How To Ace Developer Interviews At Startups

Having a true sense of excitement is the most important thing. Show that you are passionate about the product, technology, and vision, not solely there for the salary or benefits. Be trustworthy, concise, and follow up after the interview.
February 27, 2023

Being interviewed at a startup company is usually different from being a later-stage company. While later-stage companies typically focus on specific skills and consistency, startups desperately look for developers that can deliver projects independently and quickly while closely following and developing the company's vision.

Therefore, you also need to approach the interview with a different mindset. We have collected our best tips for you to prepare for them.

Who will interview me?

TLDR: The CTO or even CEO. Be sure to paint a picture of how you align with the company's vision.

Startups often don't yet have a talent acquisition manager or a dedicated hiring process. Therefore, in most cases, you will be speaking straight to the CTO or even the CEO.

The most important thing you can do to impress them is to find out in advance what the startup's mission is, align yourself with it, and finally, come up with ideas on your own on how the company could be developed further.

When you do this, you show that you are an active and hard-working person, but more importantly, you paint the picture in the CTO/CEO's mind of the fantastic changes and ideas you could bring and implement.

Why is the company's vision so important?

TLDR: Things change a lot, so you need to understand the vision to stay on top.

At the beginning of a company's journey, everyone has their part in designing and building a vital part of the product. The requirements are usually a bit less clear, things change frequently, and you need to be on top of the direction.

You are not maintaining the code but creating it from scratch in most cases. Therefore, understanding the WHY you create something is often much more important than understanding the HOW to create it.

Startup CTOs understand this vital distinction when they hire. However skilled someone might be, if they lack enthusiasm, they will not get hired. On the other hand, a hire is still likely if they have the right spirit but lack a part of the required tech stack.

How to approach the interview questions in general

TLDR: Be clear, structured, and concise. Answer the questions directly, and try to keep your answers between 15-45 seconds, depending on the question.

Many times when developers are asked to “tell me a bit about yourself,” they go on a 5-minute ramble talking about everything they have ever done, all the technologies they have touched and why they should be hired.

This is rarely the right thing to do. Strive to answer clearly and concisely. If the interviewer wants to know your experience with something more specific, let them ask separately for it.

When an interviewer asks you something, they check for two things:

  1. To get the information they need
  2. To see how you answer the question

Try to fill the first requirement in the first 15 seconds. Use the next 15-30 seconds to elaborate and after that, stop.

Don’t make the mistake of adding “fluff” answers with some extra info. It will draw the attention away from what the interviewer asked you and what you answered in the first place.

Focus on bringing one message across and one only.

What will the conversation look like?

TLDR: Friendly and casual. Keep it that way.

In most cases, interviews with startups are friendly and casual. They don’t have the same strict agenda that you would find at an enterprise or larger company.

Don’t be too nervous, just go in with a curious mind and a good mood. The interviewer is just as eager to get you on board as you are to join the company.

If you get offered, the interviewer will most likely become your colleague when you get employed, and they want to know that they can get along with you.

Relax and don’t be too intense. Smile and crack a joke. Be approachable and human.

What to do after the interview?

TLDR: Follow up and thank them.

What very few candidates do and what can set you apart is following up after the interview. It can be as simple as sending the interview an email / LinkedIn message with the following text:

“Hey, thanks a lot for the interview. It was a pleasure to speak with you. Your vision excites me, and I’m looking forward to hearing if we can proceed with this.”

Doing this puts you in a completely different category than most other candidates and shows you are engaged from day 0.

Final remarks

In the end, it’s a lot about how you made the interviewer feel. Did they get the impression that you can do your job? Do they think they could get along with you as a colleague? Can they trust you?

If the answers to those questions are yes, you probably did a fantastic!

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