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How to prepare for a startup interview

Preparing for a startup interview can be a bit unorthodox.

You do not know much about the company nor there is a specific history out there. Adding to that some of the job descriptions tend to be a bit out there.

Here are my tips as a hiring manager that is not an HR specialist.

Obligatory tl;dr at the end of this post.

Read between the job description lines

Most of the startup jobs are not very “standard”. That because due to the size of it and mostly due to the costs of it.

Think of it this way: In a mature organization, there is a fairly defined departmental structure whereas in a startup chances are that even if they are defined, structures and responsibilities tend to float.

Adding to that, as in a startup, the job description is usually written by someone in a rush that most probably has not written job descriptions before, they tend to come out as a bit bloated.

All you have to do to succeed in this step is understand what are the actual “required requirements” and have a positive attitude about the rest. This is because people that work in a startup do not have the luxury of 3 month interview cycles, but they tend to interview to hire.

(i.e. as a Java-based Backend Developer, the core responsibilities are Java and understanding of serverless technologies, the rest are usually optional as if you are a good Java developer, you can figure out the rest.)

Figure out your special skillset and flaunt it

Here we need to figure out not only if we can objectively fit together, but also subjectively.

To succeed in a startup you don't only have to be a good fit on a professional level, but also on a personal level.

I posted a job listing last week and received over 80 applications from people from all around the globe (which is incredible but also a time-consuming problem). Out of the 80 people, I would wanna have a chat with 10 of them as they somehow fit the profile. Now I am based in Germany and work in a very small startup. Imagine the number of applicants if you would work in a somewhat popular one [startup] or in a much bigger market.

Out of these 10 people, I would typically have a screening call with no requirements and no strings attached. Just this chat, like a virtual meeting in a coffee place and we would talk about work, life, and plans for the future.

During this call, you and I will need to figure out if:

  1. it would be a great idea to invest more in this discussion just cut it loose.
  2. your working style would fit in our small organization and if not what would need to do to adjust
  3. your skills can somehow be realistically matched for you to be able to survive in our organization and actually perform

Out of all these three, do not try to adjust yourself to fit in. I know if you are here you are looking for a job, but if telling me what I wanna hear would be fine in a big organization, in a startup it will make your life horrible and you will be looking for another job soon.

IF you get a technical task THEN you need to figure out expectations

I humbly believe that the biggest communication gap today between new applicants and companies is the unrealistic expectations between them and the technical task provided.

Adding to that, I also think that most of the people's communication touch settled in the first introductory call is completely lost here.

There are a lot of schools of thought out there if even technical tasks are necessary, ethical, or even if they should be paid.

Unfortunately, until there will be a difference between skills on a CV and realistic technical skills, technical tasks will be needed and in my opinion, required.

Regardless of a technical task or a technical call, for all technical and non technical positions, here are some of the issues to look out for:

  1. solving a problem can be done in an infinite amount of ways and different organizations approach it differently. If I had a cent for all the medium posts out there that promote “the best way to handle x issue”…oh the irony (get it…get it…). You need to talk with your interviewer or email them on how they want this problem solved.
  2. Understand what would make a great technical task in the eyes of a recruitment company. If they are giving you a “free approach” explain your approach.
  3. Everyone is busy, so it is completely okay if you will not be able to make the deadline of a task. What is not okay is not informing the company in advance about it.

Talk salary expectation in advance

I really can not stress this enough. Both sides need to make sure that you are in a range that you would be happy. Maybe you do not have to talk specifics, but make sure not to be surprised once that final offer comes.

My other note would be to adjust to the startup level as well. Usually, startup salaries can be a bit lower as opposed to big banks. Try to understand how the company will replicate that additional value. Maybe in flexibility, perks, or something else.

But do not be that person that goes through 3 rounds of interviews with a technical task and declines an offer because it’s not enough money.

Be human

We all need to treat all applications as human beings. Have a gut feeling involved and maybe ask the unconventional questions. Defining and understanding expectations tends to be hard but there must be some effort.

Figuring out what makes you tick, the big no no’s and the big yes yes’s is important for both parties, but I seriously think that it’s more important for the applicant.

Obligatory tl;dr

  1. Your technical skills don't have to fit perfectly — your core skills should. The rest is adjustable.
  2. You need to push what makes you special and not what makes you fit in the profile.
  3. If there is a technical task to be done, make sure to understand what the organization is expecting from you, specifically.
  4. Talk salary expectations in advance — and make sure to have a number on your head
  5. Treat each interview with a human aspect. People do not hire machines. People hire people.

I do stuff, especially digital stuff. Currently leading a great team to revolutionize payment streams. Do you need more? Go to gjermani.com

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