The interview process: Startups vs. large companies (and how to handle both)

By Courtney Jones

interviewing at startups vs. corporate

Talent is a competitive advantage; no matter who houses the hotshots. And during the gig landing process, top talent knows there’s a disadvantage interviewing at a startup with a large corp. state of mind—and vice versa. The hiring process is different, here’s what to do about it.

  1. HR vs. the CEO approach

A large firm usually manages hiring through a well-oiled HR machine; a team of trained Human Resources professionals who search and secure the talent. Yet anyone who’s ever worked at a startup will tell you that same type of function simply isn’t employed. Sure, the next Facebook may have a recruiter or HR head, but ultimately the CEO will handle the last step in the process.

Do your research

Corporate: Be prepared to know more than just what’s on their landing page. You need to become familiar with their history, philosophy, goals and business approach. What’s in their service catalogue and who are their customers?  If the position requires any particular tools, methodologies or languages, try to see what they’re using and be ready to discuss if and when you’ve used it in the past (or if you haven’t, why not, and what you do know about it). A quick Google or LinkedIn search can also give you a glimpse into the company’s employees and culture. Take a look!

Startup: Research about the company is always the number one interview rule, but culture and team research for startups is extremely important when these types of businesses highly value cultural fit. Pay attention to their website and social media accounts for anything quirky or unique you can reference when you meet. Startups like that.

  1. The passive interviewee or active interviewee

Are you a driver or a passenger?

The corporate HR machine can have a tendency turn out passive Candidates. The list of formal questions that need to be asked within a small window of time allows for little opportunity for the interviewee to take ownership of the conversation. Whereas in hectic startup land, it isn’t uncommon for the interviewer to wing a conversation (lack of formal HR training and rushing to and from meetings can do that). They’re also not looking for pure potential that can be groomed over months of training, like with large corporations. Instead, they need someone who can come in and hit the ground running. So being able to drive the conversation with your own, active ideas is often better received than sitting back and passively waiting to answer scripted questions.

Corporate: Be prepared to answer the Ws of your own story: who, what, when, where and why of how you're going to add value to the business. You want to describe who you are, what you want and what you can do, when you're looking to start and why this company is the right fit. Here is where you’re going to match your experience or goals to the job description and company beliefs.

Startup: Nothing different here. With startups, you also want to be prepared with the knowledge of any initial bumps or challenges that the company faced or is facing; a Candidate who can anticipate the challenges and opportunities for the company before they present themselves is the type of person a blossoming business wants on board.

  1. Dress to impress

It’s not only what’s on the inside that counts

Corporate: Large businesses and corporate companies tend to lean more towards the formal side, “casual Friday” aside. This means when you’re interviewing, it’s best to do some research on the company culture; find out how employees dress and choose an outfit just half a step more formal. This can mean business or casual business dress like a suit and slacks for men and a nice skirt and blouse for women.

Startup: Dressing for startups and non-traditional workplaces can be a harder outfit to call. Business or business casual can still apply, but a good barometer to use is what’s still applied to the corporate interview. Do employees wear jeans and t-shirts as the norm? Add a button up or a blazer for a good impression. Blazers can always come off.

You don’t have to walk a mile in the interviewee’s shoes to understand the process, but you do need to put yourself in them for a moment! What challenges are they facing? What’s keeping them up at night? How can your experience and knowledge help?

Get to work on those answers before your interview and you’ll be all set to get to work in either workplace.



by Courtney Jones

Let Us Know What You Thought about this Post.

Put your Comment Below.

Subscribe to the blog