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The key differences between a corporate vs. a start-up interview

Recently, I’ve attended a couple of nail-biting interviews. Whilst confident in my ability to converse and market myself, I find myself becoming sweaty-palmed and a little short of breath right before I step in the door. Once in there though, I read the room and decipher the energy of my interviewers. If I particularly click with one, I’ll converse with them on a more personal level and use lots of eye contact to create a relationship and a memory in their mind.

To gain the job I’m currently in, I went through an hour-long interview with the Human Resources Manager and my line-manager. I was given a list of the questions that they would be asking, which was extensive, but the standard sort of you would expect to receive in a corporate office. Companies like this have a large Human Resources department and conduct interviews on a daily basis, so they know exactly what it is they want to ask and how to gauge an applicant’s’ personality within minutes. Here are my insights:

1. Come prepared with a short introduction about yourself,

covering your background and previous experience. When they ask you about yourself, they’re not really interested in your hobbies and outside activities. Focus on the work you’ve done and your academic background.

2. They will ask you about your previous experience.

When discussing this, always bring it back to what skills you developed in your previous roles, and how they will benefit this new role.

3. You will get asked about a challenge you’ve faced

…and overcome in the workplace and a time when you’ve shown initiative. The answers you give are crucial in showing you are able to handle pressure and to take the lead . Don’t stress if you feel like you haven’t had enough experience to warrant an in-depth answer. After years as a retail sales assistant, I answered this question by detailing a time when I had to train a new employee with little experience of my own. I showed that I successfully trained this employee and implemented new training procedures that streamlined the process for my manager. Always highlight the positive outcome, proving yourself as a problem solver.

4. One of the trickiest questions you’ll get asked is what is your weakness.

99% of people answer this by saying being a perfectionist is their weakness. If you want to stand out, avoid this answer. I say that I often take on too many tasks at once as I’m eager to get things done, but that this has resulted in improved time-management skills. Turn a negative into a positive and again, hone into how it will benefit your new role.

5. Most of all, highlight your thirst to learn and develop your skills.

No matter what, employers want to hire someone who they can train the way they want to and mould into the employee they need.

This interview was a walk in the park compared to my recent interview at a tech start-up company.

After making it through the first round with two women from marketing, I met with the founder of the company for a one-on-one. I knew that this company was this young entrepreneur’s baby, his everything – he’d nursed it from infancy to being a $100 million company within five years. Unlike a corporate interview, where it’s all suits and polite small talk, this guy was lounging in a t-shirt with his feet up and flicking idly through his phone when I walked in. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to make me feel at ease with the whole relaxed vibe he was giving off, or if it was more of an intimidation technique to test how I responded.

We conversed well and the interview flowed. However, as the company was so young, there were obviously no HR practices in place, and the questions darted all over the place. He was skimming through my resume throughout and picking on points to ask me about as he read through. Some were relatively generic – why I wanted to work there, and what I felt I could bring to the company. Some completely stumped me. He saw that I’d studied a course called Global Studies and fired at me “Well, define globalisation for me then. How will it benefit my company? What challenges will it present?”. Having not studied this course in years, I didn’t have a textbook definition at the ready. I smiled, paused, took a breath. I wouldn’t allow it to throw me off, even though I knew my answer wasn’t the best it could be.

This kind of interview is difficult because the lack of clear direction makes it difficult to discuss your experience in-depth.

I didn’t end up getting this job.

Whilst the marketing manager said she pushed for me, the founder felt that I didn’t have enough “in-depth knowledge of the company”. I was quite taken aback by this, as I’d put hours more research into this interview than ever before, and written a PR assignment for the company as part of the interview. From this I can only take away that you can never do enough research, and that you need to be sensitive in your approach to the owners of start-ups. Be sincere with them and prove to them that you wholeheartedly believe in their creation.

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