Within fast growing companies like tech startups, the need for additional manpower can arise at a moment’s notice. This makes the traditional interview process somewhat challenging, and many innovative companies opt for a style of interviewing that enables them to quickly assess whether there is a mutual fit — a practice that is valuable for both the company and the candidate in the long-run.
Rather than concentrating on candidates’ specific experience or knowledge, some companies actually provide short projects or assignments to assess how candidates approach tasks. Often, the focus here is on collaboration, projects for which there is no “right” or “wrong” solution and assessing how the candidate utilizes creative problem-solving skills.
Other unconventional interview methods involve role-playing. For example, hiring managers might ask a candidate to convince them what’s better — a Mac or a PC. Then they’ll ask the person to switch roles and sell them the other option as the better choice; this allows companies to see how well a candidate can shift mindsets when required.
These types of challenging, task-oriented interviews immerse candidates in the company culture
These types of challenging, task-oriented interviews immerse candidates in the company culture and give hiring managers a real feel for how the applicant would perform as a part of the team. If you’re looking for a position in a dynamic, creative or technical industry, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter such an interview over the course of your job search.
I’ve pooled resources from my personal experiences as the CEO and founder of Taboola, as well as insight from Joe Coleman, co-founder and CEO of Contently, to nail down some tips for job seekers looking to break into the startup space.
Here are five key tips for how you can plan ahead to nail even the most unexpected interview experience.
1. Prepare a list of bold, tough and relevant questions
Especially in interviews at tech startups, hiring managers learn a lot about candidates by the questions they ask. Original questions based on topics you care about will help employers assess how you think, what concerns you, what excites you and what inspires you. The more original these questions are, the more a company can learn about what makes you tick.
Don’t start with the obvious questions such as “Can you describe a typical work week?” or “What is the company’s management style?” Instead, ask relevant — even tough — questions. Be bold and try asking some out-of-the-box questions like “What do you do for fun when you’re not recommending content?” or “Why the name Taboola? Is it named after a salad?”
These types of questions help hiring managers get to know you more thoroughly, and the responses will give you a feel for the personality of the company.
2. Be a user of the company’s product, and come prepared with feedback
If the company you’re interviewing with has products that are currently on the market, get to know them inside and out. Don’t rely on research alone; if possible, actually use them first-hand so you gain a good understanding of both the product and the mindset of the company.
For the interview, prepare some specific details you can mention about your experience with the product — and don’t be afraid to also mention a feature that could be enhanced or eliminated. This will showcase that you are innovative and pay attention to detail.
Coleman advises job seekers to be clear that you are there for more than just the money. “We want to see that you are genuinely interested in the company’s vision, direction and purpose. If you’re not, it’s probably not the company for you,” he says.
3. Forget the fluff
At startups, progress often moves at warp speed. Being dynamic and agile is key — while other companies want to hire for a specific job description, startups need to believe you can go above and beyond and that you want to grow with the company.
Focusing on your past by way of name-dropping or starting sentences with “When I worked for Google…” may actually concern fast-growing companies — these anecdotes may suggest that your assets are in the past, rather than demonstrate how your past experiences can contribute to the future of the company for which you’re interviewing. Elaborate on your more impressive qualities beyond what appears on your resume — how you’re a self-contributor, the unique and meaningful things that excite you and how you get along with clients and colleagues.
Be humble, too. Many companies seek engaged, proactive employees. If you end up sharing only the fluff, you lose the opportunity to showcase the “real” you.
“If you have to describe yourself as an ‘innovative thinker,’ you’re probably not one.
“If you have to describe yourself as an ‘innovative thinker,’ you’re probably not one. Let your ideas do the talking.” Let employers observe your great qualities and you will make a more genuine impression.
4. Know your story — and tell it well
Coleman says he loves hearing interesting personal stories. They show your human side and give insight into your creativity. A good storyteller requires a high level of communication skills — a valuable asset outlined in many job descriptions.
On a similar note, be willing to talk about what you read and your personal interests or hobbies outside of the workplace. Coleman says that although it may sound like small talk, “what you read says a lot about your intellectual curiosity. It matters.”
5. Brainstorm ideas you’d put into action immediately
Come to the interview prepared with some ideas you’re capable of bringing to the table; this will show hiring managers how you can help grow the business. Depending on the position you’re interviewing for, this could be something you would change about an existing product, a deal you think should be considered, a new product you’d like to see invented, or a fresh strategy for how the company can help publishers grow their audience or monetize using content.
Coleman offers a further suggestion. After an interview, you should be prepared to reach out to any connections you have within the company. “Send a thoughtful email to someone on the team explaining why you’re excited about the opportunity,” he says. “Humans are vain, and we like people who like us.”
landing the job should not be your ultimate goal; it’s just the beginning.
landing the job should not be your ultimate goal; it’s just the beginning. Instead, try focusing on finding a position at a company with people you can learn from, and in an environment in which you can grow both professionally and personally.