The Top 5 Types of Startup Job Interviews

Hiring looks different at every company. But, whereas large corporates and scaleups with established human resources and recruiting departments are likely to have processes built out to support candidate pipelines and hiring processes, "interviews" at early-stage companies run the gamut. You may find yourself handing your interviewer a formal cover letter that details your passion for the company's mission or showcasing your problem-solving skills with some whiteboard code. Or, you may accept a simple coffee invitation, only to find out that what you thought was an informational meeting was really your interview. I even know someone whose prospective employers crashed her dinner out with friends to examine how she held herself in a social dynamic.

That last method may have been a bit unorthodox, but the point is that culture and talent are hard to scale. When there are only five people at your company, if one person is sub-par, that's 20% of your people. It makes sense that high-growth companies will employ a range of approaches to find the right fits.

We asked our hiring partners how they evaluate candidates. Here are their favorite strategies for identifying great talent:[bctt tweet="5 strategies startups use to evaluate job candidates, by @zimmerbugg #interview"]


One person's "gut-feeling" can sometimes come back to bite. Some companies will get the whole team in on the action in order to ensure that all criteria and concerns are met.

We could probably find great employees for a specific role that don't necessarily have each of [our required] qualities, but we know we can find great employees for any role that do with just a bit more work on our end. These qualities [fun, inquisitive, and a team-player] are judged before job-specific skills are evaluated. We're big proponents of the A-player hiring method, so we create scorecards for each candidate that rates them on both the technical and company fit components of their job. We have every core team member participate in the interview process to ensure that our top-level objectives for company culture fit are met.

—Nick Sapia, MatchOn

Company size: < 10 employees


Culture is key. If you can't get along with your teammates, you're certainly not going to spin straw into gold together.

The true test though is meeting for lunch/ coffee/ beer with our team. Its not a digital tool, but seeing how people fit in with our team is easily the most important part of evaluating the fit.

—Tom Cullen, LaunchPad Lab

Company size: < 10 employees


70% of jobs are found through networking (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). There's nothing more powerful than a warm introduction from someone who can vet you.

Evaluating key traits in the hiring process comes down to spending time together in a relaxed way, and thereby teasing out culture characteristics. Quite often people will have been recommended to us, or we know of their work in other companies, which makes it easier.

—Lotta Holmberg, Toothpick

Company size: < 20 employees


There's no better way to see how you'll handle the work than to have you start doing it. Some companies will put you to the test to see what you can produce under pressure.

We bring people in and throw a bunch of real-time client assignments at them to see how they handle it, how they work with the team, and what their work looks like. We criticize their work to see how they handle it. We like to do all this within a week or two so that by the time we are done, we have many data points to use in our decision, and so does the candidate. It typically means that both sides are on the same page, which makes those decisions and discussions easy.

—Andrew Krebs-Smith, Social Fulcrum

Company size: < 20 employees


Why choose one tactic when you can choose them all? Scaleup companies are more likely to have processes and procedures in place to manage a robust screening process.

To assess whether a candidate will be the right addition to our team, we have a comprehensive interview process. This is not just for us, but is also an opportunity to be fully transparent with the candidate and allow them to assess if we are the right fit for them. Tools we use include: a cover letter, phone interview, in-person interviews with the team and senior leadership, job shadows, role plays, writing exercises, and at times a happy hour. We consider ourselves a family, and in order to preserve and uphold the culture that is ContextMedia, we must be thoughtful and intentional in our approach.

—Katie De Voto, ContextMedia

Company size: about 200 employees

What does all this mean for you? It means you should be prepared for anything. At the end of the day, every interaction you've had with a company or its employees—even before you were officially in their pipeline—is part of your "interview." I don't say this to put the pressure on, but as a friendly reminder—whether you're chatting at a networking event, meeting the team for a beer, or you're answering questions for a panel, you still need to put your best (and most professional) foot forward.

And don't forget—while it may not feel this way, interviewing is a two-way street. Consider what the company's interview strategy says about who they are and what they value—and how well these values align with your own.

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