How to prepare for a job interview at an Internet company

Thursday Oct 18, 2012 by Matt Douglas - Founder and CEO, Punchbowl.com

As anyone who has started a company will tell you, the people you hire into your company are *critical* to the long-term success of the business. The employees set the tone and vibe, and a single bad apple can put a strain on the whole team. So, like most startups, we strive to hire the best people we've ever worked with. I take hiring very seriously, and I've never regretted spending more time to find a great hire. 

Over the past few weeks I've been interviewing a lot of candidates (in fact, I made two hires this past week). One thing I've been struck with are the vast differences between those who prepare for an interview and those who don't. It's very disappointing to sit across the table from someone who says "I didn't have time to prepare." I always think, "Really? Well I don't have time to waste with you." And usually I end those interviews very fast (seriously, one time i ended an interview after just four minutes. The walk to the front door was very awkward).

For those who do take the time to prepare, some don't use their time wisely. So here's a little hint: the most important thing you need to do before an interview is to learn about the person that is going to interview you. With all of the resources on the web, you can find out a lot about me pretty quickly; where I've worked, my professional experience etc. But much more importantly, you can find out a few personal things about me. What makes me tick? Do we share the same interests? Do we know anyone or anything in common? These are critical things to learn BEFORE the interview so that you can not only make small talk but you can "get inside my head."

So other than learning about the person who is going to interview you, how else do you prepare for this kind of an interview? Here are five things you can do to prepare for an interview at an Internet company:

1) Start by using the product or service inside and out. Sign up for an account, and use the product like a real user. Jot down notes about "what you like" and "things that need improvement" and come prepared with a list. If you are taking the time to interview at an Internet company, there is simply no excuse for not using the product thoroughly before your interview.

2) Visit the "About Us" page of the company. Read every page. If there are documents you can download to learn more, then take the time to read those too.

3) Visit the public LinkedIn pages of all of the people who plan to interview you. If you don't know who is scheduled to interview you, don't be shy! Ask your contact at the company for a list of the people who you'll be meeting with so that you can do your research.

4) Find out what you should wear to the interview. Either read up on the company culture and make an educated guess, or ask your contact at the company (hint: if you show up for an interview at Punchbowl in a shirt and tie, the first thing I'll ask you to do is to "lose the tie").

5) Come up with three thoughtful questions about the company. Please don't ask "what is the five year plan for the company?" because at an Internet company, that's a stupid question (yes, we have a one year plan, but five years in the Internet is a very, very long time). When the time comes in the interview when you are asked, "do you have any questions about the company?" you should say "yes, and I jotted down a few so that I could ask you when I had the opportunity." Then take out your notes and keep your question succinct. You'll make a strong impression if you are prepared for this part of the interview.

SWAMI SAYS: In this day and age, there's simply no excuse for not being prepared for an interview -- especially at an Internet company. Take the time to thoroughly prepare, and your odds for landing the position will increase significantly.

Matt Douglas is the Founder & CEO of Punchbowl.com.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog called The Startup Swami.  You can aslo follow Matt on Twitter (@Mattdouglas) by clicking here.

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