What to talk about in a startup interview

Startuup Interview conversation Flickr/lovelornpoets

There are a lot of articles out there about how to answer specific questions in interviews, but what about the meat of it? It’s all well and good to have some prepared answers to the FAQs, but how do you approach the startup interview as a whole?

Startups are particularly tricky, because you’re unlikely to be interviewing with a hiring manager or HR associate – you’ll be talking with the core decision makers of the company, people more likely to think outside the box and avoid the traditional questions.

Here are some tips designed to help you get your interview process in shape.

1. Talk about the challenges of the role and your solutions

Think about what the challenges will be for you in this position. There can often be a stretch and your interviewer will be assessing whether you can bridge it.

There’s no point brushing over it – the best approach is to hit it head on, recognise the challenge is there, and show how you plan to tackle it.

Show some examples where you’ve picked up a new skill quickly. An example of this could be going from a research-focused position into a design one, or moving into a line management role from delivery-only.

2. Highlight your sweet spot

We all know that people can come from all walks of life and have different sweet spots.

Make sure you can identify your strengths, the areas that are developing, and aspects you’re looking to improve or specialise further in.

Be honest about it, and back up your assertions with examples. Did you achieve great results on a project? Are you researching courses in the areas you want to develop? Have you been to any industry conferences or talks to improve your skills?

Keep it positive, and show your work.

3. How did you get here? Tell your story

Can you neatly explain your path through different companies? Be prepared to outline why you moved and what you gained from each position.

This is especially relevant if you’ve done some freelancing or are looking to move into a permanent role from freelance.

What are your motivations and how does this specific role help you achieve them? Your interviewer needs to know that the startup fits into the story you’re telling about who you are and what you want.

4. Have clear, developed opinions about your field

Most interviewers will expect you to be opinionated, particularly around topics of hot debate such as responsive web design.

Make sure you’re comfortable defending your own perspective on your industry and trends in the market. (But don’t be a d*ck).

5. Be ready to justify any pay rise or bonus request

With a buoyant permanent market, it’s tempting to eye up a big pay rise. You should never raise the topic at interview yourself, but if it comes up, can you explain your reasons to justify one? Is it genuinely the right time based on your skills and experience?

I’d always advise to put finding the best company and position first. Nine times out of ten, the money looks after itself if you get that right.

If the money isn’t there, look for ways to make up the difference – can the startup offer you equity or shares after a successful probation period? Will they sponsor a certification course for training and development? Get a little creative – it’s worth it for the right opportunity.


At the end of the day, no amount of preparation will guarantee you the job – it’s all down to how you come across and how you fit with the team.

In a startup setting, it’s critical that the cultural fit be right, so even if you ace the interview, you might not get the job. Take it on the chin, learn from it, and chalk it up as a practise interview.

If you’d like to see more tips on interviewing, check out my other article, Acing a Job Interview with a Startup.