The startup industry is an opportunity to see an idea come to life in the business world. Because startups often grow rapidly and undergo frequent internal changes, many startups seek creative thinkers and candidates that are willing to wear multiple hats.
There are three stages of a startup: early, expansion, and mature. The early stage is usually a newly developed company. It has little infrastructure, revenue, and staff. The office environment is small, and the opportunities will be very cross functional.
At the expansion stage, a company has found their market fit and is starting to generate revenue and product. The team might be a little larger and roles might be more defined.
The mature stage of a startup is reached when the company is at its most structured. It is growing staff, revenue, and establishes products in increasingly process driven ways. At this stage roles and departments are more defined.
Job & Internship Search
Do your research
Hundreds of new businesses come into being daily in the startup industry, so it’s important to sift through your options and identify where you might want to work. Following your target organizations on Twitter or LinkedIn can allow you to monitor their current projects, new funding sources, as well as any new jobs available. If you don’t see positions posted, be proactive and reach out directly to inquire.
Nurture your network
Networking is key in any good job and internship search, but especially important when looking for a position in a startup. Talk to friends, family members, or peers that have connections to the startup industry. Connecting with NU alumni is another great way to build contacts. Identify alumni working in your target startups via Our Northwestern or LinkedIn and reach out to them to request an informational interview.
Develop your LinkedIn profile
A high quality profile on LinkedIn is essential when looking at the startup industry. Ensure you have listed all your relevant experiences and proficiencies. Companies will look for prospective employees by keyword, so don’t forget to list all technical skills that may be relevant.
Subscribe to email lists that provide startup news
To keep current in an ever-changing industry, opt into email lists. In addition to relevant trends and company news, these emails will often inform their subscribers of angel funding, which typically signals an increase in hiring activity. A few to consider include BusinessInsider and TechCrunch.
Search on specialized job boards and databases
- In addition to staying active in Handshake, it’s important to channel your efforts toward job boards, databases, and incubators that specialize in startup listings such as:
Resumes & Cover Letters
Depending on the startup and the role for which you are interviewing, you will likely be asked a combination of technical and behavioral questions. Here are some things you can do to prepare:
Prepare for technical questions.
- For engineers, read books from your CS studies (e.g., CLR5: Introduction to Algorithms).
- For designers, walk through your portfolio and be prepared to answer questions about design decisions you made.
Prepare for behavioral questions.
- Think about examples from your past that show you using transferable skills. Here are some of the skills that startups might like to hear about: creative problem solving and innovation, teamwork, leadership, management of multiple projects, ability to work in a fast-paced environment, adaptability and flexibility.
- Highlight the results you’ve achieved.
Come prepared with questions.
- Startups want to hire people who show interest in the company, so demonstrate your interest by learning as much as you can about the startup before your interview and asking well-informed questions.
Test the product
- A great way to research the company and demonstrate your interest in its work is to put yourself in the user’s shoes. If the company has a product that is easy to access, you should take time to explore its features and be ready to talk about it.
Research competitors and the business landscape
- The more you know about competitors, relevant markets, and potential challenges, the more you can speak to your interviewers as though you’re already part of the team.
While it is generally safe to dress up for interviews, some startups boast informal work environments in which wearing a suit would communicate that a candidate doesn’t understand the startup’s culture. In order to know what level of formality will be appropriate for your interview at a startup, do as much research about the company culture as possible. Start by looking at the company website and asking anyone you know who works there. If you are still not sure what to wear, consider asking the hiring manager or recruiter about the workplace dress code and whether it would be appropriate for you to wear a suit.
Even if it turns out that a suit is overly formal for your startup interview, you should still dress in a way that communicates professionalism and excitement for the position. Wear clean, ironed clothes with no holes. Consider pants or a skirt and a tucked-in button down shirt or blouse, and even a blazer.
Startup Interviewing Questions and Prompts
- Why do you want to work at our company?
- Why do you want to work at a startup?
- What is your work style?
- Tell us about a time you creatively solved a problem.
- Tell us about a time you took a risk.
- What are some new ideas you have for the part of the company you’re applying to work in?
- How would you go about implementing one of those ideas?
- What are your favorite startups and why?
- What are your favorite/least favorite apps and why?
- What are some trends in the tech industry that you’re aware of and how might they affect our startup?
- What did you do over the weekend?
Northwestern Student Groups
Startups Founded by NU Alumni
- Titan Aerospace
- Swipe Sense
- SiNode Systems
- Numat Technologies
- Page Vault