The 7 Most Common Non-Technical Startup Interview Questions

There are tons of resources available about technical interview questions. Quora has an entire topic group dedicated to this very subject. Companies like Google and Microsoft helped make famous questions like “Why are manhole covers round?” and “How many piano tuners are there in the world?”. Assessing problem-solving capability and technical acumens is definitely an important part of the interview process, especially when hiring engineers, but what about non-technical questions? What kind of non-technical questions are startups asking?

To discover the answer to this question, we posed the following to hundreds of startup founders, “If you could only ask one question during an interview, what would it be?”. After collecting nearly 200 responses and over 100 unique interview questions we’ve distilled everything down to the 7 most common non-technical interview questions asked by startups.

Below, we go through the 7 questions and describe why the question is important and what you should be thinking about as the interviewer asking the question.

  1. Why should I hire you versus the next person to walk through the door?

This is a question that forces the candidate to speak about the value they bring to the position and company. A great answer is going to take into account the specific attributes of the role the candidate is interviewing for and will factor in specifics about the company.

As an interviewer, you want to find out what is unique about this person, have they prepared for this interview and have they actually thought about how they will fit into the role.

This question or some version of it was asked by AstilLink, Adchemix, Edgar, Packlane, CloserIQ, Sightly, Crewspark, Maz, Nomad, VentureFund, and Thirstie.

  1. Why do you want to work for _____?

Similar to the last question, this one helps the interviewer assess the candidate’s level of preparation and their motivation. Grit and determination are essential to the success of a startup. Founders and employees alike often work for less pay and more stress than at a larger company. Making sure a candidate’s motivations are in line with those of the company is a necessary step to making good hiring decisions.

This question was posed by Bridgefy, Ambassador, ViaHero, Installments, YouMail, GitLab, Phone2Action, HelpSocial and Bizible.

  1. What gets your fired up and leaping out of bed in the morning?

Venzee, Delivra, Razuna, SherpaDesk, Visage Payroll, Thanx, TravelTag, and Ursus all asked this question or a version of it.

I personally like digging into a candidate’s hobbies when I conduct interviews. Being passionate about your job is great, but at my company, having interests outside of work is just as important. It makes you interesting and helps you relate to other employees outside of strictly work-aligned interests.

For other founders, they may be looking for more work-aligned passion, but ultimately this question is about assessing cultural fit and what the candidate really enjoys doing.

When asking this question, first figure out what is important to you. Do you care if the candidate responds with yoga and then goes on to describe how much they love child’s pose or do you want them to talk about waking up early to solve a rubik’s cube and play chess online? Every question you ask in an interview needs to be helping you gather vital information to make a hiring decision.

  1. What’s the job you want two jobs from now and how does this role help you get there?

Chewse, Aha!, SkySpecs, Seniorly, Panjo, Opiatalk, and Tome asked a version of this question.

This question accomplishes two things.

The first is it helps the interviewer find out how much forethought the candidate has put into their career. Have they set some kind of goal for themselves?

The second reveals how much thought they’ve put into how to actually achieve that goal and how your company relates to achieving that goal. Having goals is great, but you actually need systems to achieve those goals. This question helps dig into both.

  1. What are you most proud of?

Jebbit, Bizyhood, Quietkit, NuoDB, ExpertKnowledge, and JotForm all like to understand what a candidate considers their greatest accomplishment.

This type of question helps assess cultural fit for your company and also the candidate’s ability to explain something to you. What they are proud of might be something completely foreign to you. It’s important to dig into why they are proud of the particular moment or achievement. Out of everything they could have picked, why that thing?

  1. What is your biggest career screw up?

Growth does not come without failures. It’s ok to fail, but you have to learn from it. Team Support, Stanza, Magoosh, MetricStory, and Fattmerchant all like to dig into this topic with a candidate.

As an interviewer, you want to look for the candidate’s ability to explain their choice and reasoning. Ask lots of follow up questions, like what did they learn from this screw-up? How did the solve the problem?

Their answers will help you discern how good this person will be in a crisis and how they think about failure.

  1. What do you do for fun and what hobbies do you partake in when you are not at work?

Like Simple Night, Readz, Genius Monkey, and Vengo who all asked this question, I also like asking questions about a candidate’s hobbies. Interviews are nerve racking and it can be difficult to get a candidate to relax and open up, but without that, it’s hard to get to know them and assess how they’ll fit in with the team.

Asking questions about something not work-related can help set them at ease. If they do it for fun or it’s a hobby they are really passionate about, they’ll feel less pressure talking about it. This helps warm up the conversation for other questions and also helps you as the interviewer gauge how excited they get about something they are really interested in.

Can they relate to you and your team? This is the type of question you should be asking yourself as your digest their answer.


These 7 most commonly asked interview questions should give you a good base for your next interview. They are all open-ended questions focused on assessing motivations, personal interests and cultural fit, all essential components to consider in startup hiring. Skills are important, but they can also be taught, it’s difficult to teach grit and determination.'

Author: Caileen Kehayas

Caileen is a content marketer for Proven. When she is not blogging or tweeting, she likes to curl up with a good book or go for a run in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

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