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Build Your Career Get Ahead

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Joining a Startup

Working at a startup can be a good stepping stone toward owning your own business, but employees considering a job at a startup should ask themselves whether they are ready for the task, according to Polly Black, director of the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest University, who said startups often operate in an “all hands on deck” type of environment.

Black offers a list of questions for employees to ask themselves before accepting a job at a startup. Startups , too, can use this guide to consider whether they’ve got the right person for the job and to make sure potential employees understand what they are getting into.

1. Passion — Do you have a real passion for what the small startup company is doing? You will likely be working long hours for little pay, so passion  will be essential, Black said.

2. Financial stability — What kind of financial backing does the company have? If it is already in business, is it profitable? If it is a social enterprise, how is it sustainable?

3. Chemistry — Do you really fit with the people? With small startups, it is all about the team and working together.

4. Market need — Can the company leaders clearly articulate the market need they are meeting with their product or service in a sentence or two? If not, that may indicate a lack of focus and clarity that could result in the company going nowhere.

5. Experience — What type of work will you be doing? Will you be included in meetings and decision-making? How much autonomy will you have and are you comfortable with that?

Black offered suggestions on how to find out the key information needed to make a good decision.

“Ask if the company has any outside investors,” she said. “Ask how much of a burden adding a new person will have on the budget for the year. How will they make money to support operations and/or generate profit? If the business launch is delayed, how long could they afford to keep the same staffing?” If the company has been trying to get off the ground for a long time and hasn’t made it, that can be a bad sign. You might want to probe to understand what has changed that makes this a more attractive proposition now.

To figure out whether or not the chemistry is right, Black suggests meeting with as many team members as possible. It is good to see them interact with each other, but you will also want to meet with them individually and ask them each the same questions to find out if they are aligned in their vision for the business and your potential role in it.

Joining a company in the early growth stages offers more flexibility to gain experience and try things, said Black, who coaches and mentors students in their entrepreneurial endeavors. “You’re not trying to steer the Queen Mary, you’ve got a little sailboat here,” Black said. “You can change direction and try new things pretty quickly.”