Applying and Interviewing at a Startup

Jess Rogers (Strategy and Operations Manager, Snap Send Solve), Kanav Bhama (Business Operations, Dovetail), Ellen Dinsmoor (Head of Operations, Vow), Amelia Crawford (Legal Counsel, TikTok), Lee Lubner, Chris Quirk (Investment Manager, rampersand), Tom Bass (Growth Product Manager, Atlassian)
Jess Rogers (Strategy and Operations Manager, Snap Send Solve)

Applying

It’s great if candidates have thought deeply about what they can contribute to the specific start-up to which they’re applying. Take time to reflect on why the start-up appeals. Is it their impact? A particular project you’ve seen? Do you think you can have a unique contribution there? Sharing any of your ideas will be impressive if they’re well thought out. It’s also an opportunity to show why you’re uniquely placed to help the start-up on its mission. Speaking to people who work at the start-up will also help you stand out. Showing that you’ve sought out first-hand perspectives on the start-up’s work and culture is a great sign to founders and recruiters.  

Pitching and interviewing

Confidence (real or fake is fine) — My best advice is to keep a clear picture of what you have to offer. Don’t doubt that you have lots to bring to the table. Be super clear about your core skills and traits and focus on these in pitches and interviews. Back yourself and the unique combination of skills and experience that you offer. As cliche as it sounds, keep in mind that the interview is designed to help you assess whether you’d like to work at the start-up where you’re interviewing. Try and focus on getting to know the company and its people and see if you can visualise working with them everyday. 

Pitch — Put together a 2 minute pitch that introduces your experience, where you’re at and what you’re looking for. Think about 4 or 5 key points that you want to convey and work them into a narrative. You can use your pitch to sum up your background and objectives in networking conversations, introductions and interviews. Practice your pitch to ensure you’re comfortable and confident saying it out loud.

Interviews — For interview preparation, an interview placemat can be a good way to prepare for the questions you might be asked in an interview. When answering interview questions, tangible examples for any skills or experience you discuss is key. Tie answers to previous work experiences but also feel free to be creative and pull in experience from personal projects, hobbies, volunteering or travel. This can help consolidate your experiences and provide a holistic picture of who you are. 

Kanav Bhama (Business Operations, Dovetail)

I’d recommend bootstrapping yourself into a startup mindset. If you’re currently in a corporate environment, see if you can find any startups you can help on the side to build empathy and relevant skills to support their journey. 

Other things that can help are being hyper-aware of strengths, limitations and where you may need to unlearn things to have an impact. Being able to clearly articulate this as well would show a level of humility and self-understanding which many startups would look upon favourably. 

It’s going to sound super cliche but in all seriousness just be yourself. If you can do something well, communicate it. If you don’t know the answer to a question, communicate that too and walk through how you’d approach getting to the answer. 

At the end of the day startups are run by people, and the community thrives on authentic interactions with one another. Letting your true voice and character shine through in an application, pitch or interview will have you drawing closer to the environments which will be better fits for you. 

As a last practical tip - take comfort in dressing down for interviews. I was very out of place rocking up to an interview at Dovetail in a suit once! 

Ellen Dinsmoor (Head of Operations, Vow)
  • Tell us why you’re excited about our company and what you think you have to contribute, even if it’s just an amazing work ethic. 
  • Be genuine and honest. If you’ve only worked at a nonprofit or in a larger corporation, call this out. But then tell us why you want a change and what value you think your experience still does bring to the table.
  • Have your 1-2 minute pitch ready. We’ll always ask the classic “Tell me about yourself” question at the start of most interviews. Be ready and have a rock solid answer to this that actually only takes 1-2 minutes, not ten.
  • Be humble. There is no room for an ego at a startup. If I get an email from someone that screams “ego” they are the only ones I’ll ignore.

Amelia Crawford (Legal Counsel, TikTok)

Startups actually care about who you are and not just what you can do, so be prepared to come with some “and what do you like to do outside of work” anecdotes. Answering questions by using some examples of non-work related experiences can also be a great differentiator. 

My tips for interviewing:

  • Know the product. Not just what they’ve done - but what next? Do you have any ideas on what they could do to improve or areas they should focus on? 

My tips for applying:

  • I would recommend trying to upskill in areas that are relevant to the role. Either try to get some relevant experience through your existing employer or you can even do some mini courses (yes the ones on LinkedIn). For example, as a lawyer, it would probably be relevant to upskill in privacy, contract and intellectual property law, or if you’re heading into an industry, for example construction, then get on top of the legal issues facing the construction industry.

Lee Lubner
  • Be authentic, seasoned interviewers can sense BS
  • Let your passion shine through
  • Cater your CV to the startup
  • Translate your skills/abilities outside of startup land into startup lingo: I.e ex-lawyer - able to deliver time-sensitive projects with high attention to detail

Chris Quirk (Investment Manager, rampersand)
  • No different to corporate
  • A startup will probably like initiative and trying something for real instead of taking a course - teach yourself or build something yourself!

Finally, check out Annabel Blake's all-encompassing guide here.

What have we missed? Please hit 'Contribute to the Guide' to give your perspective and help others into their first role.

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