Get the offer: 5 Austin tech companies share how to ace their interviews

by Kelly O'Halloran
January 11, 2018

In a crowd of job applicants, how can you stand out?

While the answers to that question may vary, recruiters typically look for a few key factors. We caught up with a group of recruiters from Austin tech to learn what their red flags are — and how you can wow them when you apply.


phto provided by retailmenot

It’s easy for candidates to blast out as many resumes as possible in the hopes of landing a callback. Jenna Brown, a recruiter at RetailMeNot, said it’s important to slow down and check all your boxes. And she would know — she once received an applicant’s tax return instead of a resume.

What are the questions candidates struggle with most in an interview? How can they prepare for them?
Candidates need to be prepared to talk about why they want to work at RetailMeNot. We want someone that has done their research and is familiar with our product. Also, know who you will be interviewing you, even if it's just their title. Come prepared with calibrated questions for each interviewer — it's just as important.


What are some red flags you see too often from applicants?
Spelling errors and formatting inconsistencies. This drives both recruiters and hiring managers crazy and shows lack of attention to detail. Be sure to use spell check and have a friend review your resume for any typos before submitting.

No need to apply for roles that you're either underqualified or overqualified for. Far too often do we see candidates applying to every open position on our career site. This indicates to us that you're just looking for a job versus the next step in your career. Also, make sure when you're applying to upload your current resume. I once had an applicant accidentally submit their tax return.

What is one example of how an applicant can ensure they stand out?
If the company you're interested in is having an event, attend. That's a great way to meet team members and get a feel of what it's really like to work there. We held a product happy hour event in November and are now starting to reach back out to some of the attendees for upcoming openings on our team. If there isn't an event, it's not hard to find someone on the recruiting team or the right hiring manager. Find one or two people on LinkedIn and send them a message.


social solutions
photo provided by social solutins

Stephanie Hassell, technical recruiter at Social Solutions, noted the importance of referencing specific instances from a candidate’s past when answering questions. With that in mind, Hassell said it’s okay to ask the interview for a moment to think through an answer before responding.

What are the questions candidates struggle with most in an interview? How can they prepare for them?
We utilize behavioral interviewing for the majority of our interviews. With these questions, we’re looking to find how a candidate handled a real-life situation. I find that a lot of candidates tend to talk about what they would do in a similar situation, rather than highlighting what they have done in the past. It’s pretty tough to be fully prepared for behavioral interview questions, so don’t be afraid to let the interviewer know you need a moment to think about your response to ensure it’s applicable and showcases your past experiences accurately.


What are some red flags you see too often from applicants?
Each open position on our website has a job specific question set attached to the application. This is one way that we are looking to find out more than what is on a resume for each applicant. It is a pretty big red flag when applicants are not thoughtful in their response to these questions.

More generally, using an inappropriate email address or having a resume and LinkedIn profile that are way different from each other can come off as red flags as well.

What is one example of how an applicant can ensure they stand out?

I personally find it meaningful when an applicant follows up on a resume submission with a personalized note detailing their interest in the position and why they believe Social Solutions is the right company for them. If the recruiter or hiring manager’s contact information isn’t listed on the job posting you can easily find a list of all employees on the company’s LinkedIn page to find the most appropriate person to contact.



main street hub austin
photo provided by main street hub

Amanda Townley of Main Street Hub’s recruiting team said that, even though tech companies embrace casual work environments, it’s still important to treat interviews like a formal setting. She and four other recruiters from her team weighed in on how else candidates can make a lasting impression and secure that callback.

What are the questions candidates struggle with most in an interview? How can they prepare for them?
Raymond Miller, senior recruiter: 
I find that questions that candidates struggle the most with in an interview have to do with role-playing or putting them into a certain scenario. A question could be, "If you didn't find success in this role, what would you do to improve?" Candidates need to prepared for out-of-the-box questions and be able to think on the fly.

I also find that candidates struggle to express what success looks like for them. We like to see what the thought process is on how someone would feel valued or needed in any given role.

What are some red flags you see too often from applicants?
Amanda Townley, sales recruiter:
Although many workplaces are moving towards having casual office environments, candidates should always treat interviews like a formal setting. Candidates have a very short time to make a first impression, so it’s a red flag when they tarnish it with lateness, sloppy dress, foul language or overly casual body posture.

I would tell candidates that even if you’re interviewing with a company that has taken a modern approach to the corporate structure, your level of professionalism will be taken into account. The safest bet is to adopt a more conservative approach for your interview. 

What is one example of how an applicant can ensure they stand out?
Thomas Hidalgo, recruiter: I
love confidence and professionalism. Candidates who speak to what they know and how they will implement those skills to their success here are the ones who impress me the most. I like to hear people with a great background that are aware there is always room for improvement, growth, and that they can continually learn in this business.  

Kelsey Parker, sales recruiter: Candidates that stand out to me are the ones that do their research in advance and are well-prepared for each phase of the interview process. Also, sending a thank you note post-interview goes a long way!”


alert media
photo provided by alert media

Kelsey Ozar, AlertMedia’s director of talent, stresses the importance of resume formatting. Don’t let a sloppy resume get in the way of your first impression!

What are the questions candidates struggle with most in an interview? How can they prepare for them?
Job hunting can be overwhelming and a job in itself — recruiters understand that. However, not being able to thoughtfully answer questions like: What matters most to you in your next role? Why is this particular company and role of interest to you? Or not being able to effectively speak to past successes will create cause for concern.

Do a little bit of research before jumping on a call with us. You don’t have to overdo it, but you should have a high-level understanding of the role if you actually read the job description. If you act surprised that the role is inside sales when the job you applied for is “inside sales representative,” it will quickly become clear in the conversation that you are mass applying for jobs or don’t have a vested interest in our company specifically.


What are some red flags you see too often from applicants?
A few major red flags for me are grammatical errors, poor formatting and signs of “mass application.” Your resume is the first impression and should be the best initial representation of you. If this representation of your best self has typos and errors, how could I feel good about connecting you with our valued customers or representing our company?

The other huge red flag for me is when people apply for multiple, very different jobs. While I know the fun of a startup can be learning cross-functionally, there is a huge difference between a customer success, sales and a developer role. If you apply for all three, it tells me you either don’t know what you want or aren’t going to be able to focus and execute in the area of business need.  


What is one example of how an applicant can ensure they stand out?
Resume formatting goes a very long way. When applying for a position, make your resume clear, concise and easy to skim with relatable and thoughtful bullet points. While it can be tempting to list out a paragraph about your time killing it as a social media intern, if this experience is not relevant to where you want to be now, keep it to a minimum and focus on letting the most applicable experience to the role you’re applying for shine. Lastly, for jobs you’re really excited about, tailor your resume to that role and company vs. applying with a generic template — we can tell!


photo provided by mvf

Emmy McKee, MVF’s senior corporate recruiter, said one of the tougher questions she asks candidates is to highlight a weakness. McKee says to be honest when answering, relate it to the business and talk about the ways you’re working to overcome it.

What are the questions candidates struggle with most in an interview? How can they prepare for them?
The four biggest are: where do you see yourself in five years; what is your biggest weakness; what are your salary requirements; and what do you know about the company. To prepare, have a solid path laid out in your mind about how you see yourself growing in the company. It's okay to be ambitious or uncertain, but it's always wise to show interest in growing within the department you apply to.

For your weakness, be honest and relate this question to business, for example: time management. You can also talk about how you've looked into ways to improve this weakness. The purpose of this question allows for you to show some humility and openness to learn from and receive constructive feedback in the future. Additionally, it's fine to be direct and clear about how you would like to be compensated. Always give a comfortable low to high range that works with your financial needs.

Lastly, you have to research the company — and not just their website. Look at social media pages, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, etc.  It's always impressive when someone researches the company and brings in knowledge found on various online sources.

What are some red flags you see too often from applicants?
When a candidate shows up late without a reasonable explanation, hasn’t researched the company, shows inconsistencies with their treatment of all levels of employees and gives conflicting answers when asked the same question by various interviewers. These are all big red flags.  

What is one example of how an applicant can ensure they stand out?
Show your enthusiasm for the position you want, study, take notes and use any feedback given to you for the next round of interviews. Be as true to yourself and as professional as you can, communicate often, be sure to send a thank you email to every person you met or spoke with, have a clear explanation on how you see yourself fitting into the company and show professionalism in all areas of the interview process including attire, resumes and behavior in person and digitally.


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