interview_entrepreneur

Enough About Me – Interviewing for a Job With an Entrepreneur

My guest post on Careerealism, “Turning the Tables: How to Interview a Potential Employer,” requires further explanation if the job you are seeking is with an entrepreneur.

On Careerealism I talk about the importance of learning everything you can about the company you’re interviewing with, and I offer suggestions for how to get more information from your interviewer.

This is not going to be a problem if you’re interviewing with an entrepreneur.

On the contrary, unlike most job interviews where you’re sweating in the hot seat, in an interview with an entrepreneur, you may not get to talk at all.

Mums the Word
Though the entrepreneur may start by asking a question (maybe even two if the interviewee came from a competitor), the interview will quickly turn to the topic of the company.

The entrepreneur will talk about the early days of the business. He’ll talk about the enormous hurdles they faced. He’ll talk about the even bigger successes. Fish stories will be told. There will be no reeling the topic back to you.

Don’t take it personally. There’s a reason for this, and it has nothing to do with your qualifications.

I have watched countless qualified job candidates leave interviews with entrepreneurs with a puzzled expression, uttering statements like:

“He didn’t ask me any questions.”
“I don’t think he even looked at my resume.”
“I’m not sure he knows what I do.”

The truth is, what you do, what you have done in the past, and what you’re capable of doing in the future doesn’t matter to the entrepreneur. This is partly because the entrepreneur trusts his team, and the person that recommended you. But it’s mostly because what the entrepreneur boss is interested in, is gauging your enthusiasm.

Hip, Hip, Hooray
The entrepreneur has two interview goals. The first goal is to gauge your level of shock and awe at the accomplishments to date. The entrepreneur is equating this with the level of enthusiasm and passion you’ll have moving forward, should you get the job.

The more excited you seem about the past work, the more enthusiastically you’ll jump into the current chaos.

The entrepreneur’s second goal is to see how impressed you are with them personally. 

What Do You Think About Me
There is no getting around the fact that it takes a certain amount of ego to believe you can launch a company. And although there’s no shortage of ego present in the interview, it isn’t vanity that you’re seeing. The entrepreneur isn’t looking for compliments; he’s looking for validation. 

Sound crazy that a successful entrepreneur would seek support from a job candidate? A total stranger? You might be surprised.

In a recent interview, serial entrepreneur and founder of the International Entrepreneurship Foundation Jim Beach told me he believes most entrepreneur become entrepreneurs because they are looking for reassurance.

“At the core of an entrepreneur is a huge sense of personal insecurity. You are an entrepreneur to prove something,” Beach explains. “You’re trying to prove that you weren’t the dork in high school. You’re trying to prove that you are the smartest person in the room. You’re trying to disprove the people that told you that they didn’t think you were right.”

He summarizes by saying “I think the essence of becoming an entrepreneur is to overcome your sense of insecurity.”

Dinner and a Movie
So how do you nail an interview with an entrepreneur if you don’t get the opportunity to sell yourself? Think of the interview like a first date.

Jerry Seinfeld describes dating as “a lot of acting fascinated.” This is equally true for your interview with an entrepreneur.

“You created a magic act when you were six? Wow, you must have been a very smart kid.”

Becomes:

“You started this whole company in your garage? Oh my gosh, that’s crazy!”

Your reaction to the stories is as important a part of the interview as your resume, your skills or your prior accomplishments.

It doesn’t matter that half of the Inc. 500 companies were all born in garages and basements around the country. It’s this entrepreneur’s story now that matters.

Praise it, honor it,  celebrate it, and you just might get asked back for a second date.

Working for Wonka? Know this: Bravado aside, as entrepreneur Beach explains above most entrepreneurs have fragile egos. Play to this in the interview and you’re on your way to a new job. But be careful not to go overboard. Limit your praise to the accomplishments and the business. The entrepreneur will spot a brown noser faster than a potential investor with a checkbook.