Startup Interview Tips for Software Engineers

Alan Truong (Head of Engineering @ EntryLevel), Xavi Ferro (Head of Engineering @ Simply Wall St), Tim Tang (VP Engineering @ Local Measure), Stuart Totman (Head of Engineering @ Campaign Monitor), Alexander Iskrenov (Head Of Engineering @ Bluewater Control), Alex Gurr (Head of Engineering @ Cloudwave), Vinny Lawrenson-Woods  (General Manager, Product Engineering @ Prezzee), Pratik Ghimire (Engineering Manager @ Car Next Door), Adrian Groch (Software Engineer @ Pendula), Jared Fraser (Director of Engineering @ Mr Yum), Artem Golubev (Dev Lead - Automated Retail @ Hivery), Paul Kelcey (VP Engineering @ Displayr)

Authored by engineering leaders from Simply Wall St, Prezzee, Mr Yum, Hivery, Local Measure, Campaign Monitor, Cloudwave, Bluewater Control, Car Next Door and Displayr

Startup Interview Tips for Software Engineers

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Xavi Ferro (Head of Engineering @ Simply Wall St)

Bring your own self to the interview. Be humble: it is ok to say I don’t know. Ask questions to understand and you can dig into some answers. During the interview the team will ensure you have the right technical skills but you need to play your part on showing your attitude and problem solving skills.

Tim Tang (VP Engineering @ Local Measure)

The best preparation is just to review what you've done in the past. If you're asked to talk about a project you worked on make sure you can really speak to the details of what you did and why. I really enjoy speaking to someone who was personally invested in a project down to the technical details and who takes pride in their work. Conversely, it can be a red flag to speak to someone who can’t explain what they did or how they did it.

Stuart Totman (Head of Engineering @ Campaign Monitor)

I think the best interview/application tips I can give is to try and let your personality shine through. Making sure your application shows your passions as well as your education and intern experience is a good way to stand out from the crowd. Similarly if you can get that across and be personable in the interview you are off to a great start.

One of my biggest interview tips would be to be confident without trying to BS. One of the most refreshing things is to hear someone say they don’t know an answer to a question rather than listening to them try and fumble an answer out.

Finally I would say take some time to research the company and the people there. This is not in case you get asked questions about it but more so that you can try and ask good questions of your interviewers. Remember that it is just as important to find out if the role is a good fit for you as it is for the interviewers to find out whether you are a good fit for the role.

Alexander Iskrenov (Head Of Engineering @ Bluewater Control)

  1. Always check the company site/LinkedIn page for positions and try to apply directly if possible. Showing the initiative in finding the company and explaining how you can contribute to the goal always helps.
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something, but always have a plan on how you will gain this knowledge and make sure you explain your approach to the interviewer. A well presented plan for self improvement will always bring you more points than trying to explain something you don’t understand. 
  3. Show curiosity. Ask questions about the business, about the team, about how your skills will contribute to the company.
  4. Be humble. The company is always looking for a team player. Lone wolf behaviors like arrogance and lack of flexibility are a huge turn off.

Alex Gurr (Head of Engineering @ Cloudwave)

  • Relax! This is a hard one to do if you’re nervous but you’ll have a much better time.
  • Communicate clearly and concisely
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, try, but don’t spend ages talking about irrelevant things


Vinny Lawrenson-Woods   (General Manager, Product Engineering @ Prezzee)

Interviews are a two-way process to help the interviewer and the interviewee communicate expectations and find alignment. Be clear and open about what you’re looking for and why. Ask lots of questions as this helps you understand the role and the organisation, but it will also help the interviewer understand what’s important to you. 

In a technical interview you may be asked to solve a problem but it’s important to understand it’s not always about the solution, how you got there is equally important. Talk through your thinking and why you’ve taken a specific approach. Ask questions, ask for help, clarify instructions and expand on your answers. A technical interview is as much about how you collaborate as it is about your skills, and unless you’re vocal it’s difficult for the interviewer to follow your thought processes and figure out how you would fit into a team.

Pratik Ghimire (Engineering Manager @ Car Next Door)

Preparation for any interview is a good thing. It builds confidence and improves your chances of getting hired. Most of the companies would have a set of problems to solve which could be solved with basic programming skills. Most of the time the solutions are evaluated for logic, relevant variable namings, structure of the code, modularity and tests. Most people overlook tests but writing tests is as important as writing a solution.

Always visit the website of the company, visit LinkedIn of the company along with their senior management or the person who will be taking the interview. That would give an idea of the background of the company along with the senior management. If the company has long standing team members, it is generally a good sign but don’t just look at it in isolation.

When reaching out or adding people in LinkedIn, don’t be afraid to write a cold message and say you would want to know more about the company or the role. Interview is not just for the company to evaluate you but also equally a chance for you to know the company and role. It’s really important to ask questions during an interview and clear concerns before signing above the dotted lines.

Adrian Groch (Software Engineer @ Pendula)

Depends on the role. Funnily enough startups often oversell themselves online so they look bigger and more professional than they really are. Researching the company might just confuse you even more than what you already know about them, but in saying that, don’t go into the interview not knowing anything about them. Have at least a basic understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve. Adding people on linkedin before you work there could be really awkward if you don’t get the job.

Jared Fraser (Director of Engineering @ Mr Yum)

Depending on where a startup is in their growth phase, they are usually developing a brand and engineering identity. They will be trying to develop a following with information on different social channels.

Follow the leaders of the business on LinkedIn, this will give you insights into the product and also how they sell the product. On the engineering side, research the technical leaders of the company to understand who you will be learning frrom. The more you know about a startup before going in gives you more talking points during an interview and less potential awkward silences.

Artem Golubev (Dev Lead - Automated Retail @ Hivery)

If the candidate shows interest in the company it’s a bonus, but I personally don’t live in a dream world where every candidate dreams to work in my no-name startup and should know its history and the history of the founding fathers/mothers, etc.etc., so I don’t care if the candidate says they know nothing about the company. You’ll meet the opposite people though, so be prepared. Solving simple problems efficiently and knowing CS fundamentals is the key in my view.

Paul Kelcey (VP Engineering @ Displayr)

Prepare in advance. Try and understand the business as much as possible prior to interview. If you have a project you’ve been tinkering around with in your spare time that relates then this will make you stand out. Be enthusiastic. Be honest. Ask questions. Demonstrate an interest in an area.

Alan Truong (Head of Engineering @ EntryLevel)

To most people’s surprise, a job interview at a startup is less formalised and structured than applying for a big company. You might have a casual conversation with the founder and 20 minutes be offered with a position.

To put yourself in the best position, you want to create connections with people working in companies that you want to work for. First impressions are often underrated and that could just be as simple as  cold-message via linkedin or email before applying for the position and/or after the interview.

Otherwise, prepare as if you would apply for any interview:

  • Do a bit of research about the company you are applying for
  • Prep some common interview questions, both behavioural and technical 
  • Have something to showcase your skills (show don’t tell)
  • Prepare a few questions to ask them - remember you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you


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