May 4th 2021

All you need to know about the interview process for a startup

You never know what to expect from a job interview. You can prepare, prepare, prepare but every company will have its own interview structure with its own set of interview questions. The same goes for the world of startups – where making sure you are the right fit is a big focus for them. To make sure you are well prepared, we will walk you through a typical interview process at most startups so you know just what to expect.

The phone interview 

The first interview will normally take place over a 20-30 minute phone call with the recruiting team. This is where they will try and gauge on a surface level if you are the right fit. Here are some interview tips on the four areas they will most likely cover. 

  • Do you have the qualities needed to work for a startup? A role at a startup is very different from other more traditional companies. They are looking for different qualities in a person that means they can handle the fast-paced, unpredictable startup work environment. Here are 10 qualities startups look for. Have a read to understand what you need to bring to the table. 
  • Do you have the experience that is needed? This isn’t going to be a deep dive with interview questions to test everything you have written. This is more of a brief run-through, so be prepared to talk about your top achievements in recent jobs. The next stage will be where they really dig into your abilities. 
  • Are you passionate about the company? This is important to every startup. They have a mission that they want every employee to believe in and strive towards. Interview preparation is still important even at this early stage. If you have not done your research and thought about why you want to work for this company then you don’t stand a chance. In our ultimate guide to getting a job, we dive into interview advice on how research is key.
  • What are your salary expectations? Startups look to launch something from scratch. They often can’t afford to pay really high salaries, but they will reward you in other ways. This is to understand what range you are looking for, so be honest so that neither of you wastes each other’s time.

Hiring manager interviews 

Got the invite for the next stage? Great news. That means you will now meet with the hiring manager for the team you are interviewing for (i.e. Marketing Manager, Head of Sales, CTO, etc). 

This stage largely depends on the role of the sorts of job interview questions and answers that will be covered. But this interview will likely test you in the below three ways.  

  • Your past experiences. Your future employer will want to understand this in-depth. Reflect on past decisions made, achievements, and learnings to prove to the employer you are right for the role. Be sure to give examples and make sure to tailor everything you say to the job description. Don’t worry if you have no work experience, there is a whole world of different experiences you can shout about to still land the role. 
  • Your different skillsets. These skills can be learned from education, online courses, work experience, or even through side-hustles. The manager will want to know that you can perform at the level required through technical skills, but they will also be looking for soft skills. And in fact, startups believe that the right, transferable, soft skills are actually more important than ever. 
  • Set interview tasks. Detailing all the skills you have learnt is one thing, but hiring managers often want you to prove them through practical tasks. These tasks assess your qualities either individually through tasks such as presentations, or with live sessions with current team members. Either way, make sure you know your stuff and put a lot of effort into the preparation.


Other team member interviews 

Company culture is at the heart of every startup. Their values and everything they do feeds into this. This is why startups will often have team members that are closer to the ground and not involved in management interview new joiners. They want to be sure they hire someone that will not only fit into the team but also be a culture add. 

Our CEO and Co-Founder, Ben Chatfield says, “think about it in terms of cultural add rather than cultural fit. What is this person going to bring that will complement others around them.”

Here are the people you would normally meet – they may group people or do it individually. 

  1. One or more people from the team you are interviewing for.
  2. One or more people from other teams in the business. 

In this interview, they will be purely looking to see if they get on with you and whether you would get on with the business as a whole. It is more of a chat than an interview so what you will talk about is hard to say. But they will likely cover: 

  1. Your background 
  2. Some personal questions 
  3. Some conversation starters using what you’ve said on your CV

Senior leader interviews 

Unless the startup has grown to the size of an SME and is over 100 people, it is highly likely that you will meet with one of the founders or CEO. This is their business after all, and they care about who they work with and want to be involved with everyone. 

This means you have impressed everyone so far and now it’s time to get the seal of approval of those at the very top. It is often the final stage of the interview process and when you really want to show a passion for the startup. They will be looking to understand two things from you: 

  • Will you be a good hire for the company culture? They will have heard feedback from everyone else on this, but they will want to see it for themselves. Startups have strong company cultures and they want you to add to this in a positive way. An important part of company culture is their values and the buy-in from employees in the overall mission. Ask the right interview questions, and demonstrate that you are passionate about this and it will go a long way. Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to join and what you do outside of work. Demonstrate that you are passionate about this and it will go a long way. 

Jerry Chen, Head of People at Flux, says, “Do your research to show you understand their mission and how your qualities align with this and fit into that specific company.” 

  • What will you be able to bring to the role? They know the calibre of employees they have and are looking to have in their business. They will want to check that you have the ability to really own the role and handle the fast-paced startup life. Even if you don’t have all the technical skills, they will be looking for the motivation to hit the ground running and learn on the job. Expect a few questions about the challenges you would face in the role if you joined, and how you’ve overcome challenges in the past. 

Startups are learning as they grow. They won’t always run a meticulous process and the interviewers are often inexperienced. What it boils down to is doing their best to understand if you are the perfect fit not only for the role but for the company as a whole. If you are passionate about the journey they are on and are your authentic self, demonstrating what strengths you can bring to the table, then you will land the role no problem.