical or code test if you don’t have the basic skills. However, most companies give you an easy study guide in the form of their own job description. Review and expect that any topics within it are fair game. Another tactic to prepare is to research your interviewer. Look them up on LinkedIn; often people spell out what's important to them on their profile. This isn’t cheating - coming prepared both for the test itself and the person administering it shows solid prep skills that will serve you well in the job.
As a last note on testing, never obfuscate if you don’t know something. A very common reason companies decline to hire someone is that they represented themselves as more experienced than they were. If you hit something you can’t answer, walk your interviewer through the steps you’d take to research and solve the problems. Expressing interest in learning and demonstrating that you’re self-motivated are huge pluses, but inflating your resume with skills you can't back up is a one-way ticket to the pass pile.
Culture, Personality, & Acing the Unspoken
It is not uncommon to ace a tech screen, answer every question correctly, and still not get hired. The culprit here is often the hazily defined “cultural fit”. Employers are human and want to work with people they believe will get along with them and their team. From a business perspective this makes sense as well; the personal bonds within a team are a huge factor in employee retention and satisfaction.
While you can’t fake cultural fit if it’s a terrible match, you CAN improve your chances with organizations that are close.
I suggest asking a mix of professional and personal questions about the culture. Things like, “What do you like about working here?” and “What’s the trait you value most in people you hire?” will serve the dual purpose of endearing you to the interviewer while giving you insight you can use in your own decision.
Second, be clearly enthusiastic about the job and tell them so directly. The stress of interviewing can make you hard to read, and many companies tell me they passed on someone because they didn’t seem to want the job (especially hard to hear when those same people tell me the opposite). A simple smile, a thank you, and a statement that you’re excited at the prospect takes only a minute but could tip the scales.
Remember, they are interviewing you because they need someone in that role. You are there because they have a reasonable expectation you can solve their problem and help the business. Use that desire to your advantage by emphasizing your ability and desire to be that solution.
At the end of your interview always ask how you did, and whether there are any final concerns you can address that would make them confident you can do the job. Sometimes they’ll bring up something that’s easy to address but was somehow missed in earlier tests and discussions. Either way, asking this at the end will get you clearer feedback to apply to acing your next interview.