How not to fail an interview at a start-up

people on escalator

Start-ups have a lot at stake when they hire their first employees and there are many ways you can fail an interview that might not occur to you if you’ve never worked at a start-up before.

Here is our advice on how to make sure you nail an interview with a start-up:


Don't assume your interviewer is a middle manager

When you interview with a start-up, chances are high you’ll sit down with a leader of the company, or even the founder. Keep this in mind in your approach to the interview. Your interviewer is probably very busy and taking precious time out of his day to carefully select his team members.

“Be respectful of your interviewer’s time. This means being on time, keeping your questions pointed, and striking a perfect balance between acting enthusiastic without lingering.” - Simon Bromwell, Managing Director, Robert Walters, California.

Don't wait until the interview to learn about the company

Do your homework ahead of time so you can prove that you came in for this interview knowing exactly what sort of company you want to work for. This also shows that you have initiative and that you’re a go-getter - invaluable skills at a start-up.

Be informed about the market

At a start-up, every employee is expected to be excited about and devoted to the success of the company. This means knowing the market, understanding the company’s goals, and having a broader view of the business than your particular role might otherwise require. 

Pay attention to cultural cues

In a start-up, the work environment can be intimate, so it’s imperative that you’re comfortable in a workplace that might be casual, creative, and innovative. Do your homework before you go in, and then use your intuition to determine the vibe of the work environment - and let that inform your interview demeanor.

Be professional

On the other hand, don’t assume your prospective new company is so hip and casual that you don’t have to also be professional. The goal of the company’s leadership is to gain respect in the industry and rise to the top, so you need to prove that you could potentially represent your new brand at a board meeting or major industry conference as well as you do while casually reclining in the foosball lounge.

Don't be overly proud

It might sound paradoxical, but to succeed at a start-up, you have to be willing to fail. If you can only demonstrate your experience on winning teams, your interviewer might fear that you’re not brave enough to take risks. Enthusiasm can be more important than success in this regard.

Don't focus on the hours and pay

You can assume that taking a role at a start-up will probably mean some long hours and, possibly, a willingness to work for future equity payoff. If you use your initial interview to confirm that you’ll always get out in time for that 5:30 exercise class, your interviewer might worry that you’re not willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears most start-ups require.  

Be respectful of your interviewer’s time. This means being on time, keeping your questions pointed, and striking a perfect balance between acting enthusiastic without lingering.

Find out how you can target your CV for a start-up.

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For more information, please contact:
Simon Bromwell, Managing Director