4 Questions to Ask (And 4 Not to Ask) When Interviewing at a Startup

Woman interviewing at a startup


Dana Levin-Robinson
Dana Levin-Robinson142
CEO and Co-Founder @Upfront

A job at a startup can be exciting, scary, and fulfilling; interviewing for one is a similar journey. 

The unpredictability of a startup interview is especially true if you are transitioning from another industry or larger company. You might find yourself stumped during the dreaded “do you have any questions for me?” section of the interview. 

Depending on the company’s size, age, and funding situation, you’ll face a different set of challenges. And these challenges can be completely unique to the challenges you might've faced at another company — especially a corporate one. To ensure you’re asking the relevant questions during the interview, here are questions to ask during a startup interview, divided by on funding round — a useful indicator of exactly what an organization is looking for. 

Seed Stage. 

For seed stage companies, you want to learn whether there is a realistic market for the product and how far along the company is in addressing it. It will be rare for a company to have a fully built out product or many clients at this stage, so focus on whether the strategy sounds plausible and promising. 

Questions to ask:

1. What was the insight that drove the founders to form the company?

2. Why did you join the company?

3. Is the product functional or still in development? If the latter, what is the launch timeline?

4. Do you have any clients or customers yet? If not, how do you plan to acquire them?

Series A- B.

Companies at this stage have often have a fully functional product and several customers. Its focus areas will be on properly scaling its team and operations, acquiring more clients, and improving the product.

Questions to ask:

1. Do you feel there is a strong market/product fit?

2. How many clients do you have?

3. How is the staff structured?

4. Is the company profitable/what is latest valuation of the company? (Note: occasionally companies may not want to answer financial information. This is not necessarily a red flag as most startups are privately owned and don’t publicly disclose financials.)

Series C and above.

By this point,  the company has established processes across operations, marketing, and tech and the market is familiar with the product offering. Most often, the company is expanding its operations to new markets or verticals to grow revenues.

Questions to ask:

1. Which markets have you seen the most traction in?

2. What do the people who do well at this company have in common?

3. Which areas of the company do you see the most growth/hiring in the upcoming year?

4. Is the company’s goal to go public or get acquired?

There are also some questions to avoid. 

Most of these indicate a lack of research, or focusing on the parts of the job that are not about the company mission.

1. When were you founded?

This can easily be found on Google or in a company’s press coverage

2. Who are your competitors? 

You don’t have to know the full list of companies and their differentiating features, but it’s helpful to at least read a few articles about the industry the startup is in and who the players are.

3. How long is the work day? 

This question often indicates a bigger interest in a 9-5 job than the work itself. Generally speaking, earlier stage companies have longer hours and asking this question too early in the interview process is a red flag. Save this question for post offer or during the last round with someone who is more a peer than a hiring manager.

4. Is the salary negotiable? 

Similarly to working hours, ask this later closer to the offer as it signals that money is a bigger priority than the work.

Startup hiring managers are looking for candidates that are passionate about the company mission and product. Regardless of the stage, make sure to always ask a few questions in each interview. Have any additional suggestions for what to ask in startup interviews?  Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up!