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To Succeed at Startup Interviews, Understand the Intangibles

To Succeed at Startup Interviews, Understand the Intangibles

We’ve talked about how startups use interviews to try and find out who you are and if you fit in the organization. While a job description will outline the qualifications and experience you need for a job, just as important — but much harder to define — is cultural fit. 

It turns out the intangibles really matter, especially at a small company where you’re working long hours together in close quarters. The meaning of “cultural fit” varies from company to company, but there are some common threads that almost every startup looks for. Here are a few:


Startups in particular tend to be interested in knowing what you care about. If you’re passionate about what the company is doing, you’ll tend to go the extra mile, something that’s especially valuable on a small team. Plus, passion will make you more fun and energizing to be around at work.

Your passion doesn’t have to take a specific form — it could relate to any of number things that characterize the company, including its mission, the problems it is solving, the industries it interacts with, and its products. The bottom line is that your passion should align with what the company is doing, something that will help you engage more meaningfully in your work.

Being a Team Player

Another hugely important aspect of working in a small company is teamwork. While being able to get a lot done on your own is impressive, collaboration is an important — and perhaps essential — part of most jobs. What is your collaboration style? How well do you communicate  in a team? Have you ever successfully led one? Startups take all of these things into consideration.


One of the less intuitive things startups often look for is empathy — the ability to understand another person’s point of view both intellectually and emotionally. Empathy can help resolve conflicts or disagreements, which inevitably happen in a workplace. Believing in something strongly is fantastic, but being able to see its flaws or consider a different path when presented with constructive criticism or differing opinions is just as important.

The Beer Test

This is one is easy to describe: are you someone your would-be coworkers would want to have a beer with?  

But why should it matter? Shouldn’t your qualifications and experience speak for themselves?

The truth is, working at a startup is sometimes more like being part of a family than at a workplace. We spend the whole day together in small spaces. We sit by each other, eat with each other, and interact constantly. If someone’s personality doesn’t gel with the team, all of those activities become more strained. This can end up affecting the work, so the “beer test” is actually grounded in very legitimate business concerns.


The intangibles are a huge consideration in startup interviews. Even the most accomplished candidate isn’t a good hire without the right attitude, interest, and personality.