Tips and Tricks for Landing the Perfect Startup job at Slush Asia

Finally, Slush Asia is here, with thousands of people, and hundreds of startups, and tons of opportunities for those ‘startupers’ seeking exciting jobs! It is the perfect time for you to get ready, sharpen your incisors and bite into the competition.

We have compiled “THE GUIDE” specifically for you Slush Asia attendees, to get ready for the battlefield.

How do I prepare for an interview with a startup?
What are startups looking for?
What can I expect?
How is the Japanese job market different?
How much am I worth at a startup?

Read below, and find out my friend.



The billion dollar question “how to woo a startup?” is a no brainer, but many forget to do this one and simple rule – use the product before you step foot into the office.

If it’s an app, download it, use it, and spend a significant amount of time consuming it. If it’s an online dating site, sign up, try it out and go on a few dates! E-commerce? Go and buy stuff! By using it you can determine how easy is it to download, navigate, understand and use the product. Break your experience down onto a storyboard and bring this with you to the interview.

Don’t be afraid to critique the product or website. Often times websites are poor at conveying what they do, in simple terms, especially if they are tech companies (who are usually really bad at conveying to a normal person technical or industry specific terms). So give constructive criticism on how they can improve if you are an engineer, or if you are a sales person, question them about other business or marketing strategies. This will set you apart from the competition. In general, always ask questions – do not leave the interview room without having asked good questions, everyone judges you on this part to see if you are actually interested and excited for the startup you are interviewing for.

Secondly, research online – don’t get fooled, most of the times people are not great at finding relevant or helpful information for the interview. Often times candidates Google “Netflix” and read a bunch of stuff that is totally irrelevant to the interview. YouTube and Google are the easiest ways to search – but utilize them smartly. Search criteria like “company name and business model” and see what suggestions come up, and “company name vs..” and see what comes up.

Let’s say you’re interviewing for Netflix, YouTube “Netflix vs Hulu vs Amazon”, you will find a list of videos with very nice geeky people who will give you the best preparation and a high level of understanding. For “Netflix and business model” search results like “how Netflix is killing the traditional TV” are common, which will be a gem for your overall understanding of the company.

The other one is research the CEOs. Always always always and I will say it once again, always! watch his/her interviews – all interviews! You will become an expert at his/her values and mission statement, this will help you understand whether your passion and values are aligned, and will aid you during the interview by showing that you fit in the company culture.

Thus, the first part is to prepare for the company, but the second piece is you – how well do you fit that specific job description (JD)? The two things that interviewees often blow is telling the story of who they are and how they will make the rocket fly. Don’t forget to show how beneficial you will be for the company and sell yourself in regards to that JD. Make a couple of bullet points, what in the JD can you contribute to the best, and what are you weak at. Be ready to talk about your weaknesses! Lastly, mention what is not on the JD that you can contribute to. Write short paragraphs and summarize it in anything around 3-8 bullet points, and read through them again and again visualizing asking the questions and practicing reading the answers. This will be sufficient to feel prepared.

Beware though, don’t memorize a script. Another weakness we have noticed in interviews is candidates sometimes forget to listen to interviewer and start answering questions that they memorized, not the ones that they were asked. Don’t forget to be a good listener. Go to the 8 points for ammunition, but remember to ultimately listen to what they say.



Now at Justa we also hear this common question: what are startups looking for? We will try to categorize this, although there are always exceptions to the rule.

First of all, lets put this way, it depends on what stage the startup is at (EARLY > MID > MATURE), this determines what type of individual they are looking for.

Commonly, early stage startups want someone who likes to take risk, can multitask and is not rigid in what type of role or environment he/she is working in. In mid stage, startups grow in numbers and become more mature, so they need people who are a bit more structured, as there will be more processes in place, so they need people who are not adverse to structure. While mature startups – one reaching pre-IPO stage, are looking for someone who has perhaps worked at a company who has gone IPO. So look at yourself and see if your personality and ambition fits the stage that the startup is at.

Graph 1

Oh, also, startups at the early stage are really looking for people who are deeply in love with their product. At Justa we have had top candidates be refused by startups, because they were not 100% sure that the candidate was as passionate about their product as they were.

Additionally, we advise you to talk about salary and working hours at the later stages of your interview process. As said previously, startups really want to see your passion for their product and see an ‘in it to win it’ attitude. And keep in mind that early stage startups will most likely require some extra work hours in comparison to mid or mature startups.

The Japanese Market

When you’re working for startups in Japan, you should keep in mind the intricacies of the Japanese startup market and how it is different from other major startup hubs like SF, Berlin, Tel – Aviv and others.

For starters, the talent pool in Japan is still small and the demand is super high! All startups need great engineers, sales, marketing and creative talent. Every field is in high demand; but engineers are even higher. Once we asked a startup, “how many developers are you hiring?” and they told us, “how many do you have? We’ll take them all!”.

There are a couple of reasons for the small talent pool, but most prominent is the loyalty factor. Candidates in Japan are more loyal so they don’t switch jobs as often, culturally it’s one job for life.

There is also the formality of job changing. Candidates are less likely to apply directly, and more likely to apply through an agency. I think this is intrinsic from the layers of bureaucracy in Japanese culture, and in recruitment, it is no different as candidates want to feel that they are taken care of – a concept that threads into the service culture in Japan. While candidates in US and UK use LinkedIn, in Japan they don’t usually sign up as they are not trusting enough to release that kind of personal information, and demand a higher level of security. So they entrust themselves to agents who take care of their applications.

The personality factor also plays a big role. Most Japanese are very introverted by nature, so they prefer the agent to take care of all the negotiations for them in terms of salary, vacation days and others. This leaves little room for early stage startups to find talent on their own, but the high recruiting fees are often times too much of a blow for them to take, ranging from 25-40% of the yearly salary. But worry not, Justa is here to make sure startups get an equal play in the field and that you as a candidate can find out about all the amazing opportunities.

Finally, if you are a foreign (aka gaijin) engineer, your Japanese language skills may not be so important – unlike if you are a marketing or sales person. If you are interested in doing sales and marketing in Japan with no or little Japanese skills, your only option is to work for startups who are expanding abroad and require foreign market specialists.Graph 2



Salary and packages are quite different in Japan. Compared to the US, the number of VC funds is smaller and; although the barriers for IPO are lower, the likelihood for a hot IPO is less likely. In Japan companies tend not to give stock options and employees don’t expect them (or understand the concept). Startups have just recently started to include SO, however this is still a low percentage and quite uncommon, unlike packages in Silicon Valley.

To get a better understanding of the salaries, Justa has made a free salary report; you can access it by registering here. It gives you a great understanding of the average salaries by industry and age, although some startups we have seen are an exception to the rule. Do keep in mind the cost of living in Japan is much lower than in SF, so this makes room for a very comfortable lifestyle.


Overall, the startup ecosystem is quite different in Japan from anything one has seen. More and more foreigners and international startups are coming to Japan and setting new ground play rules. This is an exciting time to be in Japan, you can find a list of some really cool startups at the forefront of innovation here. Since Slush Asia, the startup scene has taken a heap and has really evolved and we are excited to see and help it grow even further.

At Slush Asia we will be guiding startups and attendees and helping them with all hiring matters. If you want to find out who is hiring, need help or have questions, come by our booth – The Hiring Corner – location S14, and we would love to chitchat more!

Startup DNA


Written by Elena Churilova

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