Rise My Venture team research shows that more than half of the students or working professionals always love to work at a promising startup rather than a MNC.
Have you ever wondered what questions are asked in Startup interviews?
Not feeling very confident for your first startup job interview? That’s all right. For you folks, we have compiled a list of 20 asked Startup job interview questions.
1. Did you ever have your own Startup?
When Startup founders are scouting for their core team, they often reach out to people who have had their own Startup in the past. Such people generally know how to get shit done, work their ass off to achieve a goal, and then celebrate accordingly. That attitude is surprisingly not very common, and extremely valuable to early-stage Startups.
If you are asked this question in an interview, highlight the journey of your Startup, your biggest learning, your wins and your failures. You must have spent time analysing why things happened in a certain way, or why things didn’t work out. Share your analysis, your method of approach to the problem, etc. in your interview.
In case you’re asked this question in an interview, but you’ve never had your own Startup, the best way to go about answering this question is to talk about the ideas you’ve had. Face it, everyone has ideas for Startups (these days). Tell them how you went about validating your idea, or how you did market research for the same.
The interviewers want to see that you do things, instead of just thinking about them or planning to do them. Show them what you’ve “DONE” and you’ll leave them impressed.
2. Have you used our product?
Please don’t ever go a Startup job interview that you’re serious about without first using their product. Period. Do you really want to be sitting in a room shifting uncomfortably on your chair while you explain to them how amazing their product is and how you strongly believe in its vision blah blaaaah without first having used it?
Before your interview, at least spend a day using their product. Depending on the role you are being interviewed for, the answer to this question will vary. But what the interviewers really want to hear is your honest experience about the product, and some insights.
For example, if you are interviewing for a Product Manager role, start by listing 5 redundant features in the product, and your hypothesis for the same. Definitely suggest ways to improve those features, or suggest scrapping them altogether. Just remember, whatever you say, back it up with a valid hypothesis or some hard numbers.
This is especially true for Product and Marketing role interviews. If you can back up your words with data, there’s nothing like it.
3. Who are our biggest competitors?
Ready for your Startup job interview? No, you’re not. Not if you don’t know about their biggest competitors. Interviewers (most commonly Startup founders themselves) are looking to hire talented individuals who are aware of what’s going on in the industry.
You need not know the revenue numbers of the Startup’s competitors, however having a basic idea of how well they are doing will go a long way in your interview. It’s a topic that might be discussed in brief in most interviews, so it’s best you do your research (it’s easy, seriously) and form some thoughts about the competitors, their methods, their recent round of funding, and things like that.
4. Where do you see this company heading?
You obviously aren’t going to interview for a company or a Startup that you think would go bust in the next 12 months. Why did you apply for that interview? Think about why it’s a good idea for you to further your career in their company or Startup. Package those points and present them nicely.
Talk to the interviewers about where you see the company or Startup heading. Do you think they have high potential but need a slight change in the revenue model? Suggest it. Trust me, they want to hear those suggestions and are waiting for the right person to identify and bring them up.
Ultimately, they aren’t looking for a person who’s going to tell them that “boss, with your current trajectory and , you will reach a $100 million valuation in 5 years.”
They want to hear you say that “maybe if you tried this, your churn rate would drastically improve over the next few months”
5. Why do you want to work here?
Be honest (but not too honest).
For example – If the salary is very high, tell the interviewers that you are attracted by the compensation package for the job and like that the company is ready to pay top dollar for top talent. But don’t tell them that you want to earn lots of money and they are the easiest way for you to be able to do that.
There could be a number of reasons why you want to join a particular Startup or company. Be honest and blunt about the reasons, but not too much either. If it’s the open culture of the workplace that attracts you, or the fact that the job role is one of very high difficulty, mention it in your interview.
6. Why should we hire you?
Don’t blank out on this one. Answering this question properly in your job interview could land you a job.
This is one of the most important questions in an interview, and it is also one of the best questions for the candidate. Why do I say that? Because with this question, it is completely up to you on how you answer it. No need for company stats, competitor analysis, etc. Everything asked in this question is about YOU, so make the best of it.
Perhaps the best way to go about answering this question is to start with your relevant skills. If the job is for Marketing, start by talking about your creativity that helps with the job, any relevant examples of where you’ve used your creativity in the past, etc. You might also want to focus on your analytical skills, the ability to measure data, and include an example of where you’ve done that in the past.
Mentioning the results would help. If your past results are positive, then well and good. If they are gloomy, talk about why you think those results aren’t very positive, and what you think could have been done to improve things.
Finally, you can wrap up with talking about how you can leverage your skills and insights from past experiments into doing a great job in the role you’re interviewing for.
Another thing that has high chances of working is telling a story. Remember that one shiny moment from your previous job where you felt proud of yourself for what you accomplished? Talk about that day, tell the interviewers what you did, how you did, and the results. Then give them your analysis, mention the skills you utilized in achieving those results, and finally talk about how you can leverage those skills in their company for achieving similar or even better targets.
7. Do you have any questions for us?
At the end of most interviews, the interviewer often asks the candidate “Do you have any questions for us?”
The most common answer is “No”, or . Both answers are a waste since you the question you ask also impacts the chances of you scoring a job from the interview.
So, what should you ask the interviewer? Relevant questions! Questions such as:
- “What is your vision for the company?”
- “How fast is the company growing?”
- “Do you plan to exit or IPO in the near future?”
- “Do you use your own Startup’s product?”
Remember to ask smart and relevant questions, and you’ll do good.
Do bear in mind that different Startups hire differently, as a result of which they ask a variety of questions in their interviews. Our post will help you prepare for the most commonly asked Startup interview questions.
8. What apps can you tell me about that aren’t lame?
We want the apps we make to be trendy, but if your favorite apps are Flappy Bird and Instagram, we have a problem. Tell me about something I haven’t heard of yet. I like when a candidate knows about apps that I don’t – as long as they’re not lame. And, here’s the twist: Tell me what you would change about this app. “It’s a cool app” is a rather pedestrian opinion.
9. What do you hate about apps that you use frequently?
The best project managers are big complainers. If you have no critiques about an app, then how will you help Fueled build the best apps in the market? Be a perfectionist. Be an improver.
10. What start-up would you work on if I gave you money to do so?
I don’t want to see your business plan. I want you to speak intelligently about the ideas that you have. We deal in ideas – people pitch us concepts all day. Also, if your startup dream is to open a restaurant or shoe store, you probably shouldn’t be interviewing at a tech company.
11. How many people live in India?
We like people who possess a lot of general-knowledge information because you never know how it might come in handy. With a country population estimate, it’s okay to be off by a couple of million. But if you think there’s 100,000 or 100,000,000 New York City residents, that’s quite concerning. If we wanted to create an app targeting a Indian audience, how can we expect you to build out a business model if you don’t know the size of the audience?
12. What’s the latest news you’ve heard from the tech industry?
You should be able speak about startups and the tech scene in general, how companies get funded, who’s getting funded, and what you think about it. We like people who possess an entrepreneurial spirit.
13. How does the Internet work?
Explain it to me. If you want to work in a technical position, go into detail. And for other positions, i8t’s a bonus when we find people who understand technology really well.
14. What music do you listen to? What books do you read? What movies do you like?
There’s no right or wrong answer, and you don’t have to be into these things. But you have to be into something, and I want to know why. I like to see depth in a person.
15. How good are you at ping-pong?
It’s nice to have some table talent around. Definitely not a requirement, though.
16. What did you do over the weekend?
We’re not judging you. I don’t care what you did over the weekend – but I do care how you tell me about what you did. A big part of being conceptual is being a good storyteller. Being able to verbally convey information well is important. If you did nothing over the weekend, it’s still 48 hours of nothing. Even sleeping in can be an interesting story if you make it one.
17. What will the company look like in a year?
From any and all perspectives — product, people, team, revenue? You’d be surprised how well you can discriminate a team that has true vision and their act together from one that doesn’t just by the answer here. Is it rambling? It is delusional? Does it all make sense and tie to the data and learning you have so far?
Take it out more than a year, it’s just PowerPoint-level. Take it in 90 days, that’s just tomorrow.
But you’re being hired really to make an impact 9-12 months out. The answer will help you learn a lot.
18. What do I need to accomplish in my first 90-120 days to be a success and have an impact?
You’d be surprised how many hires can’t answer this question. They just want to fill a slot. Is that all you want? Or do you want to have an impact? If it’s a great opportunity, they’ll know exactly how someone great (a great sales rep, a great engineer, a great customer success) can move the needle — at least some needle — and make an impact within 90 days.
And if you listen a lot to these answers, I think you’ll also get a sense of the inherent quality of the company beyond what you can tell from Angel List and Tech Crunch.
19. “What concerns do you have about our company?”
Strange question? Not really. No company – and no job – is perfect for any employee (even its founders.) Every company and every job has its challenges and potential downsides.
The candidates you want to hire don’t think your company is perfect; they’ve done sufficient research to know that while yours is not the perfect company and the job is not the perfect job, yours is a company they want to work for because they can thrive, make a difference, develop and learn and grow and achieve… and be a key part of taking your company to even greater heights.
And as a result they’re willing to honestly share their concerns – because they trust you run a company that values openness, honesty, and transparency.
20. “What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?”
Everyone makes tough decisions. (Well, at least everyone you want to hire does.)
Good candidates made a decision based on analysis or reasoning. Great candidates made a decision based on data and on interpersonal considerations – because every important or meaningful decision, no matter how smart it looks on paper, eventually has an effect on and must be carried out by people.
A company at its core is made up of people. Great employees weigh both sides of an issue, considering the “business” aspects as well as the human impact.
21. “Tell me about a time when you had to slog your way through a ton of work. How did you get through it?”
We all are required to at least occasionally place our noses on the grindstone. Most people can slog through the drudgery because they have to.
The candidates you want to hire can take on a boring task, find the meaning in that task, and turn it into something they want to do.
Great employees turn the outer-directed into the self-directed – and in the process, perform at a much higher level. And gain a greater sense of fulfillment.
On the flip side.
22. “What were you doing the last time you looked at a clock and realized you had lost all track of time?”
We do our best when a task doesn’t feel like work but feels like what we are meant to do.
I have never met an exceptional candidate that didn’t at one point have this feeling where time didn’t matter. Call it being “in the zone” or “flow” or whatever you want — all great people experience it.
This ability to commit passionately to a project/task is particularly important for high-growth businesses. These moments of high-creativity and high-productivity are often when the best ideas come.
Explore what candidates feel they were meant to do. A lack of experience is less important when a candidate has hunger and drive. And, if someone isn’t passionate enough about something (whether it’s related to their job or not) you should worry as to whether there’s anything at your company that is going to get them fired up.
Why? You can teach skills… but you can’t teach love.
23. “Describe a time you felt you were right but you still had to follow directions or guidelines.”
Surprisingly, this question can be a great way to evaluate a candidate’s ability to follow and to lead.
Poor candidates find a way to get around the rules because they “know” they were right. Or they follow directions but allow their performance to suffer because they don’t believe in what they’re doing. (You’d be surprised by how many interviewees will admit they didn’t work hard because they felt angry or stifled and expect you to feel their pain.)
Good candidates did what needed to be done, especially if time was of the essence, and later found the right moment to bring up the issue try to improve the status quo.
Great candidates did what needed to be done, stayed motivated… and helped others stay motivated and get things done, too. In a peer environment, an employee who is able to say, “I’m not sure what we’re doing makes perfect sense, but it might, so let’s knock it out!” is invaluable.
In a leadership environment, good leaders are able to debate and argue behind closed doors and then fully support a decision in public, even if they (privately) disagree with that decision.
No employee agrees with every decision, every process, every “best practice”… what matters is how they react and perform when they don’t agree.
24. “What book do you think everyone on the team should read?”
This is one of my favorite questions. It’s partly because I just love books and always looking for new ideas — but partly because most great people always have had a book that they found to be super-useful and like sharing with others. If the person can’t think of a single book that they’d recommend to others, that’s a warning sign. Either they don’t enjoy reading — or possibly, they don’t think that the kinds of things they need to learn can be found in books. Both worry me.
Curiosity is a wonderful indicator of intellect and, oddly enough, modesty, because curious people are willing to admit they don’t know and are then willing to work to learn what they don’t know. Curious people also tend not to be cynics (see “Skeptics vs. Cynics: Which Are Toxic?”).
Every business needs employees who can set their egos aside and ask questions. Every business needs employees who are willing to say, “I don’t know how – can you help me?”
25. “Tell me about a time you felt company leadership was wrong. What did you do?”
I certainly don’t have all the answers. And I’m definitely not always right. So I want people to question my perspectives; push back when I come to conclusions; ask, “Why?” and, sometimes more critically, “Why not?”
Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it, so we make uncommon amounts of information available to everyone in my company, HubSpot. We don’t want to just “win” debates. We want to be right. We want to make smarter decisions and support smarter behavior.
So we want employees who aren’t afraid to take that information and run with it… and challenge, in a healthy way, each other and executive leadership. Especially executive leadership.
26. What does, “This parrot is no more!” mean to you?
Walk around some companies and you’ll hear Monty Python (the quote above), or Office Space, or Spinal Tap, or Seinfeld quotes tossed around all the time. That’s because recognizable quotes are like verbal shorthand, getting across in one or two sentences what normally takes much longer to explain. And, speaking of Seinfeld (of which both my co-founder and I are fans), one of the quotes we use all the time is “Why don’t you just tell me the movie you want to see…” (from the classic MoviePhone episode).
The candidate doesn’t have to recognize the quote or cultural reference you make. In itself that’s not important – but if your team has, say, a quirky sense of humor, it’s awesome if the candidate does, too.
And just in case you don’t get much of a response to this question, go to
27. “What movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, do you have to watch when it’s on?”
Same thing. A favorite movie can indicate a lot about a candidate’s personality. I can watch Moneyball over and over because it’s an entertaining movie filled with lessons on business and entrepreneurship.
One candidate may love a story about overcoming the odds. Another may love a comedy. Doesn’t matter. The question really helps you learn more about the person (not their skills). This question often leads to a fun, engaging conversation.
28. “Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?”
When your company is focused on getting (stuff) done conflict is inevitable. The candidate who pushes all the blame – and the responsibility for rectifying the situation – on another person is one to avoid. Better is the candidate who focused not on blame but on addressing and fixing the problem.
Best of all are the people who admit they were partly or completely at fault (because it always takes two to do the conflict tango), took responsibility, and worked to make a bad situation better.
Every business needs employees who will admit when they are wrong, take ownership for fixing the problem, and most importantly learn from the experience.
29. “What business would you love to start?”
Startups naturally attract entrepreneurs-in-training. That’s awesome: Sure, they may leave someday to start their own companies, but in the meantime your business benefits from their entrepreneurial spirit, drive, and attitude.
And they’re much more likely to fit in to your organization, since they immediately embrace the differences in working for a startup rather than a corporation.
What type of business they would like to start may not matter; what does matter is the fact they have ideas and hopes and dreams – because if they do, they will bring those ideas and hopes and dreams to your business.
30. “What would you most like to learn here that would help you in the future?”
This is somewhat of a follow-up to question 11. If they do have a startup in mind that they’d love to start someday. It’s revealing to figure out where they think they need help (finance? marketing? sales?) The other benefit of this question is that it sends a signal to the individual that we care about growing people. The saying at HubSpot is “We don’t want to just build a great company, we want to build great people.”
This article has been well researched by Rise My Venture team.