Startups pose unique challenges when it comes to recruiting for several reasons. Of course, there's the usual careful consideration of a candidate and what skills and expertise they'd bring to a role but when dealing with often smaller teams, making the right choice is critical. A bad hire in a large business is problematic and has a cost but its usually survivable. A bad hire on a team of eight, say, can have a far larger, and more disruptive, impact. Yet another challenge comes in the form of the type of candidates who are attracted to startup life. Many tend to be less risk-averse and more flexible which is perfect for a startup, but those same traits can also mean they're more prone to job-hopping. With so much on the line when it comes to hiring the right person, interviews become a crucial tool for finding your next great hire. And since startup life is such a different environment from that of an established business, make sure your interview strategy is adjusted accordingly.
In a previous post, we already introduced the 6 types of roles to hire for in a startup. If you have identified some promising candidates, the next logical step is to narrow down your list and bring them in. To get the most out of your interviews, it can be helpful to have a list of questions more geared toward startup life to help you find great candidates who are also great fits for your company.
Asking the right startup interview questions
There is an endless list of interview questions available but when it comes to startup hiring, the traditional ones might not give you the right candidate information you'll need. To find new hires who are innovative and more suited to a startup environment, try swapping the old favourites for some of these questions.
1) What makes you right for a role in our startup organization?
This is a general interview question that directly inquires as to the intent of the candidate interested in a startup role. The candidate must give some good reasons for wanting to work specifically for a startup which requires an understanding of this type of environment and the challenges it brings.
2) If you’ve worked in a startup before, what were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
It can be beneficial to hire a candidate familiar with startups as their expectations of this kind of job are more realistic. So it’s good to know if they have been successful in the past in a startup or if things didn't go as planned. If they've not had this experience, just ask the candidate to answer a few questions based on a scenario that may occur in a startup to learn more about their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
3) Please describe a time you had to take on a leadership role on a subject you may have been less familiar with.
Being a leader is an important trait to have in a candidate, as is being resourceful. Startups often ask a lot of their employees and this includes taking on more initiative as the company grows. Be sure to screen startup candidates well for leadership and problem-solving abilities (using assessments can help undercover those traits as well). What you want to learn from this question isn't so much about what they've already done as it is about understanding their thought process when faced with unfamiliar tasks or requirements.
4) Are you more interested in great compensation or professional recognition, and why is this important to you?
A startup organization is a perfect place for building a remarkable career, but it cannot always offer the level of salary and benefits that a more established company can right away. This question helps weed out candidates who might not have a realistic expectation about compensation. Not to say that being salary driven is bad, but if you have high mortgage payments and a startup salary is lower upfront, for example, then that's not an ideal situation for anyone. It's better for candidates to know what they're getting into from the start than for them to turnover within their first few months.
5) Who are the leaders you follow and why?
Successful candidates often align themselves with the values and ideals of the founding members of the startup or at least share a similar worldview. Find out who they admire, listen to, read about, and follow online to see if they have similar ideas to the company heads and may come with a mindset more in line with the current startup culture. Finding candidates who can add to your culture as you grow is always a bonus.
6) What are some new ideas you could implement while in this position?
A good candidate for a startup has many ideas and creatively solves problems. If the candidate is interested, he or she will likely do their research and dig deeper to learn more about the company and its goals before their interview. That process might leave them with some ideas of their own to share. If not, verbally give the candidate a run down of a problem your facing and see if they have any insights. Look for candidates with well-thought-out plans of action who come to the interview prepared or at the very least, have spent some time thinking about the company's trajectory and where they might fit into it.
7) What are your plans if you don’t land this role with our company?
The ability to be resilient is what makes one candidate last while another fails in a startup environment. Find out what the candidate has in mind if this job falls through. Do they have a plan B in mind for their careers or do they put all their eggs in one basket? Do they stare at you with a deer-in-the-headlights look or can they joke about their next steps? Startups always need to be prepared for the unexpected so someone who can roll with whatever is thrown their way is invaluable in such a changeable environment.
Other ways to hire well for startups
In addition to startup interview questions, it is a good idea to screen candidates for other traits that lend themselves well to a startup business. Do they work well in close proximity with others and can they get creative with what they have in terms of equipment or resources? How do they handle conflicting ideas? Do they get flustered under pressure? Checking personal references and conducting candidate assessments can reveal many of these factors before taking on the risk of a new hire. Startup jobs are often exciting and innovative but they aren't easy and finding job seekers with the right experience and personality can be a challenge. By adding a few startup tweaks to the hiring process, you can absolutely find the right people and hopefully this list of questions will give you a good place to start.
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