Ready to leave your corporate job and your claustrophobic cubicle to work at a startup ? Awesome! There’s just one catch: While you might have the skills you need to succeed in such an environment, on paper, you appear overqualified—or worse, simply not a good fit.
That means instead of focusing on your specific skills during an interview, you need to prove why you want to be in a culture that’s constantly evolving, as well as what unique characteristics you can bring to the table on day one.
Below, 13 startup founders from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) explain exactly how they expect more experienced candidates to prove they fit within a startup environment.
1. Demonstrate How You Can Solve the Company’s Problems
Startups have too much work to do and not enough people. So if a job seeker can express how he or she can solve the specific problems a company faces and get results, many other concerns go by the wayside. The main one left is cost. It’s then on the candidate to explain that his or her interest in this job isn’t about money, but rather fulfilling specific personal goals.
2. Showcase Your Passion for the Company’s Mission
Convictions and motivation are way more important in a candidate (especially a senior-level candidate) than experience. ‘Wanting to work at a startup’ is a terrible motivation for applying. A good motivation is finding a company whose mission resonates with you, whose values align with yours, and whose goals work perfectly with your skill set.
3. Make it Clear You’re in for the Long Haul
I want to know if you’re using my company as a pit stop until the next shiny opportunity comes your way. Startups have a lot of pomp and panache these days, and the reality of being in one is not about perks galore and unstructured everything. Show me how you’ve stuck it out, particularly when things get tough.
4. Demonstrate Your Ability to Perform More Than One Role
If any experienced person comes to me, I always see whether he or she can perform more than one role. As a startup, we need fewer resources to create more in order to cut down on cost. If aspirants can take on multiple roles, we don’t have to cut back on salary. This is the most convincing point for me.
5. Explain Your Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations
Most people coming from large companies to join startups are ultimately giving up extrinsic motivations (salary and benefits) for intrinsic motivations (purpose, mission), which is a reasonable trade-off. But it’s important for the candidate to articulate this and have clarity on what it really means. Inevitably your startup will go through extreme challenges, and this understanding will be called upon.
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6. Push the Boundaries
The best question you can pose to a hiring manager: ‘What is your biggest problem? I want to solve it.’ At ZappRx, I want to hire qualified people who in turn want to push the boundaries to an area they may not know about, but have the drive and interest to dream big and get things done on my team.
7. Mention Your Side Projects
I love seeing side projects from potential candidates. Even if they’re not qualified, seeing their creativity and marketing skills is something that’s much more important to me.
8. Show Your Entrepreneurial Spirit
If working at a startup is your motivation, tell stories along that theme. Talk about how you organized the community garage sale or how you do social media consulting for your friends. Creating something from nothing is what I find most impressive.
9. Don’t Hold Anything Back
Someone who has a lot of experience can add a lot to your startup, but he needs to be able to adapt to your culture and way of doing business. Even though a person may be overqualified, he still needs to be down-to-Earth enough to realize when he could use help or learn something new. If a candidate can admit when he’s made mistakes or can improve, it’s a good sign of his adaptability.
10. Prove it Through Work History
Showing is always better than telling. I want to see through your work history that you’ve taken risks with your career. If you’ve worked a standard career path, I’ll find it harder to believe that you want to take a risk now. If you’ve shown yourself willing to take a risk for something you believe in, that’ll do a lot to convince me that you’ll be a stable and productive team member.
11. Prove it in the Process
Skills and qualifications are important. But what I really want to see in order to be convinced that someone fits in with my startup is not exactly tangible. It’s the cultural fit; the personal, added value this person will offer to the team. It’s a combination of personality and capabilities that will either allow him or her to work within my team or be excluded.
12. Show That You Love a Challenge
The startup lifestyle is not as glamorous as many make it out to be. I want to see and feel the fact that you love a good challenge, and that that’s a big motivating factor toward ‘making the leap.’ Show me how in your past you’ve taken on similar challenges and why it suits you well. Intrinsic motivation can be the biggest motivation of all.
13. Show Your Passion
For me, it’s about how passionate and engaged a candidate is going to be at the job we’re hiring her to do. More and more managers are looking to get back in the trenches. They miss getting their hands dirty doing the day-to-day job they cut their teeth on before they started managing people
Photo of startup interview courtesy of Shutterstock .
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.More from this Author