What are the questions to ask in interview for a startup?!?

Remember that an interview is a two-way street. When preparing for an interview, most applicants concentrate on formulating well-crafted answers to potential questions from their interviewers. However, not many realize it is just as important to prepare a few good questions they should ask during the interview.

Asking probing questions in an interview for a startup is essential. The employer should, and will typically, provide an opportunity for you to ask questions at or near the end of the interview.
  1. How much money is in the bank? No explanation needed I guess.
  2. What’s the corporate hierarchy? Startups are generally very flat organizations. But it’s worth asking just the same. Who is the direct report? Do you have access to the founders and/or CEO? How does information flow through the organization? How are decisions made and at what levels? The startup’s corporate hierarchy – even if it’s only 2 or 3 levels deep – can have a significant impact on the day-to-day work environment.
  3. How will performance be assessed? Startups often do a very poor job of reviewing employees. They may try and do employee reviews, and then skip them because they’re too busy. Employee reviews are sketchy at best in startups because things change so quickly. It’s not reasonable to do 3 or 6-month reviews and expect to get really meaningful results (both for the employer and employee.) You want to ask this question to get a feel for how the company operates and communicates internally.
  4. What are the startup’s plans for the next 6-12 months? This is a very big, open-ended question. And that’s intentional. As Mark Suster’s points out, open-ended questions tend to draw the responder out more, get them talking, revealing things. This is important in job interviews. If the interviewer is speaking more than the interviewee that’s a very good sign. Granted, it might mean the interviewer is just a talkative person and wasting your time, but often it means they’re comfortable, warming up to you and eager to connect. There’s a good chance when an interviewee asks this question that they’re going to learn a lot about the startup. It might be difficult to judge the response received, but look for key points around financial strategies, user acquisition, spending of money, marketing & sales strategies, etc. Specifically, look for details tied to the job you’re interviewing for. If you’re applying to a web / graphic design job, look for information related to the work you’d be doing. How important is it? How often does the interviewer talk about it? In what context?
  5. How many more people is the startup hiring in the next 6-12 months? It’s always interesting (and potentially very, very important) to understand how quickly a startup expects to grow. If a startup is planning to hire too aggressively that’s a warning sign. They may be overly optimistic. They may run out of cash too quickly. If a startup is planning to hire too slowly that’s also dangerous, because it might mean the workload is overwhelming for each individual. It’s difficult to judge the right number of new hires a startup should bring on in any given period of time (especially as an interviewee looking from the outside-in) but getting a feel for a startup’s recruitment strategy is helpful nonetheless.
  6. When is a positive cash flow expected and what are the key metrics for success in the next 6-12 months? Startups need very well-defined goals. The interviewer might speak about the startup’s future plans, but now it’s time to dig a bit deeper and get more specific. This question is intended to narrow down on specific metrics or targets that the startup is aiming to achieve in the relatively near future. The intent here is to understand whether those metrics exist, how they’ll be measured and whether they’re reasonable. Ultimately those are the metrics that all employees should be judged against.
  7. What is the exit strategy? When working for a startup you should know about business exit strategy. Consider the following:
  • Sale
  • Mergers
  • IPO
  • Buyout
  • Liquidation of assets

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