Interviewing with a Start Up

When interviewing for jobs with start-up or even smaller organizations, applicants need to pay attention to the subliminal messages they are sending the interviewer/hiring manager.


  • Do not expect this to be a standard large company interview with a formal process, be open to a more flexible and possibly unorthodox process.  They are very focused on figuring out how you fit and your ability to adapt to a less traditional process can tell them a great deal about your potential with their organization.  In a smaller operation, fit is critical.  People will work very closely with you and need to feel comfortable doing that.
  • Do not present your prior employment as being overly structured, if you just know how to follow the process, step by step, in order, you are no likely to find success and satisfaction in a less structured environment
  • Be prepared with examples of how you offered a creative solution to a problem, revised a process, etc.  Show that you can think creatively and respond to business needs.

Tools and Support

  • Be careful in presenting your prior employment that you don’t focus too much on the tools and support staff who enable  you do get the job done.  Startups tend to run lean and you have to be willing and able to perform a wide variety of tasks and often will need to work independently

Unwillingness to get your hands dirty

  • Avoid the “not my job” mentality.  There may not be a team in place to execute the entire plan.   You may have to do it yourself.  Show that you are willing to get your hands dirty and do whatever needs to be done.

Dealing with Ambiguity or changing priorities

  • Don’t talk about how frustrated you were when a priority changed after you had invested significant effort.  This is the reality of the startup world.  Show that you can go with the flow and deal with ambiguity and changing priorities.

As the interviewer for a start up or smaller company, you should probe for additional insights in the following areas:


  • Is this someone you are comfortable working with every day and often for long hours?
  • Does this person bring valuable skills and perspective to enrich the team?
  • Can this individual grow with the organization?

Ability to deal with changing priorities

  • Can this individual cope with changing priorities?
  • Can they deal with ambiguity?
  • Can they make decisions with incomplete information and data?
  • How do they make decisions without complete data?

Ability to work independently and as part of a team

  • Can this person take a project and run with it?
  • Is this person comfortable working heads down on his own to meet a deadline?
  • Can this person collaborate with a team and define an implementation plan?
  • Does this person have personal accountability?

Willingness to do whatever it takes

  • Is this someone willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to do what needs to be done?
  • Can this person be successful without a support team in place?

Comfortable with the risk/reward approach

  • Does this individual understand the risks and rewards of a start up?
  • Is this person able to tolerate the risk?

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