Interviewing for a startup? Be prepared to be put through the ringer with these potential questions.
You’ve got great references, common sense, a strong work ethic and intelligence. Think you’re set for your interview with the hottest local startup?
Every company is looking for bright individuals with the skills it takes to make their brand better. Small businesses and startups tend to determine if you’re a fit by looking deeper and adopting an unconventional approach to your interview. (Click here to tweet this quote.) So how do you handle questions thrown your way that you may not be ready for?
1. Your weekend plans
The question: “What did you do on Saturday?”
Why it’s asked: Startups know you’ve got all the right answers memorized. Instead of asking directly if you’re a hard worker, interviews will use seemingly unrelated questions to let your actions speak for themselves. Asking what you did on Saturday will reveal what time you get up, how seriously you take your hobbies, and your general attitude toward a day off.
How to react: This is a question that can be particularly difficult to answer in a way that balances both your professionalism and your personality. Handle it well by making a connection between your spare time and the roles included in the job. If you’re applying to be a software engineer, emphasize that woodworking project you completed or the LAN party you hosted for your buddies.
2. Your response to riddles
The question: “How much money would you spend to complete a $1 million project?”
Why it’s asked: Questions like these are enough to frustrate a lot of interviewees, and they’re increasingly popular with young, tech-related companies. The truth is there’s more purpose behind these questions than trying to sound like Google. Interviewers are trying to gauge how you respond to on-the-spot problems.
How to react: Keep calm and remember that no one expects you to provide the right answer. The interviewers are looking to evaluate your creativity, problem-solving skills, and perhaps even your sense of humor. Try retaliating with something like, “Can I have a pen and paper? Let’s figure this out together,” or “zero — so I can treat the team to the lunch of their lives.”
3. Your ability to take criticism
The question: “You gave us a two-page resume and didn’t clip the pages together. Do you not have a stapler?”
Why it’s asked: Many startup cultures are fast paced and can sometimes leave your feelings a bit bruised in the pursuit of the next big idea. A question like this could disarm a more sensitive interviewee, but it isn’t necessarily meant to do so. Your interviewer wants to understand how you handle relatively harmless quips.
How to react: Startup employees can be pretty blunt at times, and unfortunately an explanation of your mistake could come off as being defensive. Instead, try shrugging it off playfully: “I’m drawn to your culture because you encourage taking risks and making mistakes. It seems like I’ll fit right in!”
4. Your ability to give criticism
The question: “This is the newest product we’re working on. What would you change?”
Why it’s asked: Talk about a curveball! Not only are you being introduced to a foreign product, but now you’re also in the hot seat trying to offer suggestions for its improvement. Questions such as these evaluate your knowledge of your field and your ability to contribute to play an important role in a brainstorming session. They also give a feel for your level of confidence.
How to react: Demonstrate your expertise without being insensitive. If you freeze up and fail to provide some meaningful feedback, all the interviewer sees is that you can’t keep up with the startup culture. Ask one or two questions if it’s helpful and then provide thoughtful reasoning for the criticisms you provide.
5. Your creative process
The question: “Would you rather be responsible for producing an idea and handing it off to someone else or be responsible for executing someone else’s idea?”
Why it’s asked: The motives behind this question are actually quite practical. If the interviewer sees you as a strong candidate for the position, he may take note of your answer to make your job more enjoyable. He may also be weighing your preferences against that of his other employees to determine where you fit.
How to react: This is your chance to impress the interviewer by placing your preferences within the bigger picture. Ask how their team functions when given creative projects and where the needs lie. Better yet, explain what perception you developed while researching the company and detail how your preference fits within that.
The biggest difference between a startup interview and standard corporate interview is you’ll likely be put through the ringer. Remember that startups thrive on creativity, collaboration, and communication. Make yourself the obvious choice by showing off your expertise, establishing rapport in spite of difficult questions, and ultimately leaving an impression that’s hard to ignore.
Amy Daniels is the content writing manager at Red Nova Labs, a web technology startup stationed in Kansas City.