Before you apply for any new job, you need to figure out your top priority in a new role. For most people, this will be one of three things: compensation, career or culture. Making the decision to join a startup isn’t always easy. We’ve heard it time and time again that 90 percent of startups fail, which forces the question: Am I prepared to take the risk? After all, when you accept a startup job offer, you’re making a bet on a company that may or may not be around in five years.
1. Can I Afford This?
If you are coming from the corporate world, you will likely take a pay cut but gain flexibility in schedule. Make sure you know what kind of salary you need to live on and don’t forget to negotiate. Startups may not be able to offer more money but they can offer other perks like equity, potential to work remotely, etc.
2. How can I grow in this role and with this company?
If you are going to take the risk of joining a startup, you want to ensure it pays off not just financially, but professionally as well. In startup world, you typically wear multiple hats—and that can be rewarding because it often translates into having more autonomy over what you learn and how you grow. Are there skills you can gain in this role that could advance your career and better position you for your next job? If so, now might be the right time to join the team.
3. Who Are the Founders and Do I Believe in Their Vision?
Understanding the founders and their backgrounds are crucial. Is this their first startup? Are they new to the industry? How do they approach team collaboration? What is their vision for the company? The answers to these questions will determine how they run the organization. You are entrusting these people with the next stage of your career, and will likely spend more time with them than you will your own friends and family. You need to trust and believe in their vision. And remember, just because you are impressed with what a company is doing, doesn’t mean they are they best fit for you.
During the interview, ask:
1. What Does Success Look Like for the Company?
At a growing company, there are endless decisions to be made that will affect the course of the company and its eventual outcome. While you’ll likely never have a crystal ball to see into the future, understanding the general direction the founders want to take the company will help you decide whether it’s the place for you. Would they rather get acquired as soon as possible or build a big stand-alone company? If the former, it’s helpful to understand why they want to be acquired—is the market size not big enough? What is the mission for the company? What big problems will it solve that someone else isn’t solving?
2. What Does Success Look Like in This Role and How Will I Be Measured?
It’s important to remember: You are being hired for a reason. Whether to solve a particular problem or launch a new division of the company, it should be obvious what “success” looks like in that particular role. Will you be evaluated against the overall objective or smaller, predetermined milestones? Also, who’s responsible for determining “success”—your direct manager, the founders, or the company’s board of directors? This should also be clear because you want to ensure your goals and values align with the appropriate decision-makers.
3. What Are the Company’s Values?
Founders typically set the tone and culture of the company early, and their decisions have a trickle-down effect. If your values don’t align with the people running your company, consider it an early warning sign that it may not be the company for you. It’s important to remember that startup culture is inherently different from corporate culture, and you should evaluate whether it is right for you. If the company’s values can’t be clearly expressed, it’s likely there’s no roadmap in place, which means less structure. Some startup employees are expected to work more than 40 hours a week and when you commit to those hours, you want to know that you believe in the company’s mission and enjoy the team you will be spending so much of your time with.
There isn’t going to be one right answer to all of these questions; everyone has their own list of priorities. Some people are willing to take a pay cut to work alongside a team of awesome humans or maybe you won’t take the job without the promise of equity. No matter your approach, you need to know what point you are going to walk-away – and don’t hesitate to negotiate.
Ultimately, what matters is: Do I believe in their mission? Do I believe in the problem they are solving? If you answer yes to these, you are closer than you think.