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Suit And Tie Or Start-Up Chic? Five Tips For Interviewing At Start-Ups

Planning to enter a start-up for your summer MBA internship? The interview process could be vastly different to what you're used to. Here are five tips from CommonBond.


Thu Feb 20 2014

For MBAs hoping to land internships at start-ups, the recruiting process can be a world away from the experience with large-scale firms and corporations.

Start-ups, especially those in pre-funding, have no margin for error in their hiring process. With lean operations and tight budgets, every hire – including that of their MBA interns – matters immensely.  

Once you’re in, you’ll have a chance to truly shine. You’ll forge close connections and make a huge impact on the business. But how do you land the role?

Here are five tips that will help you prepare for the start-up hiring process. 

Research, research, research:

As an intern, you’ll need to get your hands dirty from day one. And there will be little time for extensive on-the-job training. Prove you’re a self-starter from your first interview by knowing the company, understanding their goals and communicating how you will help achieve them.

Read everything you can about the business, the team and the industry. Talk to any connections within or close to the company to learn about the team culture. This will serve you well when it comes to the perennial “suit-and-tie” vs. “start-up chic" decision for interview attire.

Respect the schedule:

Unlike a corporate HR representative, interviewers from start-ups have more than one role; your interviewer is probably manning the hiring process as part of a mountain of existing responsibilities in other areas. Be succinct, accommodating, and time-sensitive.

Speaking of which…

Stay nimble:

Start-ups work hard to establish their team cultures, which can result in some pretty untraditional interviewing practices. Be prepared to showcase your skill-sets, whether it’s building a highly particularized model or developing a strategic action plan to tackle their most pressing business challenges.

You may also face more schedule changes and more demanding requests than a corporate recruiter might make. Stay nimble and the interviewer will know that you have what it takes to deal with competing priorities on a daily basis – that you’re start-up-ready.

Be genuine:

Start-ups, especially in the early stage when teams are small in size, will be looking to get to know the real “you". Don’t be surprised if the interview process includes a social component and an overarching emphasis on fit.

Invited to attend a company happy hour? Make time to mingle and speak to as many members of the team as possible. Stay relaxed while remaining professional. While selling yourself is an important part of any interview, it won’t necessarily guarantee you the job.

Be honest and straightforward about what motivates you, demonstrating your belief in the company and in their mission above all else.

Take nothing personally:

At the end of the day, you and your interviewers simply may not align. And that’s okay. No matter how much the team may like you or vice versa, a fit with the role, both functional and cultural, is absolutely essential.

The stakes for each new hire, employee and intern alike, are extremely high. It is in your best interest to leave communication lines open and on a positive note, especially if you love the company. You never know what opportunities there may be after graduation.

Molly Dince is the Head of Communications and runs the Summer Internship Program at CommonBond, a student lending platform that provides a better student loan experience through lower rates and a commitment to community.