Common interview mistakes that don’t impress

19 Feb , 2015  

Start-ups attract a number of types of applicants for job roles. From new grads through to ex-consultants, career changers and aspiring entrepreneurs. Despite this, I find that the majority of applicants can’t explain or justify their motivation for applying to a start up. It is of key importance that an applicant can explain exactly why they want to work for a smaller company/start up and be specific in their answers. In the start up scene you come across many ‘wannabes’. These people say they want to work in a start up as if it’s the new trend these days, but they can never really explain their motivation for doing so.

The interview process for start-ups differs across the board and it’s difficult to stereotype it to a particular method, making it more difficult to practice for. Unlike some interview processes, there’s not always a clear-cut ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ things you should or shouldn’t do. However there are some definite no-no’s. To help, here are some tips on what NOT to do in your interview.


  1. Bad mouthing past employment: Telling your potential employer that your previous employer was an a**, the other employees were boring, and there was no ‘room for improvement’ comes across as big headed and sparks alarm bells. You owe it to your last company to be respectful to them. There may have been problems at your old workplace but dishing these out in an interview makes it seem like you will be a tricky employee. Say nice things or say nothing at all.
  1. Not asking any/ enough questions: All too many times applicants sail through an interview, answer questions impeccably and as soon as it gets to question time, they freeze up or become silent. They have few/zero questions for the employer. Employment is a two-way relationship; the company must fit the employee as much as the employee has to fit the company. Don’t just ask questions about salary, holiday periods and ‘scope to progress’. Be genuinely interested in the team, culture and vision of the company. With start ups, as teams are often so small, more often than not, employers will place more emphasis on people they like and can get along with easily.
  1. Generic answers on why you want to work for a start up: We’ve heard it all before. You don’t like how your banking job was so monotonic and you always felt like you couldn’t make a difference or implement any changes. You want to work in a start up because you get to work on everything and have the ability to change absolutely everything without going through levels of bureaucracy.

Working for a start up is not a standardised job. Every role, company and culture is so different that you won’t be sure if the particular company you are applying for can even offer so much flexibility to allow you to make all the changes you wish. Make your motivation about the firm, about it’s values and why that fits with what you believe in. Too many times I hear answers on why applicants want to work for start-ups. Good candidates tell me why they want to work for MY start up.

Other turn offs include arriving super early or super late. Recruiters’ time is precious making late arrivals stressful; equally, arriving terribly early can force the recruiter to alter their plans to accommodate your early arrival.

Please remember every email and form of communication with your potential employer is registered so make sure you can construct a decent email, single phrases like: ‘Yes I can meet Thursday 4pm, see you then’ do not go down well. It shows a lack of effort and professionalism in your application.

Good luck with your applications!

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