Check out this article to learn more about the startup interview process!
Updated in 2023
Whether you are looking for your first job out of college or moving from the corporate world to a startup, specific information about the startup interview process can give you the edge to differentiate you from the competition.
We’ve broken it down into application, interviews, and negotiation so that you can get a holistic picture of how to land your dream job at a startup.
Startup application process
The first step is knowing the right job boards to use. In fact, there are some specific job boards for startups that can help you get your search started. AngelList, VentureLoop, Hacker News, and Crunchboard are all job boards mainly focused around startups.
Once you have found a position that is interesting to you, apply on the site. Take your time to tailor your resume to match the job description and be thorough in all of your responses. You are likely dealing with a real person on the other end, so make sure that it is perfect.
Especially since you are applying to a smaller company, you have a great opportunity to reach out to the recruiter or hiring manager. You can secure your next step with a compelling cold email. Cold emails might feel scary, or like a lot of work, but they are definitely worth it. This is especially the case with startups because they show proactive excitement.
This email will be a great way to increase the chances that your application is seen. Plus, it will serve as a reminder to the hiring manager that you are a human. Check out our guide with information on how to write a great cold email, which includes templates and research tips. In addition, we have created a list of email addresses for recruiters from hundreds of top tech companies, which you can use for your outreach. For example, we have information for Stripe recruiters, Bird recruiters, SpaceX recruiters, and many more.
Startup interview process
The next step after your application will likely be an introduction phone screen with a recruiter. This helps them get an understanding of your experience and interest. Phone screens are generally casual, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare! This is your first opportunity to show your excitement about the company to a real person. Check out our guide to writing a strong elevator pitch with a template you can adapt. That way you start the interview off on the right foot. For more guidance on how to prepare for a phone interview, check out our article.
To show your interest, do research on the company’s mission and values. You will need to talk about them in your interview. Early stage startups are small and culture fit is extremely important because most people work closely with one another. Therefore, the recruiter is looking to see how you’d fit in with the culture before moving you on to more difficult rounds. Showing them in this first stage is a great way to get them excited to move you forward.
You can find information about a startup’s mission on their About page. For example, take a look at Square’s About page. Their mission is front and center:
We’ve created a guide showing you how to research a company to prepare for your interviews, which you can review for more tips.
Next, you will likely see technical challenges or interviews. Similarly to when you interview with other types of companies, you should prepare for these by practicing problems and timing yourself. For engineers, working with a partner in pair programming practice sessions can be especially helpful. Check out our list of 90+ software engineering interview questions to practice.
When getting ready for startup technical interviews, don’t be afraid to reach out to the recruiter and ask specific questions about what you should prepare. They won’t send you the actual questions, of course, but they will likely give you some good general information about the types of questions and the topics that will be covered in your interviews.
We also recommend that you do research on the product by looking at their Product page and playing around with product if you can, so that you can speak intelligently about it and make suggestions for changes, if that question comes up. For example, this is the Product page for Seed, a startup that was in the summer 2017 batch of Y Combinator. They list out all of their features so you can review them and include screenshots.
Finally, make sure you prepare for your behavioral interviews by taking your research on the company and inserting that information into your responses to common questions. Practice with our list of behavioral interview questions from top tech companies.
When you get to the offer stage with startups, negotiation is important. It’s good to note that your salary will likely be lower than the larger, late-stage tech companies, like Google, because they just don’t have the same type of funds. But, you should still plan to negotiate so that you can get the highest salary possible while still maintaining a good impression.
You should never tell them a number, or even range, if you can help it because then you will get pigeon-holed. When you are negotiating with a startup, you should make plans for other elements that go into your total compensation that aren’t salary-based, since you know there is a pretty solid stopping point for them. You could ask for more equity, PTO, different benefits, or a better title as part of your negotiation. Check out our negotiation guide for more information on negotiation, including an annotated email template for negotiation.
For more specific information on how to get a job at top tech companies, check out our guides with interview processes, questions, values, and everything else you need. And for startups, they all need unique hosting solutions for their websites. Check HowsHost for advice on which website platform to choose.
Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their first, or next, great job in tech. With these tips and guidance, we’ve seen responses to applications triple and interview performance scores double.
If you want to work with any of our mentors 1-on-1 to optimize your applications, interviews, or with any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow.