How to tackle the startup job interview, by the Startuplifers team

The Startuplifers team wants to help you to ace your startup job interviews. That’s why we compiled this massive blog post on how to prepare for your moment in the limelight. 

First off, we’re going to lay down some facts about what is expected of you in a startup job interview. Engineer, designer or business – the role doesn’t matter. This is what you should always do.

These first four tips are from

  1. Use the Product

No matter what role you’re interviewing for—engineering, sales, marketing—you should always use the product before your first interview (and ideally, a few times). If hired, your goal will be to create value for the people who use that product, and being a user yourself is the first step. Doing this will also help you determine whether you can be passionate about the company and product as well as convey that passion to your interviewer.
If you really can’t use the product (e.g., it’s built for large corporations or costs several hundred dollars), you can make up for that by doing your research. Go through any available materials on the website, read news articles and reviews, and talk to anyone you know who has used it. And definitely understand who the company’s competitors are and why its product is superior.

  1. Bring Your Ideas

Now that you’re familiar with the product, be ready with ideas for how you’d like to improve it in your role. What new features would you be most excited to build? How would you engage users (or re-engage existing ones)? How could the company increase conversions? How could customer service be improved?
You don’t need to have the company’s four-year strategy figured out, but you can share your thoughts, and more importantly, show how your interests and expertise would lend themselves to the job. Knowing what you’ve done in previous positions is helpful, but remember that the interviewer is trying to determine what you will do and how your skills will apply at his or her company. Start-ups are looking for people who can dive right in.
On your end, this will help you gut check that the day-to-day activities involved with the role interest you. You may love social media marketing, but find in your exercise that the company would benefit most from direct sales—and that’s definitely something to consider.


Most interviewers will save time at the end of your meeting to let you ask questions. And by all means, do! If you’re interviewing with a founder, ask about his or her vision for the company, how the company defines success, and how it plans to get there. Don’t be afraid to ask about the company’s business plan, funding situation, and potential roadblocks as well.
If you’re talking with someone who will be your peer, ask about his or her favorite parts of the company, the biggest challenges he or she has faced, and what it’s like working with the team.
These conversations will not only give you helpful information to consider if you get an offer, they’ll show the interviewer that you’re seriously evaluating the company yourself (and not just trying to get the first start-up job that lands on your plate).

  1. Follow Up

This advice is as old as the interview process itself, but many candidates still fail to follow it, especially in the casual world of tech startups: Send a thank-you note. Sending an email later that day shows that you’re polite, that you follow through on things, and that you’re actually interested in the job.
It also opens up an opportunity to strengthen an interview area that you felt was weak. Ever been stumped in an interview then realized you should have said the moment you left? Or thought of a great marketing strategy on the drive home from the interview? Feel free to add a quick paragraph mentioning your new ideas.
The Startup Life team wants to remind you that there’s something really important about sending emails to startups in general, is that in Silicon Valley, email culture is quite different from many other places. Email is expected to be answered very quickly. Answer emails from possible employers as soon as you see them in order to increase your chances of getting responses. A huge no-no is to keep your possible employers waiting for your response for more than a day. And hey – remember that there’s a 10-hour time difference between Finland and San Francisco. 
So, if you get an invite for an interview and we put you in contact with the CEO or CTO or HR Manager of the startup – make sure that you reply straight away! You’re expected to initiate the conversation and even suggest times for a skype interview.
And then, a few things about the skype interview. If you haven’t ever had a skype interview before, or if skype isn’t familiar to you as a service, it’s good to have a look at these tips from the Skype people themselves, well before your first interview. And even if you’ve done loads of skype calls before, don’t neglect the opportunity of learning something new that might make or break your startup job interview.
Tips for skype interviews, summed up:

  1. Practice! Set up a practice call with your mom, boyfriend, girlfriend, roommate or whoever that’s less intimidating than the startup CEO.
  2. Make sure that you’re alone! Don’t risk your half-naked roommate walking behind you right when you’re telling the startup why they should hire you. If your own room doesn’t feel like the place to do an interview – remember that you can come to Startup Sauna (Betonimiehenkuja 3D, Otaniemi) and even book a meeting room just for yourself!
  3. Look the part! At startups, people don’t dress in suits and ties, so you don’t have to do it either. But remember that if you look sharp, hygienic and likeable, the people you’re talking to are more likely to want to work with you in the future.
  4. Maintain eye contact! Everyone who has ever used skype knows how hard this is. But you have to do it anyway. And remember – you have to look at the camera. Not the person’s eyes in the picture.
  5. Sound and act like you want the job! Of course you want the job – there’s no question about it. But you have to communicate that will over to the other side of the Atlantic. Don’t just speak monotonically while staring at the screen. BE enthusiastic, ask a lot of questions and express your will to get hired. And remember – sometimes the interviewers decide that they don’t want to use the video call, but choose to just have a regular “phone call” over skype. Don’t get distracted by it – but put 100% of your excitement and enthusiasm into your voice.

+ 1 Brush up your technical vocabulary! The interviews are almost always in English. Go over the technical vocabulary of your own field so that you don’t get stuck in hard words, or fail to communicate your skills and knowhow to the startup recruiters.
All set? Good!
So, if and hopefully when you get that precious email where we put you in contact with the folks at the startup, do the following: research the startup, use the product, do your homework on the person(s) who will interview you, and list up a good bunch of questions. You’ll do well. Keep your head cool and show them how much you want to get that job!
Coders ahoy! Startup Life alumnus and a devoted programmer, Juhis, has compiled some tips and advice for tackling the technical interviews!  
“Cracking the Coding Interview is a thick book I’ve been reading a lot before interviews. There are plenty of common coding assignments that you might get in interviews.”
“Interview Cake is a website and a newsletter, where you get weekly assignments – and tips if you get stuck!”
“What’s perhaps the most important thing to learn when it comes to technical interviews? Creating a routine. CodeWars is really handy for that – the assignments are short enough to do when drinking your morning coffee. And there are many of them.”
“Plus: some more tips!”

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