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Hiring the ideal candidates for your startup is one of the most critical skills you need to sharpen as a leader. Startup environments can resemble somewhat of a pressure cooker, but can also be highly rewarding given that you’re working with like-minded individuals. The more alike people are in terms of work ethic and attitude in the workplace, the better chances of synergy occurring in the team, which bears greater results.

It’s a laborious process finding high quality fits for your team. To reduce time and increase efficiency, make sure your interview questions are crafted intentionally to what you’re trying to measure in a candidate. Implementing this layer of filtration can help you weed out non-ideal candidates.

Make sure you note a number of qualities and personality types you’re looking for in a candidate before you embark on the hiring process. If you want to go the extra mile, you can implement personality tests as a precautionary step before you hire. These utilize comprehensive questionnaires to produce measures of achievement, competitiveness, conscientiousness, patience, and many more.

When creating applications, use a range of open-ended, ambiguous questions to test hypothetical thinking and values, and specific questions to test job-related skills. Here are five pre-screening questions that will help you get closer to your ideal candidate.

1. Test for Humility: Rate yourself in English on a scale of 1-10.

Ambiguous questions can provide helpful indicators of someone’s personality and mindset.

If you’re looking for someone that is constantly driven to improve and excel at their craft, it’s a rare case they’ll reward themselves with full scores. Conversely, someone who rates themselves at a 10, either doesn’t have a full grasp of their capabilities or remains close-minded about adjusting their way of doing things.

2. Test for Job-Specific Skill: Briefly Summarize Your Experience in the Specified Field

Prepared, generic responses are expected when people are applying for a certain position. For this example, let’s say I’m a coffee shop manager looking to hire a barista for a higher-end cafe in a hotel.

I may get many candidates stating on their resume that they have two years of experience, knowledge of coffee preparation, specialty drinks, and cleaning protocols. Though their experience may be aligned with what I’m looking for, it doesn’t tell me much about their performance. They could sit in the 3 range of making coffee for all I know.

Now if I get a candidate that incorporates some of the finer details I’m looking for in a concise response, it might serve as a better indicator of experience. For example, they mention the precise temperature the milk should be set at for cappuccinos, and what type of measuring equipment they’re accustomed to measuring grounds.

You’re looking for little nuances that only someone with experience and passion for the craft can naturally pick out.

Also, note that more elaborated responses don’t always mean they’re more valuable. Some candidates will write an essay to fill the gaps in skills that they lack.

3. Test for Ethics: If a client is legally bounded to pay you $20,000 for work you already did, but decides they want to cancel and get a refund. What would your response be?

Ethics is crucial to test for in any kind of work environment, but specifically for startups. Here’s why. 

A startup often lacks the advanced infrastructure and security that more mature companies have. People often gain access to logins and sensitive documents fairly early on. Because the turnover is quicker in the early stages of a startup, it means this data has more opportunities to be lost.

You want to avoid the people that might do your business ill-harm as much as possible. This ambiguous question serves as a barometer of what types of values this candidate has.

Based on your candidate’s response, you’ll have a good idea of how they deal with tough interpersonal challenges and whether or not it’s aligned with how you would react.

4. Test for Communication Skills: Do you have experience with project management? 

The familiar saying in startups goes “Get used to wearing many different hats.” Project management is a useful skill that requires not only time management but effective communication and technical capabilities.

Getting a candidate to elaborate on their core responsibilities and the tools they’ve used in other projects quickly shows you the types of skills they’re equipped with. The detail and vocabulary they provide in their response will give an indication of how effective they are at communication.

5. Test for work ethic: Why do you want to work here?

You’re looking for people that will not succumb to stress easily. The ideal candidate is someone who’s intrinsically motivated by learning and growth, and your startup environment will provide a good incubator for those types of skills to flourish. 


The qualities you’re looking for in a candidate stretch beyond the immediate job responsibilities. In the long run, your startup will benefit more generously if the talent is aligned with the personalities and values of your team. Interview questions serve as the first step to determining the fit of a candidate.

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