In a rocky startup world, candidates toss questions to interviewers

BENGALURU/KOLKATA: In an environment of upheavals and layoffs, startup founders are finding the tables turned as candidates they interview turn into interviewers instead.

With even previously bullish companies struggling and big names like Oyo and Zomato laying off hundreds of employees, startup founders say candidates are now becoming more discerning and doing in-depth research on the financial health of potential employers.

“Are you going to turn profitable soon? What is the runway you have left? How do you plan to deal with layoffs if you have to let go of people?” – These are some of the questions founders of startups like NoBroker, HomeLane and say they are fielding from candidates during interviews.

NoBroker cofounder Amit Agarwal has been fielding questions on profitability by senior candidates. Many even ask him whether an IPO is on the cards, and how involved he is in whichever vertical the candidate in question may be joining.

“They want to be sure that the function they’re joining has clear vision and importance in the company’s plans; if they know there’s a co-founder’s backing, they feel more confident about the job” he told ET.

For sleep-solutions company, the questions often are on layoffs – whether the company has ever handed out pink slips due to cost-cutting measures and/or change in direction, and if so, how they dealt with it. “In an environment where more and more VCs are scaling back on funding and there’s an increasing focus on profitability, candidates want to know whether the risk is worth it,” cofounder Chaitanya Ramalingegowda said. He has met candidates who ask specific questions about financials after having checked the firm’s filings on the website of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

Transparency is key, and senior candidates have done enough in their careers to justify asking these questions, said home design startup HomeLane’s cofounder Srikanth Iyer.


“Even in this slowdown, there is a war for talent. Profiles in product and technology are in high demand, and the questions we’re getting are from candidates with mainly these backgrounds. They are justified in asking these questions because they want to know whether it’s worth the risk to join, and they know they command a premium in this market,” Iyer said. According to him, they play on the front foot. “We talk openly about mistakes we’ve made earlier, why we focus on frugality now; this helps them trust us more,” Iyer said.

Young employees are more concerned about their earning capacity while for experienced candidates, it is about their role, ownership of tasks, job security and opportunity to grow, said Chetna Gogia, the head of human resources at Policybazaar. Experts say in this slowdown, candidates have the prerogative to be sceptical and wary. Even in a tough environment, where jobs are scarce, some potential employees, particularly those with in-demand skillsets, can still afford to be choosy. Even others who are looking out would evaluate the potential employer more thoroughly for risks before quitting their current organisation.

Employees most definitely should be asking questions about cultural fit, whether the startup will be able to manage uncertainty and how they will communicate it, about investors and the business model of their portfolio companies, said Sandeep Murthy, a partner at VC fund Lightbox Ventures. “This can give them an idea of their credibility and longterm growth plan,” he said.

This practice should be encouraged, said Marico chairman Harsh Mariwala. “Any person being interviewed needs to be given a chance to ask any questions, however awkward they may be, and it’s fully justified. The risk is a little more in the startup ecosystem. Since the risk is higher, the urge to know more about the promoter and his business is also higher,” he said.


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