How to interview for a job at a startup – and not suck at it.


We’ve been fortunate to have a steadily increasing flow of candidates applying to roles at Contactually. With our ambitious growth goals, much of our managers’ time is spent interviewing. As volume increases, and more specialization is required of our roles, the ratio of interviews:offers has changed. We’ve had to raise our standards, implement better process, and be more critical overall. We take a much closer look at a candidates’ CV before setting up that first call.

But still, it’s amazing how bad some interviews can be. Many, many interviews. And, unfortunately, it’s often not the content of the interviews – it’s just a terrible interview.

So with the intent of helping curb this – here are some dead simple tips on how not to suck at interviewing. I’ll leave it to you, the candidate, to figure out how to be excellent.

  • Do your research – It’s always a bit annoying when I jump on a screening call, and it’s clear you haven’t done any research – not even checked out the website. But not a deal breaker – the screening call is meant to be informative for you as well. It’s unforgivable when you come in for a half-day interview and still don’t know much. Check out the website, sign up for the product (if there is), check on Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Google News – whatever. Shouldn’t you ensure this is somewhere you want to work for years?
  • Have some questions – You’re dead wrong if you think that interviewers want to just spend 30-45 minutes firing away questions and challenges at you, and collecting information. You have some amazing people, who, hopefully, you’ll be working with. Your future peers, your future manager, the CEO or founder themselves. Now is your time to really dig in. It’s not just to demonstrate that you did your aforementioned research – you want to ensure that you can work with these people, and go into the role eyes-open.
  • Be yourself – I get it, interviews can be intimidating. Maybe you have this crazy idea that the best way to get a job is to act like you’re to ______ like Travis Barker is to drumming. And maybe you didn’t sleep much, weather/traffic was rough coming in, and you’re just off your game. But I can’t stress enough – try and be yourself (even to the point of letting us know – that’s pretty genuine). Most human beings have pretty half-decent BS meters. If we don’t find out who you are in the interview and you get the gig, we’re going to find out later.
  • Interview for the role you want – Early on, we hired for two types of people: people who could build, or people who could sell. Now, roles are a lot more specific, and we’ve put a lot more time into developing those. When you come in for “any” role – that doesn’t help us help you.
  • Be clear and succinct in your answers – ‘nuf said.

There are many patterns that I’ve seen come from great interview candidates, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I want to just help you (and my team, and everyone else who had to conduct an interview with you, ever) from having a terrible interview and having your resume balled up before you hit the door.

Coder & Founder. Co-Founder & CEO of Contactually. Organizer of DC Tech Meetup & ProudlyMadeInDC. Always in search of the best breakfast burrito.

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