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How to F’ Up Your Startup Interview

Startup interview mistakes

One of the many ‘hats’ I wear here at Uberflip is to oversee our HR needs, which naturally pulls me into a lot of the interviewing we do. We’ve grown our team from 3 to 25 in the last few years during which I’ve sat through a lot of interviews. Early on I made some of the wrong hires, not really understanding that a good hire needs to be more than smart and determined – they need to belong in a startup. Along the way, I’ve gotten better at picking some interview questions that can weed out those who can’t cut it in the startup ecosystem.

So I thought I’d share four questions which may help job seekers avoid some pitfalls and land your dream startup job. On the other side if you’re running a startup, or any high growth business for that matter, I urge you to consider these questions for your interviews to avoid the need to fire fast.

1. Your ideal company is…

Question: I often like to ask the candidate the following: If things don’t work out with this interview what are three other companies in the city that you’ll be applying for/craving to work at?

What not to answer:

It’s amazing the number of times I’ve heard answers like L’Oreal, P&G or BMW! What does this tell me? It gives me a lot of indicators you’re not right for this role. You’re clearly not looking at other startups and may be better suited in a company which can give you tons of training and hand holding. I’m thinking you’re focused on either working as a lifer in the same role or just want a fancy name on your resume. A startup is not for everyone – there’s nothing wrong with working at these big established places but you’ve got me worried that you don’t grasp what startup culture entails if you want to be employee #10531.

How to win me over:

Tell me about your love for startups and list companies in the community that are doing cool stuff – it could be guys like Wave, FreshBooks or Influitive – just show me you want to be part of this ecosystem. Talk about how you see them all growing and that you can imagine the types of opportunities and roles you score by coming in early. It doesn’t hurt to tell me at the end that this is also why you want to work here (at Uberflip) – the growth ahead and your ability to contribute. This shows me you grasp the need to contribute and not blend, as may be the case at a leading consumer goods business. Truth is if you’ve already met with one of these other startups I may even get jealous and want you here before they scoop you up.

2. What do you think of my product?

Question: Many SaaS (software as a service) businesses offer a free trial of their product or service as part of their customer acquisition strategy – we’re in line with that through our 14-day free trial. So I often ask: What do you think of our product?

What not to answer:

You’d be amazed how many candidates didn’t get around to creating a trial and have no idea how our product (a Content Hub) works. This tells me you’re either not resourceful or fukin lazy – and that doesn’t work here. Startups need people who are curious and love to explore. If you’re applying for a bizdev role I want to know you’re going to dig into leads, or if you’re coming onto our marketing team I want to know you’ll find how to actually engage with our customers.

How to wow me:

Show me what you did with our platform. I’ve seen people upload a resume or portfolio into our Flipbook solution and present it as part of the interview. Now that’s cool and shows commitment. Show me you get it and talk about the use cases you’ve thought of. If you really want to wow me then go as far as giving me feedback on what lacked in the experience. This shows me that you’re analytical and will challenge (hopefully respectfully) our product to make it better.

3. Do you tweet? How do you get your content?

Question: We’re a digital content marketing solution so we need people who embrace content and social media. I often ask people: Are you active on Twitter? Where do you search for content?

What not to answer:

“I just don’t get Twitter” “I have no time for Twitter” “Twitter is a fad” “I signed up but it was too hard to figure out so I’m on Facebook”- the list goes on – I’ve heard all of these. Amazing – you’re here to jump into the world of technology and you’re not willing to learn how Twitter chirps – please! Even if it proves to be a fad (which I don’t expect), it’s a fad with over 500 million users. Could you imagine walking into an interview fifteen years ago and telling someone that you don’t read the newspaper because it’s too long and you’re not sure where to start? I don’t care how much you tweet as much as what you’re following and how you’re joining into the conversation.

Show me you’re in the know: 

Twitter is a great entry into talking about who you are and your interests. Tell me about your love for food or gardening and how you get a feed of insights delivered right to you. Show me you’ve gained some followers – not 1,000 – maybe just 50. This is also a good time to talk about other tools you may use to ingest content: apps like Flipboard, Zite or even LinkedIn. Show you also have an interest in the startup space. Since we’re in the tech and marketing world, show that you’ve got some interest in that space by mentioning some of the influencers like TechCrunch, Mashable, MarketingProfs, and TechVibes (that’s right, we’re proudly Canadian). This shows me you’re effective at staying in the know. We need people like that at startups because things change on a dime and you need to be ready to respond.

4. What are my hours?

Question: This one never comes from me – only you and too often. Please don’t ask: What are your operating hours?

Why not to ask it:

This is a startup and it’s a race to success. Read Eric Ries’ Lean Startup – the goal is to get your product out the door and get feedback. This is possible because people work their ass off. Truth be told, I really don’t care how late you work as long as you’re getting shit done with a wow factor attached. I’ve got three kids and my goal is to see them every night, but unfortunately it doesn’t always happen. That comes with building something big and I believe the payoff in the long term makes up for it. I’m confident they understand that too. If you want the 9 to 5, you likely belong at a bank.

What to do instead:

Simply don’t mention it. Just come to work and impress. If you do so you’ll have no problem escaping for special obligations. Ask anyone here — I run out at 5 every Tuesday now to coach t-ball for my son — but if need be I’m back online by 8 to ensure no customers are left hanging. It doesn’t matter what your role is — you’ll pick up so much just by hanging around the office even when your task is complete. You’re likely at a startup to see how a business grows. Well, it happens beyond your desk and you’ve got direct access to a lot of what’s unfolding across the company. Take time to take on something new that we didn’t even know was needed – you may just find you’ve earned yourself another ‘hat’.

Time to change my questions?

So you may ask why I’ve spilled all these answers I seek – do I now have to think up some new questions to find those with startup DNA? Are my secrets revealed? Sadly I’m willing to bet that many of those who make these mistakes have not taken the time to search through our blog anyway before the interview : ) Good luck on your interviews!

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About the Author

Randy Frisch is a co-founder of Uberflip and held many roles, including President and CMO, where he evangelized the content experience.

Profile Photo of Randy Frisch