how to get through and what surprises to prepare for

In the past article in our series “Careers in IT” told where to look for vacancies. Let’s imagine that it is found – a cool place in a startup was found, just for your skills and with a suitable salary. How to pass an interview now, what to prepare for and how to make sure that you will be comfortable working there? Let’s talk about practical examples. It will be useful for those who get a job not only in a startup, but simply in a not very large, albeit stable, company.

Why go to work in a startup

  • Easier to interview. In terms of a set of goodies, small companies can rarely compete with large ones, so their requirements for specialists are lower. Often the processes in small companies are simpler and the culture is less developed, which also affects the interview process.

  • More opportunities for development. Both horizontal and vertical. You will need to pick up many different tasks, plus you can grow with the company. When new people are hired, you will already be put in charge of them.

  • Minimum bureaucracy and meetings. Everything is focused on tasks and results, there are no heavy management processes.

  • No legacy code. In large companies, a ten-year-old monolith is often sawn for years. And here everything will be new and fresh.

  • Startup atmosphere. Strong relationships within the team, ease, less subordination. Many people like it.

  • More often they offer remote work. And often remote processes are better aligned. In our bot getmatch many remote vacancies come from small companies and startups.

Why you should NOT go to work in a startup

  • A startup can fail. 9 out of 10 startups fail. You can get a cool experience, but there is a high chance that you will not work here for a long time.

  • It’s harder to learn. You will surely be the only specialist in your tasks.

  • Worst conditions. Gray employment, not such a complete social package, less goodies.

  • Startups in work experience are alarming for HRs. Startups are often about hype. And they close quickly. As a result, in your list of past jobs, you may have points on hype topics for six months or a year of work. This alarms HRs – it seems that you can easily be lured to another company.

  • Difficult relationship with management. If it doesn’t work out with the authorities, you won’t be able to change the department – you will have to quit completely.

There are stories when the director seems to be charismatic, but when working together you realize that you are in an oppressive atmosphere: they don’t hear you, and there is nowhere to go.

The general structure of an interview in a small company

  1. Telephone interview.

  2. Test task (optional).

  3. The technical interview is usually divided into several sections.

  4. Interview with the hiring manager or service station.

  5. Offer.

In fact, this is almost the same as an interview in a corporation. But the devil is in the details. We will talk about telephone interviews a little later – they are about the same for any company and do not require special attention. But let’s take a closer look at the details of the test and interview.

Test

It is necessary because a small company does not have the resources to carefully select candidates by other means, such as a large staff of HRs or hiring the “wrong person” to replace him later. Test in this case is a good way of selection.

What is important to say:

  • Timing.

  • The amount of time you are expected to complete the task. Is it supposed to be done in a couple of hours, or is it an all-day job?

  • Functional and non-functional requirements. For example, about the performance of the final solution.

  • Is it possible to use third party libraries.

And you can also not do a test at all and offer an alternative. For example, if you have an example of similar code. Or test for another company. Offer to show – it is quite possible that it will do. Feel free to ask.

What to look for when doing a test

Fulfill all functional requirements. It sounds obvious, but it is more important and more complicated than it seems.

In the experience of our candidates, it was like this: I did a test and got stuck in architecture. The employer asked for something about the UI, and the candidate thought “boring things, move some card somewhere, I’m an architect, why do I need a UI?”. As a result, they didn’t even take it to the next stage – and he spent 20 hours on super-cool architecture, which was not even needed.

If it says “On click, it should unfold with such and such an animation” – make it.

Take care of the cleanliness of the code. In the working atmosphere of a startup, your code-style is unlikely to be watched – everything is always on fire there. But everyone wants to have neat developers on their staff, so try to keep everything clean and take care of more than just functional requirements.

Cover your code with tests. Even if it’s not explicitly stated, this is how you demonstrate your professionalism and stand out.

Don’t get carried away with external dependencies. Even if they are allowed. If you are creating a form with a phone number, you don’t need to drag up a huge table with formatters, hints, and pop-ups. Specifically, for a test it is not dangerous, but for a work task it can cause a drop in performance. Treat the test as if it were real work and try to think in terms of value for the “whole app”.

Leave helpful comments. Take care of the reader, highlight some things, present your product.

Add something on top. If you have time, think about how you can stand out from other candidates: add an animation, an interesting feature, a detailed explanation. But only if you are sure that you have met all the functional requirements.

Remember that the ideal will never be. Sometimes it happens that you do a test, you try your best, it seems perfect. A year later, you look and see – there is a mistake, it’s not right, it’s not beautiful here. But this does not affect the result, do not hit perfectionism. Otherwise, you won’t run any test cases.

When you’re done, don’t forget to put the finished test on GitHub (preferably in a private repository). It can be used as a sample code for future employers and offered as a ready-made test, so as not to make it from scratch.

Technical interview

The first piece of advice is to take your laptop to the interview. In a strange environment, sitting down at someone else’s computer is stressful; on a keyboard that is not your own, it is sometimes difficult to even hit the buttons. Behind your typewriter will be more convenient.

In smaller companies, tasks for a technical interview are usually the following:

  • Give explanations on the test or some code that you have on GitHub. Just right on the spot to explain something, to tell, to explain how it works.

  • Review existing code. For example, you will be given a junior code from a project, some independent and context-independent, and asked to tell what is here and how it works, what can be improved.

  • Outline the architecture for some solution. For example, they may give you a site layout and ask you to tell how you will work with it.

A technical interview can last 4–6 hours, about the same as a working day. But it is better to clarify in advance, because it depends on the company.

Interview

This interview is not with technical specialists, it can be at different stages – both before the test and after the technical interview. He has his own characteristics.

Here the main feature is that in small companies each interview is unique. And we are not going to give general preparation tips here, but rather a set of questions that are worth asking in order to prepare.

  • What will happen after the test and technical stage, how is recruitment structured in general?

  • What will be the sections of the interview? For example, will they give algorithmic problems?

  • Who exactly will be interviewing: HR, managers, specific technical specialists?

  • What product does the company make? You can look it up yourself through open sources to ask better questions.

What to expect in an interview

There is no universal advice, but be prepared that:

  • The recruiter will be a person who has left a large company. He may try to drag the interview style from there, so don’t be surprised by the typical FAANG questions and puzzles.

  • Most likely, your future colleagues will interview you, and in your hands, so that they want to sit in the same code base with you.

  • You may be expected to know a clear specific platform and technology, not just experience in similar ones.

  • They will ask a lot of questions from related areas – startups often need “multi-machine users” who can work with the infrastructure and neighboring subject areas themselves.

  • You will definitely be asked to tell the previous experience in terms of tasks: what did you encounter, how did you decide. Prepare a story in the format of a case.

  • During the interview, tools like personality typology will be used. They can give a test for 15 minutes to understand whether you fit into the team. Abroad, this is a fairly common practice.

What to ask in an interview to “test” a startup

Now it’s your turn to ask questions. When interviewing for a small company, this is very important – otherwise there is a risk that in a few months you will have to look for a job again.

What is important to find out:

  • Does the company have a mission, growth and development strategy? You can ask about the sources of payback or investment. If the startup is very young, ask how users grow, what competitors are on the market. Put on your VC hat and ask for a pitch deck from the latest round of investment.

  • Who makes product decisions and how? What does this process look like?

  • What specific responsibilities will you have? What is expected of you? Who does what in the company?

  • What is the size of the team, what is the level of specialists?

  • How does the company evaluate the performance of employees? What are the criteria for this, what is the process of setting and evaluating tasks? How is career growth formalized?

  • Which employees receive a social package? What does it include? How is the premium calculated and calculated?

Feel free to ask such questions. In a good strong company, you will be free to answer them. If they start to get confused, slow down or be interested in “Why are you asking this?” is a wake-up call.

And remember: young companies are not only a great way to make a huge personal contribution to overall success. You can get part of this success in quite a material equivalent – in the form of a share in the company in the future.


The best vacancies are in our telegram bot! It is not necessary to apply for vacancies, it is not necessary to look for a job – you can use the bot as a tool to monitor the market: how your vacancy corresponds to the market. Here the dude found out, for example, that his St. Petersburg salary was 60% (!!!) less than he could earn.

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