Have an important interview coming up? Struggling with preparation?
Here are 9 How-To Tips for crushing your upcoming interview.
1. How to Do Your Homework
Understanding the company, the interviewer, and the interview process
● Prepare for Early Stage vs. More Mature Startups. Is the company in its early stages? If so, they might not have a defined interview process just yet. The interview will likely be an open conversation discussing your experience alongside the goals of the company. A more mature company will have a more formal interview process with standardized interview questions. Either way, you’ll want to strike a balance between being too casual and being too formal. You should appear friendly and approachable.
● Find common ground with your interviewers. Review the backgrounds of the interviewers. What do you have in common with them? Employers often recruit people who remind them of themselves as they subconsciously know exactly where they want the role to go.
● Ask the recruiter if they have any insight into the interview process. The recruiter is likely to have worked with companies for years and might know what the interviews entail, their normal length and exactly what the employer is looking for. Getting tips from your recruiter could put you just above the competition.
● Resources for researching the company and industry. While it might seem like a cliché, a S.W.O.T. analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is invaluable in learning more about the company and their future aims. Research the company on Crunchbase, LinkedIn, press releases, or via Google search. Where possible, make use of their services, website or apps, so you understand the customer journey. Remember, it’s important to show you’ve done your homework, and the interviewer is likely to subtly check your knowledge and understanding.
2. How to Answer the ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Question
Highlighting strengths while avoiding common pitfalls
● Only use relevant experience! Start with your most relevant experience and work your way backwards. If you’re more than 10 years into your career, you can leave out details about college jobs. Equally, if you’ve had a career change, make sure you only talk about experience that’s relevant to the new role. Some skills are transferable, but they don’t need your life story. When overviewing each job be sure to include:
○ Why did you take the job?
○ What were your biggest accomplishments in that job? Really sell yourself.
● Be brief on early details such as where you’re from, where you went to college / grad school, and why you chose to study your subjects. Bear in mind that your interviewer will care most about your relevant work experience, so focus on that.
● Explain your decision-making process. Why did you decide to leave and move on to your next job? Try not to be too negative about your previous employer or your reason for leaving.
● Tailor your responses to the opportunity. Try to work in how your experience fits with the job you’re interviewing for.
● Keep it succinct. Stick to just 2–3 minutes for this section. You’ll likely lose your interviewer’s attention if you describe in any more detail.
● Practice, practice, and practice. All interviewers will ask this question; it’s how they gauge what you’re like as a person.
3. How to Explain Why You Want the Job
Setting yourself apart by effectively expressing your interest
Even if not directly asked, you will set yourself apart if you can proactively address why you are interested in the specific company and role (vs. any other opportunity out there).
● Think about the team, product / service, growth, scope of the role, etc. and then be prepared to convince the interviewer that your experience sets you up for success in this opportunity.
● Why are you excited about this specific role? Explain your career goals and how the role aligns with those.
● What skills do you think you have that set you apart from the other candidates?
4. How to Prepare for Behavioral-Based Questions
Becoming an effective story teller
Review the company’s career page and job description. You should get a sense of their core values and what they’re looking for. Remember, most interviews will base questions around common themes such as leadership, teamwork, analytical abilities, communication, and problem solving. Prepare your stories to align with these values and themes. Think about times in your career when you’ve demonstrated leadership, faced a challenge, solved a problem using data, etc. Ideally, you’ll want to make sure you have a story that can address each target criteria / qualification noted on the job description.
Write out your stories. Start by writing a few bullets summarizing the key points of the story and then write those stories out in C.A.R. (Context, Action, and Result) format.
● Context: Help the interviewer understand the scope of the project (How big? How many people? etc.). Also, discuss the goals that the projects aimed to achieve.
● Action: What was your role? What did you do? Start with “I” vs. “we”. The interviewer wants to know what YOU did (not what your team did collectively).
● Result: Help the interviewer understand what impact your actions had on the organization. If possible, include concrete statistics (grew revenue by X%, reduced overhead costs by $X, etc.).
Remember to use this structured approach to keep your examples concise and relevant. And since you know these are coming, remember to practice, practice, practice.
5. How to Dress for Success
Making a good first impression
You’ll want to strike a balance between dressing too casually and dressing too formally. Some startups or tech companies might have a more relaxed dress code. If you know this and especially if your interview is via video call, it’s tempting to follow their example. However, dressing for success is essential. You don’t want to come across as too casual. You’ll want to present a professional image without dressing overly formal (i.e., generally avoid business professional attire).
Presenting a professional image will actually prepare your mindset, making you appear enthusiastic and dynamic. If in doubt, ask the recruiter for advice or go for smart casual — avoid t-shirts or ripped jeans.
6. How to Build a Rapport with your Interviewer
Paying attention to all the details
● Adjust for video calls. Consider the changes in position if you’re interviewing via video call. If you’re taking notes, it may come across that you’re looking down and appearing disinterested. It’s important to let the interviewer know what you’re doing to emphasize your engagement with the conversation.
● Take your time. Don’t be afraid to ask for a minute to pull your thoughts together if there isn’t an immediately clear answer. It’s better to give strong, thoughtful responses than rattling off something irrelevant and disorganized.
● Don’t forget those soft skills. Strong, nonverbal communication goes a long way. Use an open and inviting posture, maintain eye contact and smile! If your interviewers don’t find you approachable, that’s an immediate mark against you.
● Build those relationships. Interviewers are always assessing — Is this someone who’d represent us well in front of a client? Will this person work well with their colleagues? Rapport building is a necessity for success.
7. How to Prepare your Own Questions
Demonstrating your insight and preparation
● You should have 3–5 questions ready. Remember, it’s a chance for you to learn more about the company, role, and culture. The interviewer will also assess your questions, so make sure these are relevant and insightful.
● Questions on the Company: Use this as a chance to demonstrate you’ve done your research on the company, and are thoughtful about the opportunity. Avoid asking questions where the answer could be found through some basic internet research or questions that could be answered from a quick glance at the job description. Instead, you want to be digging one level deeper. A good rule of thumb is if you imagine you already have the offer in hand and are debating whether to accept, ask questions that will help you make that decision (e.g., I notice your competitors are doing X,Y, but you mentioned earlier that you plan to do Z instead, what’s the thinking behind that?).
● Questions on the Role: Ask pointed questions. Questions around the role are typically the most productive when they are pointed (e.g., What does success look like in 3 months? 6 months? Why are you hiring into this role now?).
● Questions on Culture: Getting the interviewer to talk about his/her personal experiences is often a great way to glean a company’s culture. Instead of asking an overtly broader question (e.g., What is your company’s culture?), it is often helpful to ask pointed questions around the interviewers own experiences (e.g., How have you grown since your time at this company? What got you excited about joining the company and what keeps you excited about it now?).
● Be tactful — the way you frame a question matters. If you’re sensing resistance to the questions you’re asking, you might want to switch from asking pointed questions around sensitive issues (e.g., what were your profits last year?) to more broader questions (e.g., are you able to share if you are profitable?).
● This is your time to determine if it makes sense to continue interviewing. Ask the questions that you care about rather than trying to ask the “right” questions.
8. How to Ask for the Job
Wrapping up a successful interview
This is a step that most people miss out on. If you’re genuinely interested in the job, make sure you let the interviewer know that. You won’t get a job if you don’t ask! At the end of the interview, say something like “I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and remain very excited about the opportunity!”
Many perfectly qualified candidates end up losing out on opportunities because they didn’t appear enthusiastic about the role. Interviewers are passionate about their business and they want to work alongside people who share their enthusiasm.
9. How to Follow Up
Keeping yourself number one on the list
You must make sure that you’re remembered. Follow up! Most people will sit back and wait for a call after an interview. It’s great etiquette to send a follow up email after your interview thanking your interviewers for their time. Don’t be scared of looking needy, most employers will really appreciate your effort and care, and this might be the extra point you needed to push you to the top of their list.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if they reach out and say it isn’t a fit. You win some, you lose some and obviously someone just got in there above you this time. Feedback on your interview is valuable as you can take it away and improve for next time. Try not to be defensive — you’ll get the next one for sure!
Opus is a boutique search firm that helps strategy, finance and operations professionals get connected to opportunities in the startup and tech space. For more information, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.