10 Job Questions Only A Startup Will Ask You

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Are you looking for a job in the startup world? Things can vary a lot from traditional job interviews, so you should be prepared. Here are some questions you'd better have an answer for.

My job interview at the startup I worked for for almost two years was split in two parts and at first I didn’t even know it was part of an interview. Anyway, when I first met the two founders of zoomsquare at the Pioneers Festival I told them about the idea I had for doing my own startup. They gave me lots of feedback and we agreed to stay in touch. Back home I contacted them via Facebook and told them I would like to support them. They invited me over to their office. I didn’t expect too much since I had studied psychology and had no clue of tech and they were developing a real-estate search enginge. I offered to distribute flyers if they had some or do back office stuff or maybe write a blog post if they let me. Ha! That’s not the way things work in startups. Christoph leaned back in his seat, smiled and asked ‚If you could do whatever you wanted, what would you like to do? What would be a fun thing to do for you?’ Huh? You ask me this, even though you know I’m ‚just’ a graduate of psychology? I was puzzled. That’s not what I was used to be asked in job interviews.
I ended up being zoomsquare’s product manager and was responsible for the product development, which is exactly what I loved doing!

When you are about to have a job interview at a startup, be prepared to be… not prepared! Actually everything could happen. Nevertheless I collected some questions you could be asked below. (When I did my research on this topic I even stumbled upon a startup asking their candidates ‚Why are you not suitable for this role?’)

Here are 10 job questions only a startup will ask you:

1. If you could do whatever you wanted, what would you like to do? What would be a fun thing to do for you?

This is the question I was asked. I especially like this one. Many of my friends studied things like history, philosophy or linguistics and they think they can’t ever find jobs besides one at university. But that’s just not true! Many skills you need for a job aren’t taught at university anyway (putting aside law, medicine etc.). If you want to learn something new go to coursera, skillshare, udacity or you can learn to code at codecademy, khan academy, treehouse and you can train yourself to be a blogger and show off your expertise in a topic. Don’t be afraid of trying out new things and teach yourself the things you need to succeed.

2. Have you tested our product? Tell me, what would you change and improve about it?

I hope you try a product or service before applying for a job! This question will definitely be asked. Of course they want someone who already knows and maybe even likes their product. Startups (need to) appreciate feedback and they iterate their product constantly based on feedback. I’m sure you’re going to be confronted with user feedback as soon as you work there.

3. If you organized a team event, what would it be?

Ha! This question aims to find out if you’re a good fit for the team. Lasertag? Skydiving? Minigolf or a day at the lake? Maybe they hope to hear you’ll be organizing it as well. Time is a scarce resource at a startup.

4. If you didn’t need to earn money, what would you love to do?

Find a balance between stating your dreams/telling them you would love to just chill at the beach and still sounding like you want to do some work.

5. Look at your phone, which apps are open? Which apps do you like to use frequently?

I actually counted mine and I use about 10 apps frequently, I would say. It’s a way of doing market research of course and getting to know you and at the same time making you aware of the fact that only a few apps will survive and get through to the user.

6. What do you want to learn here?

You can learn tons at a startup. From coding to online marketing to business stuff to leadership to teambuilding to… A startup is very flexible and you’ll be able to look into different areas. Not only look, you most likely be thrown into different areas and they expect you to acquire the skills needed. That’s why it’s important to be clear about the skills you want to train.

7. Pitch our product! You’ve got 90 seconds! Or: Pitch yourself.

You don’t know what a pitch is? A very short and razor-sharp presentation of key information. It’s also called ‚elevator pitch’. Imagine you meet your idol at the elevator and want to convince him or her of your idea. You only got about 90 seconds. Go!

8. Did you try any products of our competition? What do they do better?

It’s always good to have a look at the competition. Make some notes about what you like/dislike about their product or service.

9. Which product, app, service or other startup inspires you?

To be innovative startups have to think out of the box and adapt cool ideas from other areas to their own project. They want to know if they can expect new input from you and again check out what you’re interested in.

10. Actually, we are just about to do xy, would you help us?

This is typically startup. They’re always up to 1000 things at one time and a helping hand is always welcome. If you want to work for them, say yes and support them!

And as always, ask some questions back. Here I’ve got some for you that will make the founder’s heart bump with joy:

  • What’s the why behind your startup, what gets you up in the morning with euphoria?
  • Actually after this question you won’t be able to ask any other questions because the founder will go on and on telling you about the vision they have and how they’ll change the world. But if he gives you a chance, you can also ask:
  • What’s the problem you’re solving?
  • What’s your goal, the goal you try to achieve in the next 6 months?
  • Show me your product!

This could be finishing the interview. You’ll have a look at the product and will drift off into a casual discussion. My interview ended in a great and again unexpected way: I was told that the empty desk behind me could be mine and if I wanted to come on Monday, there will be a computer and a working email address for me. Strike!



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