Career skills

19 Killer Questions to Ask in a Startup Interview

Most startup interviews end with the potential employer asking you one final question: whether you have any questions of our own. Knowing what questions to ask can be difficult, especially if you come unprepared. No one wants to walk away from an interview realizing they forgot to ask that one important question they meant to ask.

When you’re interviewing with a startup, you’ll want to do your research ahead of time, preparing yourself with a list of killer questions that will give you the information you need and ensure you make a great first impression with the company.

Be ready for to respond to "any questions?" at the end of your startup interview.
Be ready for to respond to “any questions?” at the end of your startup interview.

Here’s the good news: I’ve hired dozens of people at startups, so I know exactly what questions to ask.

Why interviewers ask, “Any questions?” in a startup job interview

If you haven’t done many interviews before, you may be caught off guard by this question. After all, you’re the one being interviewed, not doing the interviewing. But getting the chance to ask your own questions is actually an excellent position to be in.

Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question. There are several legitimate reasons the interviewer is asking for your questions.

  • The interviewer wants to get to know you. That’s why they invited you into the office in the first place. When you ask questions, it gives the interviewer more insight into your personality and what sorts of questions you ask. Do you ask questions that reflect your desire to stick with the company? Are you asking questions that show you’re interested in working as a team?
  • The interviewer wants to see if you did your research. These days, it’s easier than ever to apply online to dozens of companies at once. Asking well-thought-out questions can show a potential employer that you’ve taken the time to research their company. In other words, asking questions that can’t be answered with a quick look at their website means you’re likely more invested in the interview.
  • The interviewer wants to “sell” you on their company. While most of the power lies in the hands of the future employer, you still ultimately decide whether you want to work for the company or not. Answering your questions gives the interviewer the chance to “sell” the company to you, giving you details about the advantages of working for them.
  • The interviewer is a nice person. Often, asking whether you have any questions is simply the result of good manners. The interviewer may be wishing to be polite, especially considering they probably spent a good portion of the interview speaking themselves and want to give you the chance to talk.

What kinds of questions can you ask in a startup interview?

There is a virtually endless list of types of questions you can ask when interviewing at a startup. Consider asking questions that fall into a range of topics so that you get a clearer understanding of the company. Later, we’ll provide specific examples of questions you can ask on each topic.

  • Logistics
  • Hiring process
  • Role details
  • Team information
  • Company status
  • Questions that reference the interviewer

Differences in questions to ask in startup versus regular interviews

Startups and established companies will have some major differences in their operations and hiring process. Knowing this ahead of time will help you navigate the interview process with a startup much easier.

First of all, remember that by definition, startups haven’t been in the business for very long. The company you’re interviewing with may have been around only a year or two, if that long. Compared with companies that have been established for several decades, startups often have less formal hiring processes. They may also have a less formal compensation policy or even performance review structure.

As you ask questions about your role or the team’s responsibilities, don’t be surprised if all the details haven’t been ironed out yet. A company can take several years to transition into its final form and develop processes for everything. With more variability, the look and atmosphere of a startup can change faster than with a larger company.

The good news is that with a smaller team, the person you’re interviewing will likely know the answers to your questions. They’re also very likely to know the company’s strategy and the direction that it’s headed.

One final (and major) difference between established companies and startups is that startups are often funded through investment. What does that mean for a potential employee? The company may have only a small amount of funds in its early stages. If it doesn’t become profitable or raise enough money to fund the company down the road, that problem could result in layoffs or—worst case— the company dissolving.

How to prepare questions to ask in a startup interview

As you’re preparing for your startup interview, you’ll want to gather information so that you arrive at the interview as prepared as possible.

Where to Research Questions to Ask About a Startup Before Your Interview

You’ll have plenty of resources to peruse online.

  • Google news: Check whether there are any recent news articles about the organization, as these can help you get an idea of the company’s background.
  • Company website: It’s always a good idea to spend some time exploring the company’s website. Many companies also have a blog that will detail company updates, upcoming events, and more.
  • Glassdoor: Hear from other employees that have worked for the company by looking through their Glassdoor page. You can find employee reviews, salary information, and other company-specific details.
  • Social media: Don’t forget that social media is another convenient place to look. Many newer companies blast updates on their social media platforms. You can even follow the company to receive information in the days before your interview.
  • Interviewer profiles: Does the interviewer have a LinkedIn page? Take a look at their profile to get a feel for their professional background and role within the company.
  • Crunchbase: This platform will help you get an idea of the company’s overall financial status and whether they’re raised enough money to be sustainable.

What to Look For When Researching Startups

As you’re reading through these online resources, keep your eye out for the following items:

  • Their product (to ensure you understand what the company sells)
  • Their competitors (to determine how this company is different)
  • Business model (to see how the business makes money)
  • Reviews (to know if customer and employee reviews are good)
  • Strategy (to determine the company’s strategy for the future)

Templates questions to ask in a startup interview

Let’s take a look at some specific questions you can ask, broken down by category.

Logistics/Hiring Process Questions

These questions are the cut-and-dried kind that cover the basics of the interview process.

  • When do you hope to make a decision about hiring someone for this role?
  • When should we schedule the next interview?
  • Can you walk me through the steps of the interview process?
  • What are you looking for in a candidate? What are the most important characteristics?
  • Can you share what type of exercise you might use to assess where I have the skills for this role?

Questions About the Role

Of course, you’ll likely want to ask a few questions to clarify details about the position you’re applying for. These questions will be job-specific, but you can think about asking how many projects you’ll be responsible for in a certain timeframe, if you’ll be supervising any team members, what departments you’d work closely with, who you would report to, etc.

Also consider:

  • What metrics will you use to define success?
  • What are the most important skills for this role?
  • What’s the ideal background/profile of someone in this role?

Questions About the Team

Don’t forget to ask questions about team dynamics.

  • Who will you be working with most closely?
  • What are the key responsibilities of the other people on the team?
  • How many team members are in each role?
  • What departments will you be working with on a day-to-day basis?
  • What does the “chain of command” look like?

Company Status Status

Other great questions to consider relate to the company’s status, but these questions are best left for later in the process.

  • What’s the company’s revenue?
  • What’s the current burn rate? How much funding is in the bank?
  • What was the valuation at the last round?

Questions About Your Interviewer’s Writing/Speech

Has the interviewer mentioned something you want to find out more about? Asking a question about something they said earlier shows you have active listening skills. Perhaps you read about the interviewer on the company website before the interviewer. Show off the fact you did your research and ask a question about something they posted online.

For example:

  • I saw you wrote [XYZ] in your blog. I was curious about …. [Insert a real question you have to demonstrate that you did your research.]

Questions About Your Application

Also consider questions that reflect on your skills and how good of a fit you are for the position.

  • What do you think is the weakest part of my background for this role?
  • What do I most need to demonstrate to convince you that I’d be great for the job?

Other resources to help get a startup job

Spending the time to draft a few key questions before your interview at a startup will help you feel confident and prepared. Other ways to prepare for the interview include:

By Taylor Thompson

Taylor is a co-founder at Purpose Built Ventures, where he helps launch mission-driven companies. Before Purpose Built, Taylor led growth at Almanac, strategy for Curious Learning, and product at PharmaSecure. His work helps 100,000s of people collaborate at work, 4 million children learn to read, and protects billions of medicines from counterfeiting. He has hired dozens of people, helped raise more than $50 million, and contributed to as a researcher with Clay Christensen. Taylor is an Echoing Green Fellow, and he has degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School.

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