So, you want to work at a startup, eh? Getting a coveted interview is just the first step, but it’s a biggie. To get that far, you’ve likely gone up against hundreds of other candidates, all of you battling your way through email inboxes or recruiting software. Getting noticed is just the first hurdle. Once you’ve gotten (jammed) your foot through the door, you’ve got to impress—and be impressed.
Something like a mere 2 percent of all candidates get interviews. And if you’re looking to get in at a well-funded, well-branded startup, like Headspace or The Wing, the barriers are even higher. Those companies are no longer startups but early stage tech companies, well on their way to success and stability.
On the other hand, working at an unknown startup, barely out of the ideation gates, that’s another story. You’ll notice those startups tend to have little or no funding, little or no brand recognition and probably little or no office space (see the pattern here?). In other words, those folks may be more likely to knock on your door and fight harder for you to work for them, and you’ll notice compensation packages are mostly in sweat equity.
Startups tend to have small teams. In this sense, hiring is more critical than ever, and it’s not just because the help is needed. It’s so important to get the perfect fit on a small team, where one person can throw the entire company out of whack. Every hire means something. Every hire is a risk. And that risk flows both ways, as companies want to get the best talent for their money and well, employees don’t want to get screwed.
Don’t leave the interview without answers to these questions.
Given all of this, there are some questions you need to ask if you’re interviewing at any startup. The answers to these questions, combined with your gut feeling, should guide your decision about whether to pursue employment with the company or wait for the next big thing.
1. How much has the company raised so far, and what’s the fundraising strategy going forward?
You’re asking this question, because you want confidence that you’ll be getting paid.
2. Tell me about the work environment and the culture of the team.
Some people will skirt around this one or give you a canned response, like “We work hard, play hard!” (No kidding). But keep asking questions to dig in here, as a culture-fit is crucial to your happiness and long-term fit. You can keep asking questions about this, like how often the team gets together, how they communicate, who owns what, and so on.
3. How will you know if I’m doing a good job?
Remember, startups tend to have little to no processes (there’s that theme again!). They figure things out as they come. Gain some clarity into how your performance will be assessed, so there’s zero surprises down the road.
4. Where do you see the startup headed in the next 12 months?
12 months for a startup very well could be 10 years. A lot could happen, from new product rollouts to additional rounds of funding, or even doubling the team. See if you can figure out what they’re aiming for, and if you’re game to go along for the ride.
5. What’s so unique about your product?
No, it’s not meant to be a smarmy, a-hole question. It’s legit. If they struggle to answer, or give you ridiculously long-winded response, you know what to do: head for the door.