Small, Medium, Large
This will be a more personal blog than some of my previous technical articles. The reason is there in the title! I had several interviews this week at companies of very different sizes and I wanted to share my experience. This is, of course, only my subjective opinion.
My first interview was with a small health-tech startup with fewer than 50 employees. While the role was technical, few of the questions (at this point at least) were technical, instead there was a much heavier emphasis on company culture, teamwork and collaboration, and authentic buy-in for the product and mission. When you’re operating at startup size, it’s very important that you’re hiring people who are deeply committed to the ideas and mission of the company. This is obviously important for all companies, but startups often ask much more of their fewer employees than large companies! For better or worse, how many startup employees do you know that work a strict 9–5?
So make sure you have deeply researched the companies major products/services and their culture, and don’t be afraid to ask about it in the interview itself. Try to relate their core values or products to your own projects. “I see that X is quite important to you, I actually used X in a recent (personal or professional) project of mine examining Y.” As always, be specific and have key metrics handy to demonstrate your impact. Startups are in a unique position because they don’t often have the resources to train inexperienced workers, but if you can show them that you have the skillset, learn quickly, and are a culture carrier they may just take a chance on you.
My next interview was with a medium sized company of some 2,000 plus employees. At this size, you can start to differentiate company culture from team culture. Once a company has become more established, the singular focus and mission of a startup matures into more varied team cultures that must be navigated. You might ask a cultural question only to be met with “well actually on our team we do it like this”. This is fine, be ready to roll with the punches. Perhaps the company culture is all about collaboration, but within a specific team the work simply dictates more autonomous work! Ask follow up questions… “that’s very interesting, how do you manage your individual projects while promoting growth and mentorship?” Remember that you are also interviewing them! If you really valued that collaboration aspect in a role, but the team culture is not that, it’s okay to ask about it and evaluate the fit!
A benefit of the medium to large companies is that there will often be people who have worked there for a long time (+10 years). So do your research about who you will be interviewing with, and don’t be afraid of turning the table a little… “I saw that you’ve been with X company for nearly Y years, what do you most appreciate about working here?” Remember that 1. people like to talk about themselves (and it shows you’ve taken the time to research) and 2. it gives you a moment to breathe between more technical/difficult questions.
At medium sized companies I often ask about how mentorship is structured, formally or informally. Startups don’t often have structured mentorship outside of your specific team, and larger companies usually have very structured mentorship with assigned mentor/mentee programs. As a bootcamp grad, mentorship is especially important to me, so I ask about it!
Finally, I interviewed with a very large company with more than 30,000 employees. Many large companies have rigorous training and upskilling programs, mentorship programs, and, importantly, structure. You should focus on how you are going to add value from day one to the company. After all, because they are so large they can often easily find replacements, so they are willing to invest in you if you’ve proven you are invested in them and are proactive. I like to ask “what can I do from day one to have a strong, positive impact in this role?” This signals to your interviewer that you are very serious about jumping in and becoming effective as quickly as possible.
In my case, there were several back to back interviews with people in and out of the actual team the role was advertised for. Be prepared for this, too. Large companies have many teams, so you are expected to be able to function cross-team if necessary. So prepare more general questions for interviewers not actually on your future team!
This week was an amazing experience in terms of interview prep and payoff as someone on the job search. It can be a real roller coaster, but stay positive and try to put your best foot forward in all of your interactions with recruiters, interviewers, and anyone you try to connect with. You never know who is going to fight for you if you’ve proven yourself useful, friendly, a teamplayer, etc. And even a terrible or bombed interview should be seen as a learning experience. No one is perfect. And remember most of all, no matter how many failed interviews, it only takes one successful one to find your new job!