How to Ace Your Interview at a Startup

Kaitlin Butler '11

If you’re interviewing for a job at a startup, the process can be worlds away from the hiring experience at large-scale firms and corporations. Startups, especially those that have not yet raised funding, have very little margin for error in their hiring process. Given their lean operations and generally tight budgets, every hire – from developers to interns – matters immensely.

Once you’re in, you’ll have a chance to truly shine. You’ll forge close connections and make a huge impact on the business. But how do you stand out and land the role?

During the years I worked at the startup CommonBond, we vetted dozens of candidates for different roles, and I had the opportunity to be a part of the hiring process. No matter where you’re interviewing in the startup world, here are five tips to help prepare for your next interview:

  1. Research, research, research.

No matter the role, you’ll need to get your hands dirty from the first day on the job. Startups typically have little to no time for extensive on-the-job training. Prove you’re a self-starter from your first interview by knowing the company, understanding its goals, and communicating how you will help achieve them.

Read everything you can about the business, the team, and the industry, and have an idea about how people like your interviewers are disrupting traditional industry players. Talk to any connections within or close to the company to learn about the team culture.

  1. Respect the schedule.

Unlike a corporate recruiter, interviewers from startups have more than one role; your interviewer is probably manning the hiring process as part of a mountain of existing responsibilities in other areas. Be succinct, accommodating, and time-sensitive. Speaking of which…

  1. Stay nimble and open-minded.

Startups work hard to establish their team cultures, which can result in some pretty untraditional interviewing practices. Be prepared to showcase your skills, whether it’s building a highly particularized model or developing a strategic action plan to tackle the company’s most pressing business challenges.

You may also face more schedule changes and demands than corporate recruiters might make. Stay nimble and accommodating, and the interviewer will know you have what it takes to deal with competing priorities on a daily basis – that you’re startup-ready.

  1. Be genuine.

Especially in the early stage when the team is small, startups are focused on getting to know the “real you.” Don’t be surprised if the interview process includes a social component and an overarching emphasis on fit.

If you are invited to attend a company happy hour, make time to mingle and speak to as many members of the team as possible. Remain professional, but relax and have some fun. Selling yourself is an important part of any interview but won’t necessarily guarantee you the job. Above all else, be honest and straightforward about your motivations, demonstrating your belief in the company and in its mission.

  1. Take nothing personally.

At the end of the day, you and your interviewers simply may not find a role that fits. And that’s okay; no matter how much the team may like you or vice versa, a fit with the role is absolutely essential. You’re both better off knowing that now instead of a few months down the line

Especially if you love the company, leave communication lines open and conclude on a positive note. Startups are often well connected with other nearby startups, and hey, you never know what opportunities may arise there later.

Kaitlin Butler ’11 is a Candidate Lead at Bridgewater who previously worked at CommonBond. She resides in New York City and can be reached at [email protected]. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.