For Candidates/ Job Seekers:
Questions to Ask When Interviewing at a Startup During a Recession
Sabrina Deltoro, Founder & Recruiting Director
Delson Talent Consulting
January 5, 2023
Now that the holidays are over and you're back to work, you may realize that you’re ready to move on from your current role. If you're feeling stuck in your current position or simply ready for a change, now is a great time to start looking for new opportunities!
Biotech startups in the San Francisco Bay Area can be especially exciting places to work, as they offer the chance to be part of a dynamic and innovative team working on cutting-edge projects. They can be recession-proof places to work as well. However, it's important to do your research and be prepared for the unique challenges and opportunities that come with working at a startup, as well as understand the company’s stability and potential future. Part of that research includes asking the right questions during the interview process in order to fully understand the company and role you are applying for, as well as get as much information you can on the short term and long term goals of the company. In this post, we'll discuss some key questions to ask when interviewing at a biotech startup during a recession, and what you’re looking for by asking them.
Asking the right questions also demonstrates your enthusiasm and preparedness for the interview and position. Here are some examples of questions you may want to consider asking during the hiring process at a biotech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere else (especially during a recession), along with explanations as to why these questions are important to ask.
How has the recession affected the company's operations and financial stability?
It is important to understand how the recession has impacted the company, as it could affect the stability and long-term prospects of the organization, as well as the role you are applying for.
What measures are the company taking to weather the recession?
Asking about the steps the company is taking to navigate the recession can give you insight into the company's resilience and ability to adapt to challenges. This may also give you insight into which programs or disease areas a company may put more or less focus on.
How has the company's hiring and staffing strategy been affected by the recession? Understanding the company's hiring and staffing strategies can potentially give you a sense of the company's priorities and how it is weathering the economic downturn. If a company is aggressively hiring, you can assume they have the financial means to do so, as well as the approval of their board of advisors and investors. That said, if a company only has a few positions open, this isn’t necessarily an indicator of anything negative; they may simply have already hired and grown aggressively and are now working with the human resources they have.
What is the company's approach to cost-cutting and cost-saving measures?
It is common for companies to implement cost-cutting measures during a recession, so it is important to understand how the company is addressing these challenges.
How has the recession affected the company's growth and expansion plans?
Asking about the company's growth and expansion plans during a recession can give you insight into the company's long-term vision and how it is adapting to the current economic climate.
How does the company handle work-life balance during a recession?
It is important to have a good work-life balance, especially in a startup environment where the demands can be high. Asking about the company's approach to work-life balance during a recession can help you determine if it is a good fit for you, and how the company is addressing the potential increased workload and stress.
Is the company fostering professional development and career growth even though there is a recession?
It is important to understand the opportunities for growth and development within the company, especially during a recession when these opportunities may be more limited. Asking about the company's approach to professional development can help you determine if it aligns with your own career goals. In general, a biotech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area will have lots of room for growth, due to the small number of employees, but it can’t hurt to ask/double check.
Has anyone on the leadership team been through layoffs/economic downturns before?
It can’t hurt to know if members of the leadership team have been through a recession before. The more experience leadership has going through tough times, the better.
QUESTIONS TO ASK DURING ANY ECONOMIC TIME:
Is this role hybrid or remote?
While this is likely an obvious question to ask, please don’t forget to iron out this detail before you get too far into the interview process!
How much capital have you raised to date, and what stage is your company?
Caveat here with this question- capital and stage can potentially be found with a quick Google search, so be sure to look online at sites like Crunchbase or Pitchbook to see if this is publicly available information first. You should also be able to figure out how much has been raised, and what stage the company is at, but if you do a search and can’t find this information, this is important to ask.
What does your runway look like?
While knowing the total amount of funding a company has raised can give insight into how long the company could be around for, knowing how much runway the company has can provide a better picture. Sure, having raised $1B sounds like a lot of money, but what if the company’s monthly burn is $500m?
Are there any specific milestones you need to hit in order to finalize any traunches/ additional funding? If so, are you currently tracking to reach these?
Sometimes, Venture Capital firms release funds in traunches. This means the company needs to hit certain milestones in order to receive all of the promised funds. If a company is able to share, it would be good to get an understanding of what these milestones are to ascertain what part you might play in helping the organization reach these goals.
Can you provide examples of projects that I would be working on in this role?
Asking about specific projects can give you a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations of the position so you know what you are getting yourself into.
Do you have career ladders and compensation guidelines in place?
While all large companies have career ladders and compensation bands, smaller companies, especially with those under 15 employees who don’t have to follow the new CA pay transparency laws (will be posting more on this next week), may not have these guidelines baked out yet. If a company already has these, this is great news. A sub question to this would then be to ask, “How can I reach the next level?”. Conversely, if the comp bands and careers ladders are not yet created, ask if they are in process.
Can you tell me more about your company culture? What are your core values?
As a biotech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is likely that the organization has given considerable thought to their core values, mission, vision, and really who they want to be as a company. Even if an early stage startup hasn’t created these yet, they will be able to tell you about the current dynamic and culture of their team.
Can you tell me about the company's approach to diversity and inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are important factors to consider when evaluating a potential employer. Asking about the company's approach to diversity and inclusion can give you a sense of the company culture and whether or not it is a place where you will feel welcomed and valued.
Can you tell me more about the team I would be working on? What is the team dynamic like?
It’s always good to learn as much as you can about the team you will be working on, and how they integrate and work together to achieve company goals.
What is valued more here, individual contribution or teamwork?
This question might help to determine if the culture is cut-throat, or if colleagues trust each other and get along.
Why is this position open?
With this question, you are trying to get a sense of whether or not this is a new, growth role, or a backfill for someone else. If the role is a backfill, try to find out if the person was promoted into a new role, or if they exited the organization.
What are your company's strategic goals for this calendar year?
The important thing here is that the company HAS goals. This will also give you an opportunity to figure out how you can contribute to the organization's success. If there is an annual bonus associated with the role, payout of the bonus is usually linked, at some percentage, to the attainment of corporate goals.
What is your current strike price?
This question should be asked as you get further along in the interview process and you expect you may receive an offer. Having an understanding of the current value (as well as the future cost) of the options you might receive helps paint a picture and gives insight into what your total compensation could be if you were offered and accepted a position.
Are there any other perks, like catered lunch or office snacks that I should be aware of?
Free lunch can add up! That said, perks like these can be taken away at any time, but you could consider this as part of your first-year compensation.
BIOTECH/PHARMA QUESTIONS SPECIFICALLY:
If interviewing at a Biopharma organization focused on drug development, you could ask:
Where are you currently with your drug programs? Do you plan to file for IND soon? Are you deciding between multiple candidates?
Are you currently more focused on Research or Development/translational medicine at this time?
Are there any published papers or seminal studies I can read online that discuss your specific research?
As a candidate interviewing for a position at a biotech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is important to ask the right questions during the interview process in order to fully understand the company and the role you are applying for. Asking about the company's financial stability, cost-saving measures, and growth plans during the recession can give you insight into the company's resilience and ability to adapt to challenges. Asking about specific projects, professional development opportunities, and work-life balance can help you understand the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations of the role and how you can set yourself up for success. By asking these types of questions, you can gain a better understanding of the company, the role, and whether or not it is a good fit for you during these challenging economic times.
Asking and receiving answers to these questions, especially the questions around funding and runway, should give you a good picture of where the organization is at, and how long they may be around for, while also showcasing yourself as engaged, enthusiastic and interested. Don’t let a potential economic downturn keep you from moving on from a stagnant role and taking on something new!