When asking startup job interview questions, any interviewer worth their salt will want to know three key things about you before offering you the job.
First up, can you do what is required for the role? It sounds obvious because it is. If you don’t think you can deliver on the job spec, you’re not going to get hired.
The second thing is whether you will be a good fit in the company’s culture and management style. And this is important, not just for the employer, but for you.
The last is, do you really want this startup job? You may have everything it takes to fulfil the role well and be a snug fit in the office, but if you lack the motivation, it’ll probably be days before they’re looking for ways to get rid of you.
Here’s a list of some of the most common – and not-so-common – startup job interview questions that candidates might expect to be asked, and some handy hints on how to answer them.
1. Tell me about yourself
As inviting is it might be, don’t see this question as an opportunity to nosedive into your life history. You might want to talk about your formative years playing with baboons in rural Botswana, but trust me, your interviewer does not want to hear it.
See this as your chance to tell them as succinctly and as briefly as possible what makes you the perfect person for this startup position. Tell them about your education, your career to date and any recent work experience, but keep it relevant. All the time you need to be thinking about how you can use this question to demonstrate how you’re going to bring value to the company.
2. What’s your biggest weakness?
The key thing here is not so much what your weakness is, but more how you compensate for it. If you can show that you recognise yourself as having a particular weakness, and then demonstrate in some detail how you are actively working on it to turn it into a strength, you will show your ability to take the initiative and likely rise in the estimation of the interviewer. Being honest is important, but having said that, do not at any point talk about having a weakness in an area that is a prerequisite for the role in hand!
Another approach to answering this question is to talk about a weakness that has no bearing on the job you’re applying for. This is a safer way of tackling the question, and although it won’t directly demonstrate your aptitude for the position, it should not spoil your chance of getting the job.
3. Tell me about your dream job
Let the alarm bells ring! Your interviewer is likely to be proud of the place they work and would see nothing unusual in you saying that the startup job on offer is your dream role. This is a chance for you to show your potential employer how much you want to work for them, so take the opportunity to prove that you’ve done your research on the company and why you feel this is the place you want to be.
4. How many fire hydrants are there in London? (or any other similarly abstract brainteaser)
Startup job interview questions like these are aimed at seeing how somebody thinks and analyses. The key thing here is not so much about getting the right answer – and let’s face it, the interviewer probably doesn’t know themselves – but about showing how you think through the problem to get to your answer. Talk out loud as you go through the steps towards your answer in your head.
And if you’re struggling at first, then buy yourself some time. No-one is expecting you to shout out the answer in an instant, so say something like, “I’ve never thought of that before. Please give me a moment to think about it”.
5. How often do you check your work emails on holiday?
This one’s designed to trip you up.
You might be tempted to say “Every waking minute, I even have a waterproof phone cover so I can check it while am having a swim”, in which case you’re basically telling the employer you don’t have a healthy work-life balance and are fast-tracking to burnout. Or you might answer, “Never. The moment that office door shuts behind me I’m outta here!”, thereby offering very little to demonstrate your dedication to the role.
The right answer is obviously to tell the truth, but without getting into the specifics. Tell the interviewer that you’ll be checking in in case there’s an emergency, but make it clear that you’re going away for some needed you time and to recharge your batteries.
6. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Companies do not want to invest time, money and effort into a new employee they know for certain is going to leave no sooner than they can put your business on their CV. But equally, they don’t expect every employee to stay for several years.
Fintech and startup jobs have a notoriously speedy turnaround, so based on probability it’s unlikely that you’re going to be with that company in five years. But you don’t know that for sure, so don’t tell them you already have plans to be working somewhere else. Explain honestly where you foresee your career progressing and how you feel their company can help you attain your goals.
7. How would your friends describe you?
A lot of interviewers like to ask this question, and in doing so are trying to find out whether you are right sort of person for the startup job and the company.
So, in preparation for any startup job interview questions framed like this, think about what sort of personal attributes would be helpful for this role, and focus on the ones that best suit your own personality. But don’t lie. Remember that an interview is a two-way process and that it is as much about you finding a startup job you want as to whether you are right for the company.
8. What are your startup salary expectations?
Before the interview, you should have a clear idea of what someone in your experience should expect as an industry standard for the role (make sure you check our London Startup Salary Guide). Your interviewer will certainly know, and asking this will help them find out whether they can afford the startup salary you’re aiming for.
Don’t feel the urge to state a lower rate than the one you would be happy with, hoping that it will help you secure the job. On the contrary, this sends out the message to the interviewer that you yourself don’t think you are worth a more competitive startup salary. If they feel you are the right person for the job, they will expect to pay you fairly.
And if you feel it is too early in the interview process to handle salary negotiations, it is perfectly reasonable to say you need to find out more about the role in question before being in a position to discuss pay.
9. Do you like to work alone or as part of a team?
The way you answer these sort of startup job interview questions should to some degree depend on the startup job you’re applying for, but more often than not it is best to sit on the fence a little. By saying that you prefer working in teams might give the impression that you can’t make decisions for yourself or lack self-motivation, whereas saying you like to work by yourself might set you out as being something of a loner and not a team-player.
It is perfectly reasonable to say you like working both alone and as part of a team, listing what you like about each way of working, and your reasons for why you would not want to work like that all the time.
10. Do you have any startup job interview questions for me?
For the avoidance of any doubt, the answer to this is yes! This is your chance not only to find out more about the job and what it would be like to work at the new company but to demonstrate to your interviewer that you are genuinely interested in the position.
Have some startup job interview questions of your own in mind before you go into the interview so that you have something to fall back on, but try to come up with questions connected to topics raised during the interview. This will show you’ve been listening, and demonstrate your interest in the role.
I hope you’ve found the above advice useful. And just remember, the best thing you can do in an interview is to be yourself. Things may not always work out the way you want them to, but at least you won’t find yourself in the wrong job. And with persistence and knowing your true worth, that dream job will soon be yours for the taking.