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6 Questions to ask if you're hiring for a startup

July 20, 2022

Whether you’re a hiring manager, recruiter, or founder, finding out why a candidate is interested in your startup can be invaluable to making the right hire. Below, we’ve rounded up our top six interview questions to ask when hiring for a startup - add one or two of these to your list for your next interview!

1. What interests or excites you about this company?

Candidates who go to a startup often have a personal connection to the industry they want to join - for example, someone joining a healthcare startup may have a passion for health and fitness, or someone joining a real estate startup may have their own property investments. Candidates who can demonstrate their enthusiasm or interest in the industry they’re potentially joining are a great sign.

Other candidates may answer this question with excitement toward a specific role, like becoming a Head of Product. Their answer may touch on interest in the company, but focus on how excited they are to grow a team, or how their skills meet your needs.

Candidates who give answers that are vague or short (like “this just seems like a great opportunity") may not be the best fit. Likewise, candidates who express only their own career aspirations and why the role is a great fit for THEM may also not be the best fit.

2. Why a startup?

Short and direct, this question gets at the heart of what a candidate is looking for. Do they move quickly? Do they like working on new business ideas? Do they understand the value of equity packages? It also also gives you a chance to answer the candidate’s questions about the organization’s size and background.

Similarly to asking “what excites you?”, candidates who are eager to join talk about the way they want to take on a greater range of responsibilities or grow a team from the ground up.

Candidates who aren’t aware of your organization’s stage, are also interviewing at large companies, or don’t indicate specific interest in startups may not be the right fit for the role.

3. How do you manage changing priorities or shifts in focus?

Understanding how candidates reacts to pivots is key to evaluating their fit in your company’s culture. For example, if a department’s budget gets cut or a client issue requires immediate action from the whole team, how does your candidate work through those challenges? Do they maintain a positive attitude? Do they identify ways to pivot? Do they work well with the team?

A strong candidate will answer the question by explaining their thought process. What do they prioritize, what do they delegate, and what do they put on hold or eliminate from their workload? In many cases, the response to an unforeseen challenge is more important than the challenge itself.

4. Tell me about your previous experience launching new tools or building a tech stack.

Setting up a tool or program for the first time or even determining which tech stacks are right for a company is often a responsibility that falls to early startup employees. While not every candidate needs to use a programming language, launch a CRM, or install a new platform, having the skills to evaluate new tools against business needs can be valuable.

This question could also be phrased as, “Tell me about a time when you launched a new project” or “Tell me about a time when you had to choose between options for a new business initiative.” Bonus points if they can share what they learned from the experience and how they would apply it to a new role!

5. Are you interested in learning about venture capital or the fundraising process?

It’s worth noting that many candidates are interested in joining startups because they want exposure to the venture capital world, or perhaps one day want to start their own business.

While not every successful candidate needs to (or should!) have an interest in meeting investors, an eagerness to understand how a startup works and how it differs from more established companies is a plus. Candidates who understand how fundraising cycles work may have a clearer understanding of the company’s goals and KPIs, and how their role can impact these goals.

6. If a candidate is coming from a large company, ask about specialization and how they want to advance their career.

Let’s say you’re interviewing for a founding engineer role and your candidate is currently working in a very specialized position (for example, as a Backend engineer working on a niche product feature at a large company). Asking, “Why a startup, instead of continuing to advance your career in this niche role or industry?” can be a worthy question to pose. Top candidates will give insight into how this particular role better suits their skillset, or how their seemingly-niche background can bring a lot of value to a new company. Plus, asking this question can shed light on whether they’re really interested in making a switch, or just unhappy with their current employer!

Want some additional ideas of interview questions? Check out our post on hiring for leadership roles, or our post on fresh interview questions for 2022.

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