Questions To Ask At A Startup Interview

Questions to ask at a startup interview

Questions To Ask At A Startup Interview

Do you have an interview coming up at a startup? That’s great news. Normally, you will have a series of pre-planned questions you like to ask companies, but in this case, you might consider a few different questions. Let’s dive in and see some questions to ask at a startup interview.

General Questions

How and why did you start this business?

If you have an interview with the CEO or one of the founders, ask them how they started the business. How did they come across this awesome market opportunity and how did they get involved with it? Make sure to check out the website beforehand to see if this information isn’t already on there. If it isn’t, this can be a great question to ask.

What worries you?

This is one of the most interesting questions to ask at a startup interview. From your external perspective, you might have an idea of potential worries the business has, but it can be totally different hearing it from a founder. Answers can vary. It could be the company is growing too fast, is understaffed, lacks resources, or many other things. It could also be what the competitors are doing. You never know, so it can be a great question to ask to learn more about the company.

What are people most excited by? What do they like most?

Find out what people love about the company. Are there any special incentives? Is the work environment and culture incredible? What about growth opportunities, new challenges, and ability to work on great new age projects? Are there other intangible values that employees just love about the company? Dig a little bit and find out what these are. You could even go as far as to connect with some of the company’s employees on Linkedin and ask them how they like working at the company.

What are people least excited by? What do they dislike most?

If you asked the previous question, you should consider amending this second part. Companies can preach all about the greatness and perks of the company, but there are always cons and things that employees dislike. Explore these. Consider looking on Glassdoor as well for company reviews. It is always important to get an inside view on what it’s like to work at a company.

What kind of people succeed at your company?

There might be certain skills, qualities and traits that are highly valued at a startup. Obviously, these differ from startup to startup depending on the market they are in, but they could be something like: being scrappy, ability to juggle multiple tasks, wear multiple hats, “That isn’t my job” is not part of your vocabulary, being adaptable, creative etc. These are just a few examples, but ones you will probably see stated somewhere in the job description at many startups. You can then compare these to your own traits and qualities and see how well they match. Do you have the skills and traits desired by the company?

Is the company pre-revenue? Is your company profitable?

This may sound like a question some people would feel embarrassed to ask, but it is important to know what the current financial situation is. Will they have enough money to work on certain projects, hire more staff when needed, and continue to expand? Or are they strapped for cash? You might join a company where you will be a one-man/woman army. Getting this information upfront can help you make a better decision if it is a good fit for you or not.

What is the company’s competitive advantage? Can it be sustained?

Before you ask this question, make sure you do your homework on the company to see if you understand the business model and what the company does. If it is not clear and you are unsure of how they have a competitive advantage, consider asking this question.

What is the biggest risk for the company?

The company could be working on an entirely new type of technology, have limited funds and need to make a profit by X date or many other possible scenarios. Find out what the risk or risks are and then see if you can frame yourself as a solution to mitigate that risk.

What does collaboration look like?

In other words, how does the team work together. Does everyone meet at an office, co-working, or does everyone work from their own home office? Whatever the model is, how does the team come together and collaborate? Is everyone connected via Slack, Jira, Zoom, or other tools?

What are the biggest challenges for the company/team?

Get an inside view of what is going on at the company? Are these challenges that you want to take on for your possible future endeavor? The more you can learn about the company, the better judgement call you can make.

Specific Questions About The Role

In the first section, you saw general questions to ask at a startup interview. This next set of questions is focused on your role and what you should achieve/metrics.

What does success look like in my role?

Is it growing a product line, signing up new clients, increasing sales, or multiple other things? Finding out what success looks like will help you have a target in mind and improves your game plan to meet the targets.

What is the biggest challenge for my role?

Are there certain challenges to expect in this role? Find out the specifics from the recruiting manager or even one of the founders. In many cases, they have already done some of these tasks and can say what to expect. From this information, ask yourself, “Do I want to take on this challenge?”

What are some examples of problems I would solve?

This question is aimed to give you a deeper look into the role. When you know what kinds of challenges to expect, you can determine whether it is a good fit for you and your skills. This question amends nicely to the previous question.

What do I need to accomplish in my first 90 to 120 days to be a success and have an impact?

This is one of my favorite questions to ask at a startup interview. You want to prove yourself early on, so knowing exactly what is demanded of you during the first 3-4 months is a great way to attack this.

Why is the current role open? Have other people held the role and left? If so, why?

Determine whether the open role is because of a market need, company expansion, or if someone has been recently let go and you are filling his/her spot. If it is the latter, explore why the person was not successful or left. Some recruiters or founders might be slightly hesitant to give specifics, but it is important to have somewhat of an idea of the lack of success of a candidate and why the person left. What can you do differently to be successful?

What does the day-to-day work look like for this role?

Learn the specifics about what you might do daily and ask yourself, “Can I see myself doing this job?” Is this job interesting and challenging enough for you? Is this what the job description stated or something quite different?

How will performance be assessed?

You can only know if you are successful at a job if you know how your performance is assessed.

How do you on-board an employee?

This is a very important question not just for startups but for any company of any size. What will training look like? What will you be doing in the beginning? Will you be shadowed or trained by another team mate? Many companies have specific training in place for on-boarding new members. Others do not. Some startups expect you to already have the skills needed to join the company and hit the ground running. Determine what the company needs are and if your skills fit.

Growth Questions

This next section of questions to ask at a startup interview are about growth. You want to know how the company is performing as far as revenues, size, number of employees, expansion plans, what it aims to do in the short term, and where it wants to be five years down the road. The growth questions below have not been further explained as they are very specific for each company.

  1. What is the current growth like?
  2. What will the company look like in a year? (revenue, size, number of employees etc.)
  3. Where does the company want to be five years from now?
  4. How big is the market for the product? How fast is it growing?
  5. Does the company have plans to enter new markets?
  6. What are the top three issues preventing you from achieving your growth targets?
  7. Are you profitable?
  8. How will your company scale as it grows? Does it have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of the opportunity?
  9. Who are the biggest competitors and how are they doing?

All Questions To Ask At A startup Interview

General Questions

  1. How and why did you start this business?
  2. What worries you?
  3. What are people most excited by? What do they like most?
  4. What are people least excited by? What do they dislike most?
  5. What kind of people succeed at your company?
  6. Is the company pre-revenue?
  7. What is the company’s competitive advantage? Why will it be sustained?
  8. What is the biggest risk for the company?
  9. What does collaboration look like? How do team members collaborate?
  10. What are the biggest challenges for the team/company?
  11. How are priorities determined? How do we agree on them?

Specific Questions About The Role

  1. What does success look like in my role?
  2. What is the biggest challenge for my role?
  3. What are examples of the type of problems I’d solve?
  4. What do I need to accomplish in my first 90 to 120 days to be a success and have an impact?
  5. Why is the current role open? Have other people held the role and left? If so, why?
  6. What does the day-to-day work look like for this role?
  7. How will performance be assessed?
  8. How do you on-board an employee?

Growth Questions

  1. What is the current growth like?
  2. What will the company look like in a year? Revenue, size, number of employees etc.
  3. Where does the company want to be five years from now?
  4. How big is the market for the product? How fast is it growing?
  5. Does the company have plans to enter new markets?
  6. What are the top three issues preventing you from achieving your growth targets?
  7. Are you profitable?
  8. How will your company scale as it grows? Does it have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of the opportunity?
  9. Who are the biggest competitors and how are they doing?

Tips For Going Into Startup Interviews

In this next section, you are going to see specific tips on how to go into a startup interview, what to expect, and how nail it.

Know how to show your results: What have you accomplished at the other companies you have worked at and even your school experience? Present both quantitative and qualitative data. Sell yourself here. Be ready for the recruiter to dig a little deeper into your answers and ask more directed questions. Sometimes this is done by asking 5 Whys or simply just asking follow up questions to get the specifics they want.

Ask smart questions: Before you go to any interview, do your research about the company and write some smart questions. This is no time to ask if the job is remote or if you can work from home. These are not considered smart questions and will ultimately irritate the interviewer that you burned a question on something like this. They want to hear questions that show your knowledge and interest in the company and segment. Ask specific questions about the business, market, things you have read about the industry and how it affects them. Whatever it may be, do your homework and write some good questions. The worst thing you can do is not have any questions to ask.

Do your homework on the company: Know the ins and outs of the company. Read about the company on their website. Read the mission and vision statements. Learn about their products and services. Scan a few blog articles. Next, go over to Glassdoor and see what employees are saying about the company. Do a Google search and see what comes up in the news about it. Learn as much as you can about the company. The more you can learn about it, the better questions and dialog you will have with the founder or recruiter.

Use the product: If possible, test drive the product or service. Some companies allow you to sign up for a free trial or even offer a freemium version. Sign up for it. It is worth getting that extra look at how it works and then you can better frame your questions and demonstrate your interest in it.

Research the interviewers: Do you know who is going to interview you? If yes, type them into Google and Linkedin. What are their professional experience? Find out what you can. You never know, they might be part of the same association as you, they might have been an exchange student, or have something in common. These are just more ways to help guarantee a smooth interview and help establish rapport.

Who are the competitors: Most of the time you can quickly find out who the main competitors are by Googling the type of business a company is in like “Project management software” and see what comes up. In many cases, these are probably the competitors, or at least a few of them. Get to know who they are and how they differ from the startup you are interviewing for. This gives you an edge.

Explore possible company weaknesses: Are there specific things that could affect the company further down the road? These could be risks and problems the company currently has. They may even ask you e.g. “Phil, what would you do in situation ABC?” to get a better understanding of your thought process. Remember, the more you know, the better you are going to do in the interview.

Home tasks: If you are given a take home task to work on, over deliver on it! I can’t stress this enough. The company may have only asked for X, but knock it out of the park! There are always other candidates with even more experience than you that are handing in X. Set yourself apart from these competitors and bring the spotlight on your profile. This helps seal the deal on why they should hire you!

Tips For Going To A Startup Interview

  1. Know how to show your results
  2. Ask smart questions – great questions are remembered
  3. Do your homework on the company
  4. Use the product – get a basic understanding of it
  5. Research the interviewers – view their profiles on Linkedin
  6. Who are the company’s competitors?
  7. Don’t pitch BS if you don’t know an answer to something
  8. What is a weakness the business has?
  9. If given a take home task – over deliver. Don’t be average

Wrap Up

Small businesses and startups create a massive amount of jobs in the market. You need to be ready for these interview as they can help get you a great job. I hope you can put into practice these questions to ask at a startup interview.

Have you ever interviewed with a startup? What kinds of questions did you ask? How was the experience? In the comments section below share your experience with the community so we can all learn from you.

For more job search and interview tips, check out the CareerPrep blog. Also check out the EnglishInterviews and CareerPrep Youtube channels.

If there are any other articles you would like to see on the site, please drop me a message in the comments section below.

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