The most essential job interview questions for startups focus on company culture. Many candidates will simply ask, “What’s your company culture like?” That’s a good start, but there are more specific questions you can ask to understand the startup core values.
Not understanding that culture, can lead you to accept a job that isn’t the right fit. Not only is this likely to have repercussions for your career trajectory, the losses in productivity and morale may carry over to your teammates. Make sure to ask the right questions so you make the most informed decisions.
What to Ask the Talent-Acquisition Team
Recruiters are often gatekeepers in the hiring process for early-stage startups. Keep in mind: Some recruiters are more specialized than others so their knowledge of the more technical aspects of a role will vary. However, they should be able to answer questions regarding the dynamics of a team, as well as the company’s overall mission and day-to-day operations.
Good Questions to Ask Recruiters:
1. Does the company encourage innovation and taking risks? Most startups are built on this mindset. However, If you're a big risk-taker looking to join a cutting-edge technology startup, a natural follow-up question is, “What happens if a person fails to actualize their vision?” or “How long is the runway for seeing a vision through before a pivot?”
2. Which personality traits do stand-out employees possess?
3. What’s an example of a recent project or action that furthered the organization’s mission?
4. In what ways does the company recognize employees for their results?
5. How can you tell if someone is not fitting in with the company, and what happens when they’re deemed a cultural mismatch?
What to Ask Prospective Team Members or a Hiring Manager
After the initial telephone or video screening with a member of the talent-acquisition team, you may begin interviewing with the hiring manager and prospective teammates. Since you’ll likely interface and collaborate with them daily, it’s important to build rapport. Understanding the department’s working style and group dynamics can help you determine if the company culture is a match — and vice versa.
Good Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager or Prospective Colleagues:
1. What’s your favorite part about working here? And what’s the most challenging aspect of the job or the company?
2. How is impact and/or success measured in this role — what should I have achieved in six months?
3. How does the company ensure great communication and culture with their remote workers?
4. What are common causes of conflict among the team, and how are they resolved?
5. Are there any common traits among the people that have been promoted from within? How important is it to the company to provide career development and promote from within?
What to Ask People in Leadership Roles
After the initial recruiter screening and subsequent interview with team members often comes a meeting with the CEO or another high-level executive member, such as the CTO or CFO, depending on the role. This is usually the final interview that rounds out the hiring process and is unique to early-stage startups because even entry-level roles aren’t filled until they sign off. At a small company, every hire is important to ensure success. Missteps can be costly and counterproductive.
At some early-stage startups, however, a candidate may skip either the recruiter screening and/or team evaluation altogether to interview directly with the CEO. In these cases, it’s crucial to develop a solid grounding of the company culture, as the CEO may extend a job offer directly at the end of the interview.
Questions to Ask:
1. How would you describe your leadership style, and which leaders inspire you?
2. What’s the most important aspect of the company that helps it stay competitive in the industry?
3. Which traits do the most successful employees at this company all have in common?
4. What measures does the company take regarding social responsibility and how does the company give back to the community?
5. As the leader of the organization, how do you handle your work-life balance?
Company culture can be the difference between an employee’s thriving career and one that needs to rebound from setbacks. Teammates who share a common set of clear goals, values, and practices have a greater sense of purpose and passion for their work. Doing everything you can to discover if a company is the right fit for you starts with your interview process.
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