interviewing at a start-up – 4 questions you should be asking the firm

InterviewWorking at a startup can be exciting and fulfilling, and scary at the same time; and interviewing for a job in a startup can be the same. Studies have shown that 90% of startups fail and if you do take this risk there is a chance that you will be back to searching for a job quite soon. But working in a startup can earn you handsome dividends and it can change the trajectory of your career.

It is important that you research the startup and the industry before your interview, and use your time at the interview to understand the vision and viability of the startup. During your interview, the interviewer will be evaluating you for the position; for you, it is an opportunity to evaluate the company – do prepare a set of questions before you go for the interview. If your questions are based on solid research about the startup, and the industry, you will be able to probe deeper and get satisfactory answers to all of your questions.

Here are four basic questions that every startup interviewee should ask.

  1. How would you define success for the company?

    Understanding the broad growth plans that the founders have for the company will help you decide if it’s a company you want to work with. If the founders are looking to be acquired by a larger company, understand why. If the founders’ vision is to grow the company, understand their long term vision for their company, the state of the industry, the regulatory framework, and the potential demand for their product or service.
  2. What is the biggest risk to the company?

    Understanding what the founders think is the biggest risk to the company, will help you evaluate the future path (and growth) of the company. If funding is perceived to be the main risk the founders are likely to be more focused on raising funds. On the other hand if product design or quality is the bigger risk you will see more focus on production. Either way this question will help you understand what is going on behind the scenes. And it will help you measure your skill profile against the needs of the company.
  3. What is the Current Runway, and what are your Future Funding Plans?

    You might find it difficult to talk about money, but this question is so important. If the startup has cash in the bank for a couple of years, it is going to be less risky than working in a startup which is low on funds and needs to raise more to continue operating. If the runway is less than a year, ask about future funding plans. Are they trying to raise funds? What type of investors are the founders looking to work with? They will either answer honestly or they will try to sidestep your questions – and you will get you useful insights into their core values.
  4. What are your growth numbers?

    Since companies at the start-up stage are unlikely to be making a profit, growth becomes a key indicator of their health. Growth can be measured through overall sales, number of employees, turnover and market share. It can tell you about company performance, management efficiency, financial viability and the actual demand for the product in the market. A positive growth rate can be interpreted as a sign to go ahead and explore the job opportunity further.

imageIt will help if you can identify what you want from a new job. What is your top priority for yourself? Usually it will be one of these – Compensation, Career, or Culture. There may be overlap between these, but one of the three will be more important for you than the other two. If you can identify which is your top priority, you will find additional questions specific to your requirement here that you could research and ask the founder.

There may not be one right answer for many of your questions, but the answers you get will help you make the best decision for yourself, and the research that you have done to craft your questions will demonstrate to the potential employer that you are a serious candidate. Ultimately you have to ask yourself if the company’s vision resonates with you; does the product or service add significant and genuine value to the market, and does the company have an enabling culture. If the answer to these questions is yes, you may decide that the startup is a good place to move to.