How NOT to interview for a start-up like a “corporate guy”

How NOT to interview for a start-up like a “corporate guy”

August 23, 2016 Interviewing

Imagine Being The InterviewerInterviewers have more on their minds than getting to know you.

This holds true for anyone who is looking to secure a role in a startup, especially if you plan to ask for equity. Startups these days are more concerned with your ability to solve their business challenges than you telling them about a time that you successfully handled a tough conversation (though interviewers traditionally ask behavioral questions such as “Tell me about a time when you handled a tough situation,” startups in these cases are unlikely to ask rudimentary queries and instead ask how you can solve their biggest problems). If you are going for a startup, then you need to have a strong handle on their challenges and how you are the best-positioned person for the job. I wish interviewers had this strong handle and focus on problems rather than on themselves – instead this is an example of what is more common:

Imagine that you are the founder of a food-delivery service company that has been around for at most three years. Think Deliveroo for instance. You are interviewing a candidate for the Head of Regional Rider Operations role.

This is what may be in the back of your mind during an interview:

  • You may be thinking about how to scale and deliver a consistent customer experience that will work outside of London.
  • You might be evaluating the best mobile app capabilities for an Android user.
  • You could be reconsidering your benefits package so that you stay competitive in Silicon Roundabout.

This is what may be at the top of an interviewee’s mind:

  • He may be trying to prove that despite being a “corporate guy” he has gotten his hands dirty and is willing to do what it takes in a resource-strapped environment.
  • He could be thinking about the ways that as a “corporate guy” he has had to make quick decisions when there were no proven ways of doing business.
  • He might be interested in proving that he is humble and aware that his fancy MBA is not enough to thrive as a Deliveroo employee.

Here’s the disconnect that I see and that I want to emphasize:

If you were the Deliveroo company founder, wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air if an interviewee shifted his focus from selling himself to helping you think through your biggest and most relevant business problems?

Wouldn’t it be great if a candidate actually read your website and took-to-heart the fact that you say:

“WE SOLVE TOUGH PROBLEMS. We’re looking for detail-oriented minds who can think big, solve operational challenges at scale, and help to build a service that's the best in the business.”


We’re looking for detail-oriented minds who can think big, solve operational challenges at scale, and help to build a service that’s the best in the business.

Just something to imagine.

Imagine if you came in as Deliveroo’s ready, willing, and able problem solver…wouldn’t that be more interesting to you as the imaginary job interviewer in this example? Keep imagining folks…it’s time to shift your focus on what you want to convey about yourself to what interviewers want to solve to propel their businesses. Stay tuned…I have another example coming your way.

In the meantime, if you have an interview with human resources coming up then I encourage you to learn more about a toolkit that will help you not only discover what HR interviewers are thinking during high-stakes screening interviews but also how to use these HR insights to better prepare for your next HR conversation.

About the author

Melissa Llarena: is the CEO and career coach behind Career Outcomes Matter. Her craft is coaching top executives on how to dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Her client base includes US-based as well as international business leaders with 15-plus years of experience who are undeniably really good at what they do yet simply want a strategic partner who can quickly fully understand their tangible and intangible contributions to effectively scale up their interviewing skills for the toughest interviews. Click to gain instant access to her 20-page interview preparation kit to gain an edge then schedule a phone call to see how she’d leverage her most powerful insights based on your unique situation -- all in time for your next interview.