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What to expect with the startup interview process

Whether you are looking for your first job out of college or moving from the corporate world to a startup, specific information about applying, interviewing, and negotiating at startups 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.

Application

There are some good job boards for startups that will 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 a recruiter at the startup or the hiring manager and 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, especially with startups because they show proactive excitement.

This email will be a great way to increase the chances that your application is seen and it will serve as a reminder to the hiring manager that you are a human. Check out our guide to crafting great cold emails for information on how to find the hiring manager’s email address and templates you can use for your emails.

Interviews

The next step after your application will likely be an introduction phone screen with a recruiter, so they can get an understanding of your experience and interest. This will be 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.

To show your interest, do research on their mission and values so that you can 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. 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:

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 preparing 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.

Negotiation

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, vacation days, 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 individual companies, check out our guides with interview processes, questions, values, and everything else you need.

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and young professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream 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 advisors 1-on-1 to optimize your applications, interviews, or with any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow.

Apply today.

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