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4 Ways to Have an Edge When Competing for a Startup Job

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Candidates are attracted to working at startups for numerous reasons, including the opportunity to build something from the ground up and the chance to be part of a dynamic organization entering a significant growth phase. Far too many of them go into the interview with the same expectations of any established company, confident that they can secure an offer by detailing how their skills and experience matchup with the position. 


While all businesses are trying to solve a problem in the hiring process, it’s especially true for startups. As a candidate, your best opportunity in the interview process is to learn what problem they are trying to solve, and demonstrate why you are the one who can solve it. By using solution selling, a methodology which addresses the customer’s (in this case, the company’s) pain points, you can stand out from the crowd of applicants who spend their time answering questions in chronological order based on their resume. 

1. Think like an effective salesperson.

The philosophy of using the interview process to sell yourself has been around for decades, but the very best salespeople don’t just stop at selling the attributes of their product. Rather, highly-effective salespeople frequently utilize solution selling techniques in order to prove to the customer that their product is ideal for solving their particular problem. Whether you’re trying to close a sale or land a job, this involves plenty of research and asking the right questions of the right people.

It’s essentially a form of effectual reasoning, which is a philosophy used by many successful entrepreneurs when starting a new business. Instead of focusing on outcomes (“The world needs a better mousetrap,” or “I am the best candidate for this position”), first figure out what needs to be solved (“What product or service could I sell that makes life easier for homeowners?” or “What knowledge do I have that will help this startup successfully manage revenue growth?”).

Related: Applying Entrepreneurial Thinking to Get a Job 

2. Ask purposeful questions.

Most interview candidates are content to let the company representative begin the process by asking questions about their work history. With solution selling, you should take the initiative in the interview and begin trying to learn as much as you can about their specific pain points and strategic goals. You’re essentially asking them to supply you with a way to decipher the answers they’re looking for.

Related: Master Networkers Ask the Right Questions

3. Organize your questions wisely.

If you’re going through a multi-stage interview process, you will probably have to meet with representatives from several sectors of the business, possibly at one time. Have some questions prepared that pertain to the specific needs of different employees at the startup, so you can show each of them individually that you are interested in helping them do their jobs better. It never hurts to outline some questions for every department, even if you aren’t scheduled to meet with them. You never know when a member of the hiring committee may have to be replaced, or when you could be called for an impromptu interview.

Related: 7 Ways to Nail Your Next Startup Job Interview

4. Be exceptionally prepared.

Preparation is key for any interview process, but it can be especially challenging when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures. Whereas large, established companies often have reams of public company history, earnings reports, and journalistic articles that you can access instantly, info on a startup can be tougher to come by. Don’t be afraid to use your network to find other employees at the company and ask them questions before your interview. 

With these strategies, you will be in an excellent position to demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, and that you are uniquely equipped to help them. I can speak from experience: after interviewing hundreds of cookie-cutter candidates, your curiosity and aptitude will be a breath of fresh air for the hiring committee.

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