Smart candidates will have tough questions for you. Are you prepared to answer them?

Here at HireLabs, we coach candidates to ask tough questions of the founders they are considering working for. We want them to avoid the horror stories that have spread on the internet about working for unorganized, unfunded startups that result in being back on the job market again after too short a time.

As a founder, you need to be prepared for the tough questions from candidates and have data, research, and answers at the ready. Building confidence in your idea’s viability is critical to hiring the best talent. We’ve put together a list of things that you should be prepared to answer.


You should be able to clearly articulate your idea and explain why there is a need in the market. You should also be prepared to share information about your competitors or closely associated businesses in your market space.

Things to think through:

How solid is your idea? How have you validated the idea? How many potential clients have you talked to? What’s your research process? How has your background prepared you to be leading this startup? Who are your competitors? How does your product differ? Where are you in the development process? What’s the timeline to get an MVP (minimally viable product) into customers hands? Have you had successful exits in the past and if not, do you have an advisor who has?

Dollars and Sense

Founders should be prepared to discuss their funding plan and runway, especially for the early joiners. They want to have a sense of confidence in their ability to earn an income prior to and in between formal funding rounds and not find themselves back on the job market in a few short months.

Things to think through:

What is your current growth rate? Where are you in your search for investors? How is the company being funded today? Who are your mentors and advisors, both formal and informal? What’s your run rate? Are your compensation plans equity-heavy, cash-heavy or more balanced? (more on compensation below)

Career advancement

While the career ladder in a startup might look more like a step-stool for a while, you should still be prepared to talk about your vision to grow your employees. Even the most grizzled startup-savvy engineer wants to know if they’ll have opportunities to lead or gain new skills doing something different.

Things to think through:

What progression do you envision for someone in this position? Is this role involved with high-level product and process mapping or decisions? Will this role be involved in pitching investors? Who does this position report to and why? What is the background of the person this role reports to and what is their leadership style? Can you sketch out an early org chart with titles/roles? How many employees to see adding to your staff this year and next?


Most of the candidates we speak with who want to join an early-stage startup are doing so not for income reasons but for the ability to work in a culture that will allow them to grow, learn and innovate. Defining your culture is particularly important early on because the first hires you make will be stewards of your cultural vision.

Things to think through:

What kind of culture are you building? What are the core values that are important to you? Are they documented? What are the qualities of someone who will be successful here? What communication tools do you use for team alignment? Is the team based in one location or remote? If remote, how will you keep the team working well across time zones and distance? What is your vision for work/life balance and the ability to work from home?


Before a candidate is hired, you should have a compensation plan created with salary, equity, and benefits and be able to talk through them in detail. Understanding market rates is particularly important, as you want to remain competitive with other startups.  Compensation is a complicated topic that really deserves a whole post, but here are a few areas you should be prepared to discuss.

Things to think through:

What is your overall compensation philosophy? How is your compensation plan structured? Will you practice pay transparency? What percentage of the company does this equity offer represent? What is the minimum price you would exit for? What benefits do you offer? How is paid time off calculated? What other perks do you offer? How will performance be measured and if the employee exceed expectations, and how will they be rewarded?

We hope this guide will prepare you for the questions most candidates will ask about your startup. Some of them will be tough questions, but thinking through them beforehand and having solid answers will give candidates the confidence to become hires.

The HireLabs team has over 20 years of startup experience. We are here to coach you as you build your foundations - both in process and people. Schedule your free 30-minute call with us today to learn more about preparing for interviews and how to hire top talent in an incredibly competitive environment.

Authored by Stephanie McDonald, Senior Recruiter