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Popular Startup Interview Questions: How to Answer Them

Startup interview questions are inevitable in a job hunt. Though their contents depend on the company's requirements, yet these 5 can be seen in every meeting.

9 min read

Entering the market is always scary, whether you are doing this for the first time or looking to make a change. A job interview is an anxiety-driving situation that requires the candidate to cope with mental pressure and, most importantly, to persuade the hiring manager that they are the best fit during a short period of time. To make matters worse, there are no do-overs: you have only one chance to nail this task.

However, good preparation and a little practice can do wonders. According to recent studies done among candidates, who have managed to get the job of their dream, doing your homework and coming to the interview "fully armed" is the key to success. Applicants have felt more in control of the situation, stayed calm and collected, and provided the best answers even to the tricky startup technical interview questions.

This practice works great for all niches, whether you want to get a job in a local store that sells products from sustainable suppliers or a professional digital agency that offers top-notch web design for startup business across the World. So, how to prepare for a startup interview? Follow this simple yet time-proven routine:

  • First, read the job description carefully. It helps determine how to tailor your conversation and what personal information such as skills, achievements, and experience to reveal to prove you are the best candidate.
  • Second, get as much information as possible about company culture. Startups are small and nimble organizations. Therefore, they may offer very personal workplaces. You need to understand the overall startup environment and what language you should choose during an interview to strike the right chord.
  • Third, organize your thoughts, list your skills, and write down your achievements and accolades.
  • Fourth, clarify the reasons why you want the job.
  • Fifth, prepare three key "selling points." Support each one with a real example to make a strong case.
  • Sixth, line up your questions for the interviewer. As a rule, hiring managers ask candidates about questions to the company. It is here where you can make a long-lasting impression. Therefore, prepare questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company, express interest in the job position, and your serious intent to move forward with the startup.
  • Finally, prepare for common interview questions. Although not all startup interviews are created equally, still when it comes to startup questions interview, many candidates face the same inquiry. Follow our list below to find out the five most popular questions you will confront during the meeting.
Job Interview | Image by Tima Miroshnichenko

Depending on the niche, company's culture, and startup founders' expectations for a candidate, interview questions for startups vary. However, there are many things in common when fetching the right team member and enriching a pool of employees with the talent in a young company.

Let us consider the list of the most popular questions asked during startup interviews. We will start with an oldie but goodie, "describe yourself."

Tell Us About Yourself

This is one of the most favorite early stage startup interview questions. According to studies, the interviewer has decided whether to proceed with the candidate or not during the first five minutes. Therefore, this question is asked right away to see whether the applicant's qualities, skills, and personality comply with the general requirements to succeed in the role.

Therefore, do not dive into your personal history, even if you have a vibrant story. Your task is to explain why your talents and attributes make you the best fit for the role. On top of that, you may touch upon your habits, personal qualities, and character traits that you think match the company's work culture.

Why Do You Want to Work at a Startup?

I bet you have heard about this question once or twice. This is one of the most popular interview questions for startup candidates. It seems that a startup interview cannot do without it. So, it is crucial to be ready for that since it can be tricky to find the correct answer that meets not only the requirements of the company but, most importantly expectations and preferences of the hiring manager.

Remember that young small companies have secluded working spaces with specific work cultures and atmospheres. Everyone in the startup team zeros in on one goal – pushing the company forward without much funding. Therefore, the hiring manager (or, in the case of a tech startup, it can be an engineering manager) seeks talent and the next devoted game player who will contribute to the cause and offer ways to take the company to the next level.

Therefore, show your passion and ambition to work in a startup. Tell the interviewer that you are ready to take on responsibility and eager to develop new skills, adapting to the new situation.

Why Should We Hire You?

This is among common startup interview questions that look similar to the previous one. However, that is not correct. When it comes to this question, it is your sales pitch time. For some companies, the whole interview boils down to this moment. Therefore, it is time to show off and prove to your hiring manager that you are the best fit for this job based on your qualification.

Follow these tips to nail that:

  • Do not respond with a generic answer.
  • Do not brag or blubber about yourself too much.
  • Be specific about your skills, knowledge, and experience that might help to deliver the best result.
  • Separate yourself from the talent pool with achievements, accolades, or awards.
  • Structure your sales pitch. List some bullet points that you want to emphasize. It is highly recommended to include: industry experience; experience in tasks or duties that typically wouldn't fall in your role; "on-the-job" skills; soft skills; key accomplishments.
  • Be ready to give examples of how you have displayed the stated competencies in your previous job.
  • State the qualifications and move on.
  • Close on with a concise summary of the top reasons why you are the best fit.
Resume | Image by Markus Winkler

What Can You Actually Do For Us?

Depending on the company, this favorite interview question can be asked during the early stages of the interview or in the middle of the process. Usually, it comes right after the previous question since it is a logical continuation.

Apart from knowledge and skills, the hiring manager who cares more about the company's success than candidate growth needs to know what the applicant actually can do for the company.

Therefore, it is here where you need to be specific and show your thorough knowledge of the company's niche and primary product. You may even share your suggestions and ideas on improving service, working flow, or even department. If you can back up your ideas with real-life examples taken from your previous experience, put them on the table – they will certainly make the case.

What Are Your Salary Expectations?

This tricky and sensitive interview question causes a dicey situation almost for every candidate. The sad truth is there is no way to avoid it because every job position is budgeted.

The dilemma is if you ask for a lower rate, this may send a message that you are not worth a more competitive salary. If you ask for a bigger rate, you may be out right away because you do not fit the company's budget limit. So, what to do?

  • First, check the salary guide, Glassdoor, or Vault for salary information.
  • Second, ask people who work in the company or the same field about the salary range.
  • Third, ask about the role in questions: what responsibilities and tasks do you need to handle.
  • Finally, discuss a salary range rather than a specific number during the interview to leave room for negotiation.

Startup Interview Tips

Making a great impression and acing your following interview at a startup is not that easy. It is a true challenge that puts lots of pressure on the candidates. Even if you have prepared answers to all interview questions in the World, you may still fail.

To increase your chances of emerging victorious, you need to be ready on all fronts. Even the little advice or suggestion shared by startup founders and professional HR managers can help you achieve your goal. Therefore, familiarize yourself with tips and best practices that may improve your preparation stage, fill gaps in your understanding of the interview process and give you the much-needed confidence to face this challenge.

Here are some pearls of wisdom:

  • Think through "would you fit in here?" and "do your strengths align with what's needed?" Do it for yourself. Make sure you want this job that badly so you are ready to put all your efforts, time, and devotion to the cause.
  • Think about the challenges you would face in the role. Candidates who can identify challenging areas, even if they are not 100% perfect fit, consider being two steps ahead.
  • During startup questions interview, take your time, but do not waste their time. Avoid long stories and know when to stop.
  • Practice. Go through interview questions several times and say answers aloud confidently and convincingly.
  • Be ready for confrontation and criticism. Prepare your defense in case of the interviewer's concerns and reservations and stay calm.
  • Come in with energy and enthusiasm to make a strong first impression.
  • Start with a positive yet true comment about the company.
  • Turn the interview into a conversation. After all, if this job is wrong for you, you will not be happy there.
  • Capitalize on the "Tell me about yourself" question.
  • Emphasize qualities that most startups are up to, such as: being customer-centric; being ambitious and not getting overwhelmed by challenges; being curious and ready to embrace innovation; moving and learning fast; being impact-oriented but prioritizing the most significant problems; taking ownership and responsibility and solving issues on your own; staying innovative and brave all the time; being adaptable.
  • Make sure your key selling points are well-highlighted.
  • Prepare for handling inappropriate questions.
  • Stay positive and do not dwell on negative experiences in your previous job.
  • Do not worry about sounding overly polished or glib.
  • Dress appropriately and speak the right body language.
  • Close on a positive note by explaining why you think this is the job for you.
  • Always thank the hiring manager for their time.
Successful Job Hunt | Image by Tima Miroshnichenko

Conclusion

From overly used "tell about yourself" to tricky "what are your salary expectations?" to offbeat "what superpower do you have?" the startup interview process can be a true adventure with some unexpected turns that you need to handle with confidence and positive attitude.

To feel comfortable during this quest and achieve the ultimate goal, it is crucial to do some serious preparations. Get answers to all popular questions and follow tips and best practices shared by hiring managers and startup founders to come "fully armed" to your next job interview.