I have received an offer from a firm which is more of a start-up nature. Since they are willing to make a good offer I am a lil' apprehensive of the credibility of the same. I continue to wonder whether they would be punctual in crediting the salary on time. Since I believe in talking things in a forthright manner, I would like to ask the recruiter whether the salaries would be made regularly.

Please suggest how can I clarify my concern with the HR in a polite manner without sounding crude.

  • 1
    What form of answer do you want here as I'd imagine a personal promise isn't likely to be sufficient?
    – JB King
    Jun 27, 2014 at 9:05
  • I wish there could be some contracts that capture verbal agreements. However, all I am concerned about is that they assure me of the same. I am still hoping for an answer to my question here. Jun 27, 2014 at 9:10
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    I don't think that the recruiter is in a position to answer your question. I don't think the recruiter is 100% sure that they are going to get their commission either. If, however, the recruiter has placed people into the startup before - say in the last year or so, that would be a good sign, although past results arte no guarantee of future performance. Jun 27, 2014 at 12:19
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    Could you clarify "of a start-up nature"? Is this a company with people, an actual office, benefits (implies somebody to administer them), etc, or do you mean three guys in somebody's garage? Is the business particularly risky? Lots of start-ups manage to pay their people on time every pay period. Jun 27, 2014 at 15:27
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio - I am pretty sure we had this question before. Basically the OP wants to know what the funding level is for the Company that its not going to run out of money to pay people a month or 2 from now. Jun 27, 2014 at 20:34

4 Answers 4


Joe has it right. Don't worry about sounding "crude," as you put it.

Just ask. These questions may best be answered by a business person, not an HR person, but that depends on the people. This is business, and startups are risky business. It will help your case in your interview process if you ask questions that show you care about the company's situation.

You can say something like this.

"Please tell me a bit about your company.

"Where are you getting the cash for payroll and other expenses? Please tell me a bit about your investors. How long is it until you need another round of financing?"

You can even ask these questions:

"Who are your competitors? Do you have any key customers lined up? What are the critical success factors in succeeding in your business? What do you expect me, personally, to do to help make the company successful?"

The "what do I need to do?" question is important: it shows you understand that you're a part of the company's success.

Don't be the slightest bit embarrassed to ask these questions. You won't annoy any serious entrepreneur by asking them. Quite the opposite.

If you get evasive answers, especially about the company's investors or financing plans, you need to be very careful about the job.

  • Thank you all for your valuable insights! I have marked Ollie's suggestion as answer. I was looking out to ask for the right set of questions in the right manner. Thanks Ollie. Jun 27, 2014 at 14:03
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    "Who are your competitors" shouldn't you know that before you interview with them, just in the process of researching the company?
    – corsiKa
    Jun 27, 2014 at 14:57
  • Just curious: These are questions best directed toward the entrepreneur; At the interview stage, is it really acceptable to ask for an opportunity to interview "the boss"?
    – user20914
    Jun 27, 2014 at 15:57
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    @corsiKa: Perhaps you should know the competitors before the interview. But, for early stage pre-product startups it may not be obvious, possibly even to the founders. Plus, this question is not a request for information as much as it is an invitation to talk about how the company plans to succeed.
    – O. Jones
    Jun 27, 2014 at 16:38
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    These are very similar questions to what I was asking when applying for a couple of tech startups last year. Especially a startup that is in its early stages, it is crucial that you understand exactly what their position is, lest you make my mistake and waste 6 months on a dead-end company. They should be completely understanding and reasonable with this kind of information, and most entrepreneurs that I've talked with were rather excited to discuss these aspects of their company.
    – user17163
    Jun 27, 2014 at 16:58

It is both polite and professional to request a contract before starting work.

You say something like "Great, I'm really excited to work on this project. Before we get started, let's formalise the relationship."

The contract should list:

  • Your salary
  • When you will be paid (monthly in arrears, weekly, etc.)
  • Your notice period
  • etc.

I've worked for start-ups which haven't paid me on time. Sadly, all you can do is remind them of the contract and let them know you won't be working until you've been properly paid.

If the client is unwilling to sign a formal contract, you have to assume that they can't afford to honour their agreements.

  • 4
    This is the answer. Get it in writing. Jun 27, 2014 at 9:35
  • It's better for you to get paid more frequently, and by direct deposit. It's a lot easier to put off a monthly invoice for weeks. Might be better for them too if they don't have such chunky expenses. Jun 27, 2014 at 11:46
  • "Monthly in arrears by direct deposit" is the standard. If the money does not arrive within a couple of days of the scheduled date then question it. Any delay without a very good explanation ("banks closed on that date", or natural disaster) then start looking for another job. "We can't pay you just yet" means they have a very good chance of going bankrupt in the near future.
    – pjc50
    Jun 27, 2014 at 13:25
  • "let them know you won't be working until you've been properly paid" -- if that's what you're going to do, then probably don't join a company that may have cashflow problems. As well as the contractual terms, each party has an expectation of how gravely breaches are considered. That's why it's useful to ask the company about such expectations, not just agree terms. This goes both ways -- if your contract specifies hours and you expect occasionally to be late for work without notice, then it's worth knowing in advance whether your employer will tolerate breaches ;-) Jun 27, 2014 at 17:17
  • Anyway, people who are willing to continue work for a short period despite pay being in arrears are much better suited to startups with risky cashflow, than people who are not. So it becomes very important to know what your employer's cashflow looks like, not just what the contract says. Not all startups have risky cashflow, of course. Jun 27, 2014 at 17:24

Please suggest how can I clarify my concern with the HR in a polite manner without sounding crude.

You engage in a conversation about the startup that goes something like "Tell me a little about the funding for this company..."

You explore the source of the startup's funding, if additional rounds of funding are planned, and what is the run rate at this time.

Your intent is to get a sense that the startup is well-funded, and well-run, and thus less likely to run into the kinds of problems you fear. (This is as opposed to asking "Will I be paid on time?" which could only elicit a less-than-useful answer of "Certainly.")

You may also choose to talk with one of your potential peers, where you can chat about how well the company is run, and probe a bit about finances and paychecks as well.

Ultimately though, it comes down to a matter of trust. Things can go south quickly in a small company, and you must trust that management will do the right thing. That's one of the risks of joining a startup that you must be willing to accept. Otherwise, a startup probably isn't for you.


My own take elaborating on Joe Strazzere and O. Jones' answers. This requires a conversation where you get answers as to the company's funding, runway and progress towards the market and sales revenue.

Key factors for startups are runway (how many months they've got funding for) and sales (which helps towards profitability, and/or enables further funding rounds).

It's a very reasonable area to ask about, since every investor will. Any business should be able to give you clear answers to high-level questions in this area.

Note that their answers may be anything from realistic, to possible, to overstated, to wildly unrealistic, to incompetent or fraudulent. You should try and quietly assess for yourself the quality of their product, plans & organization.

Some questions I would ask:

"Please tell me a bit more about your company.

  • "How are you funded for payroll and operating expenses? Please tell me a bit about your investors. How long is it until you need another round of financing?"

  • "Why do you believe your product is compelling?"

  • "Where are you in the go-to-market plan? Have you found a good product-market fit? When do you expect to reach profitability?" listening for whether they have customers & sales yet

  • "How long is your runway to launch this product?"

  • "What are the critical factors for the business to succeed? How can I help?"

Personally I would not recommend to dig directly for details of customers and competitors, this seems perhaps a tiny bit commercially sensitive. I would try and assess and understand the value & marketability of their proposed product, and their capability to build and market it successfully.

Assuming the business proposition is somewhat plausible, the normal failure cause is for funding to run out before product-market fit can be found or profitability can be reached. These questions are designed to help you answer that.

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