The 3 Best Questions To Ask During An Interview In A Tech Start-Up
by Michael Lantry
Job Interview Preparation
Back in 2017 I wrote a blog post about what questions a candidate should ask during an interview in a start-up. I suggested candidates should be asking about the value proposition of the start-up, do they have paying customers and what runway they have with funding. These are all valid questions.
However, my opinion has changed slightly over the years. The aim of these original questions was to assess the risk a candidate might be taking by moving to a start-up. The implication being, that if they cannot satisfy you with their answers, then don't go to the start-up as it's too risky.
My opinion now is that, as a tech professional, the risk of moving to a start-up is low. You would not have any ‘skin in the game’ and can easily find a new job, should the start-up run out of funding or go under. So the downside is relatively low. Plus, if there is equity as part of the benefits package, the upside could be really exciting.
The primary benefits to working in a tech start-up
Now I think it's far more interesting for a candidate to learn about the potential skills they will gain while working at the start-up. If you will get the ability to take ownership over aspects of the business, product, infrastructure or client relationships, this can be worth its weight in gold.
This kind of learning can and should be seen as more valuable than, say, an extra 15k basic in a larger, stable, organisation. Very often, I see that candidates who go into a start-up have more accelerated learning. One year in a tech start-up could be seen as two years experience somewhere else.
Taking a longer term view of your career should make you more focused on the learning rather than the money you can make. Taking on a role in a really interesting, well led, start-up can put you on a faster trajectory towards your career goals.
Here are what I now suggest are my top 3 questions to ask to ask during an interview in a tech start-up:
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What autonomy will I have in this role, and what are the parameters of what I would be responsible for?
Asking this question will allow the interviewer to explain how the reporting line will work, and what support you will have in the role. It also allows you to get a clear sense of what you will be taking ownership over.
For example, if you are a Backend Developer and you will be taking ownership for the entire backend within a small team of 4-5, this could be really exciting, as there is a lot of scope in the role to take on multiple challenges, and ultimately, new learnings.
What is the potential future growth for me, within the company?
This question demonstrates that you have a growth mindset and shows ambition. So it gives off a good impression of you. But more importantly, it will give you an opportunity to get a sense of what ambition the company has to grow, and how realistic this might be.
The leaders within start-ups are normally very ambitious, but you also want to be convinced that they know what they are doing and it's believable. There are so many examples of start-ups that have founders who have a great idea, but no idea how to scale the business. You want to be led by founders who can scale the company and therefore create the opportunities for your career growth within the company.
What is your philosophy for employee career development?
This question will give you a really good insight into how much the founder/leader is thinking about the people in the business. Do they talk about learning and development and culture as being majorly important, or are they more externally focused on the customer or market share?
As an employee, you want to know that your leaders will genuinely want to see you prosper and grow within the company. When this happens, you should be exposed to new learning opportunities that will enhance your skillset and make you more attractive to the job market in the future.
A key element to interview preparation is planning what questions to ask. This is worth some serious consideration. I would urge you to think about what your priorities are going into your next role and, if you have an interview with a start-up, you should be less concerned about the earning potential and be focused on what autonomy, learning and ownership you will get in the role.
If you would like to discuss this or would like interview preparation advice, get in touch. You can find more career insights on our page.