Jobs at startups are becoming increasingly competitive. Preparation for interviews is invaluable, but it can be hard to know where to start. I’ve put together 6 areas of preparation to help you focus your efforts. I hope you will gain additional understanding and insight that should lead to you giving stronger answers and asking smarter questions.
If you’re not applying for a business role (eg engineer, customer service), some of these questions may feel out of your comfort zone, but I recommend them for everyone. Thinking commercially is a trait that will help you stand out, and even 30–60 minutes will be invaluable preparation.
- Find out how the founders describe the mission or vision. You’re likely to find this on the company blog, in early press coverage or interviews with the founders. This will provide context for where the company is heading, equip you with the language used to describe the market/problem/customers, and hopefully get you excited about the company! Startups thrive when employees are 100% behind the mission, and it’s helpful to display you’d fit right in
- Reflect on the company’s values. The majority of startups are values-led companies, and so you’ll often find mention of values on a blog or the careers page. It’s likely that the values will feature at some point during your interviews. I recommend thinking through a strong example for each value so you’re ready to demonstrate your fit for the company. (If you find there are quite a few values that don’t resonate, it’s definitely worth asking a few questions about them in your interview. When you experience values clashes at work it can be very unsettling)
- Find out what the investors are saying. Often when VC firms invest in startups, they’ll write a blog describing their reasons for investing in the company. (Here is a good example of Balderton describing their investment in Nested) This is a great way to quickly understand the strengths of the company, and why it’s attractive to investors. Expect to see comments such as the market being big, why now is a great time to build this company or the barriers to entry.
- Think deeply about the customers. This topic is easy on the surface, for example, Nested is an estate agency startup and has customers who want to sell their house. The key to this part of the preparation is to ask “Why?” e.g. “Why are customers going to use [company] versus the available alternatives?”. The best starting point is the company’s website, as they’ll have a section trying to explain their benefits to potential customers. If you want to dig deeper I recommend the questions “What are the pains the customers are facing?” and “How does [company] find its customers?”
- Recognise the competitors. I’m always impressed by candidates when they have an appreciation for the market dynamics. I think it can be a quick win to know the competitors and where they differ to the company you’re interviewing for. Don’t be afraid to take a stance, for example why you think Deliveroo is better than Uber Eats.
- Understand how the company makes money. This is often not easy, but it’s worthwhile as showing your commercial side will set you apart from others. A good place to start is the customer’s journey, as that should spark ideas for revenues and costs. (E.g. When you use Google, you see normal search results alongside adverts. These adverts provide revenues.) Then think through any behind-the-scenes work that the customer doesn’t see. (E.g. Google has to hire a sales team to sell adverts to companies, and also has to pay for servers to run the search engine)
This is a brief tour of things you could be thinking about now. Preparing for an interview is a skill in itself and there is a lot of nuance when applying to startups. If you need more help with preparation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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