How to tackle the startup job interview

A well-prepared interview is like setting one foot in the door already. The key points vary a bit depending on the position you’re applying. We conducted the best tips for you to prepare.

Be aware of the time difference. The time difference in San Francisco is –10 hours. So 6–9 pm in Finland corresponds 8–11 am in SF. Some alumni have had their job interviews at 2 am Finnish time.

Be ready to answer emails pretty quickly between 6 pm and 10 pm. The email culture in the US is quite aggressive – replies are usually expected within one hour. If you read the email in the morning, you can apologize for replying late.

Remember to follow-up. Send a follow-up after the interview. If the company hasn’t replied to your email in 3–4 days, follow-up and show that you care about the role.

Useful lines in the email conversations (the timing is more important than length/content):

“Thanks for the intro…”
“Nice to e-meet you.”
“Sorry for getting back to you late.”
“Thanks for your quick reply.”

The Skype calls always include hassle. At its worst, it might cost you the opportunity of your life. 10-2-10 rule: check that everything is working 10 minutes before the call. After 2 minutes have gone by since the starting time without anything happening, send an email to note that you’re there ready and waiting. After 10 minutes, send another one suggesting a new time (“I guess something came up. How about same time tomorrow?”).

Study the company and ask smart questions. This is the most important thing. You really have to know your shit when you go to the interview. You need to show that you care about the company’s mission and you know what you can offer. In general, startups always want people who are self-starters, independent and hard workers, so make sure you have stories ready to emphasize these qualities. If the company is developing an app or an online product, try it out! If it’s not on the market yet, ask for demo access. Marketing and salespeople should have a vision or a thought about how you could improve the sales or marketing processes.

Have a plan for small talk. It might not be natural for you, but it’s just part of the US rules to which you need to play. Have a line figured out (talk about how cold and dark Finland is for example) for the “how are you doing”s, to get the conversation going a bit before you go into business. The most important thing is to never be quiet – just add something to the conversation. Remember to be politically correct and subtle with jokes.
 

Engineers

First, here’s an old Startuplifers blog post about tackling the startup interview.
There are plenty of sites for you to practice coding online and prepping for your interview, and we listed some of them:
Pramp – Practice live coding interviews
InterviewBit – Programming theory and practices, mock interviews and interview questions
HackerRank – Practice coding and compete with others
coderbyte– Coding challenges, interview prep and questions
codewars – Improve your skills by training with others
LeetCode – Practice for your coding interviews with over 450 questions
CodeFights – Practice programming and prepare for your interview
Interview Cake – A website and a newsletter, weekly assignments, tips and other exercises!
Test them out and find your favorites! Knowing how to solve the most common programming challenges and being able to explain your logic behind them is something you don’t always do in your job/school, so polishing these skills are important, even though you practice programming daily.
In addition to having preliminary coding assignments, live programming is a common practice with coding interviews. Yet again – practicing it is important, so you don’t freeze when the time comes. Be prepared to explain why you chose to solve the problem as you did. Pramp.com is a great place to practice online programming with real people!
Practicing programming online is important, so you will get the first clue about what is it like to code live, but also you might be asked “the traditional” coding interview questions.  
As an example, here’s a Google Programming Interview question from Interview Cake:
A building has 100 floors. One of the floors is the highest floor an egg can be dropped from without breaking. If an egg is dropped from above that floor, it will break. If it is dropped from that floor or below, it will be completely undamaged and you can drop the egg again. Given two eggs, find the highest floor an egg can be dropped from without breaking, with as few drops as possible.
Cracking the Coding Interview is the most famous resource on how to prepare for a technical interview in Silicon Valley. It might not yet be that famous in Nordics, but it’s pretty much a must-read if you want to score a job with the tech giants in the Bay Area. The more time you’re able to spend reading the book, the better the chances of you scoring a startup job. Start going through it!
Here’s an older edition found online:
https://inspirit.net.in/books/placements/Cracking%20the%20Coding%20Interview.pdf

Designers

You can never really fully prepare yourself for a job interview and be 100% percent sure what you’re going to be asked or if you get any cases to solve. However, certain question patterns and recruitment procedures occur repeatedly.
Here’s what one of our Designer alumni thought makes a valuable candidate (among other things).
You’re the expert of frickn everything.  There are about 2000 coders living in Silicon Valley looking at about 15 designers. There are zero good art costs on the East Coast, so there is no design culture. Stanford creates good engineers, designers… not so much. You should take this into account (and to your benefit) when preparing for the job interview. You have to be confident and whatever they ask, just say that you know how to handle it. Don’t fit yourself into a too niche a mold. The truth is, you’ll be doing everything design-related (marketing, branding, UX, UI, visual design,…) and, thus, adopt the attitude of a Queen of Design.
Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio. It’s the absolute most crucial factor that decides whether or not you’re going to be invited for an interview. It may not contain any typos, and it has to be smoothly skimmable easy to read. You might want to make your portfolio both in online and PDF mode – sometimes, PDF allows you to be more creative and lets you design everything from scratch starting from the size of the page.
Know something about coding, or at least pretend that you care. As mentioned above, when working with startups, you’re working with tech people. With no knowledge about at least the basics of coding (at least front-end), you might have difficulties in finding a common language.
Scandinavian entrepreneur and artist. Use all the fancy words you can think of when describing yourself (as long as you don’t lie… at least not much). Brand yourself as a very entrepreneurial-minded Scandinavian genius that wants to make a career as an entrepreneur and independent art director one day. They’ll love you! Also, prepare to tell about yourself and share your future visions for your career path. Don’t be too modest!
UX/UI Designers:
“When interviewing for a position as a UI designer, be prepared to answer questions about your work philosophy, how you strive to work with other team members and be asked about how you would improve specific examples. Have a portfolio ready to show off your previous work and be enthusiastic and passionate about your work.” –Glassdoor
Read Solving Product Design Exercises by Artiom Dashinsky. Redesign an ATM. Design a dashboard for a freelancer to manage their work. Redesign the NYC MetroCard system. Learn how to solve and present exercises like these, that businesses use to interview digital product designers and UI/UX designers.
The 7 Questions You’ll Be Asked at a UX Design Interview
https://library.gv.com/how-to-interview-a-designer-with-the-perfect-design-exercise-2c99e6646612
11 Revealing Interview Questions to Ask Designers
What questions would you ask to a UX/UI designer in his job interview? – Quora
https://www.mockplus.com/blog/post/10-questions-youll-be-asked-in-a-ux-interview/?utm_source=promote&utm_medium=click&utm_campaign=trista
11 Essential UI Design Interview Questions and Answers | Toptal
20 Most Common UI Design Questions and Answers for UI Interview
Front-End interview questions · Front-end Developer Handbook 2016
UI Designer interview questions | Workable
Graphic designers:
There are plenty of tips online for preparing for interviews and cases. One of the most important features is to fully understand the whole production process and have excellent communication and cooperation skills with the engineering team. Here are some interview scenarios to start from:
https://www.companyfolders.com/blog/graphic-design-job-interview-tips-questions-answers
https://www.toptal.com/designers/visual/interview-questions

Business applicants

Here are few articles about startup interview questions. For the customer-facing business roles, having worked in sales or account management is key, plus being very comfortable in English. 
https://growtheverywhere.com/hiring-2/150-sample-interview-questions-for-every-startup/
https://fueled.com/blog/work-startup-nail-interview-questions/
https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/marketing-interview-questions
https://blog.close.io/top-10-questions-in-sales-hiring
https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/interview-questions-to-identify-the-best-sales-development-rep-candidates


 
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