How to Get Hired at a Startup if You’ve Never Worked at One Before


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Deborah Sweeney102 CEO
May 29, 2024 at 1:35AM UTC
The rules of the typical job interview road don’t always apply when it comes to interviewing at a startup. Countless listicles have taught us how to dress, which questions to anticipate, and advice for following up at interviews in corporate environments. What about startups, where you could be interviewing yards away from a ping pong table? What can you do to show that you’re passionate about the position while remaining professional during the process? As it turns out, getting hired at a startup isn’t too far off from what it’s like to be hired by a corporation. Here’s what you need to keep in mind while interviewing at a startup.
1. Know the business, inside and out.
If you’re super passionate about working for this startup, let that passion shine through! Do your homework on the business and its offerings and services. Study what their company culture is like and figure out how you can be a return on investment in the position you’re seeking. For example, if you’re angling for a social media position, follow all of the startup’s social handles. Examine how they can improve upon their content posted, if there are other platforms they should be on, and present to them how making these changes ultimately aids to their ROI and helps make the startup more successful. This shows the startup that you’re serious about the role, have an understanding of how the business works, and are ready to take initiative as early as day one.
2. Lighten up how you dress.
Interviews in a corporate environment tend to be tradition-heavy. Potential candidates are encouraged to come dressed in suits and workplace-appropriate dresses and groomed from their styled hair down to their feet in nice shoes. While interviews at startups may require less pomp and circumstance, it’s still not an excuse to pull a Mark Zuckerberg and show up in a hoodie or flip-flops.
Consider the startup’s culture before you figure out how to dress for an interview. If they specialize in technology or fashion, for instance, you may find yourself tweaking your appearance a bit to reflect that type of environment and make a good first impression. Need an appropriate dress code example? Men are generally encouraged to wear dark darks (with no holes) with a checkered, button-down shirt. Add a blazer to tie the ensemble together and nice dress shoes. Women may consider wearing a wrap dress or shirtdress with a cardigan and adding a pair of fun wedges with a pop of color.
3. Referrals, not just your resume, matter.
You’ve wowed your interviewers with your extensive research into the business and are dressed to fit the part. Now it’s time to call in the big guns — and we don’t mean polishing up your resume either. In addition to having a well-written cover letter and resume that highlight your successes in previous gigs, include references that can vouch for you. Chat with previous employers or coworkers ahead of time to get their permission to be included as a reference. Let them know which startup you’re interviewing at, so that they may be prepared to highlight specific skills you can bring to their table.
4. Swap canned answers to interview question to share narratives.
It’s always good to anticipate certain questions, like “tell me about yourself,” and loosely prepping an answer ahead of time. However, some startups may want to get a better idea of who you are as a person. Don’t be afraid to answer by sharing a story that provides an example of how you went above and beyond and the steps you took to get there. Your interviewers want to see that you have a self-starter attitude and can excel at wearing multiple hats when working on projects.
5. Follow up after the interview!
No matter if you’re interviewing at a corporation or a startup, this is one rule that always applies. At the end of the interview, ask about the next steps to come in the process. Ask for a business card so you have their contact information and email your interviewer to thank them for speaking with you today and that you look forward to the next steps. Whether you get the position or not, you’ll leave behind a strong first impression on the startup and its team.

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