If you're looking to move forward in your career—whether that means stepping into more senior positions, or switching to a different role entirely—you need to use a completely different framework for evaluating this startup.

Instead of thinking of the money you'll make immediately by joining this startup, you need to think of how this startup will affect your career years from now. To do that, you need to do three things:

Chart your room for growth in this company.

Many startups suffer from overly flat structures, in which it can be next to impossible for a team member to step up and take on a more senior position. You want to avoid getting trapped at all costs.

Ask these three questions to understand your growth potential within this startup:

  • “What progression do you envision for someone in this role?” You want a company that plans for your growth.
  • “Does this role contribute to higher-level decisions?” The more responsibility you get out of the gate, the better.
  • “Will I be able to learn new skills and technologies in this role?” You don't want to get stuck maintaining legacy code.

Decide if this startup will open doors for you later in your career.

Joining the right startup will allow you not only to grow within the company, but will unlock new opportunities for you even after you've moved on. The network the startup gives you—and the brand it allows you to put on your resume—are incredibly important factors to consider.

Ask yourself these three questions to discern whether or not this startup will help you later in your career:

  • “Does this startup have a big 'brand' already?” Answer this yourself. Being an alumni of a famous company will qualify you for later opportunities.
  • “What are the founders' backgrounds?” If the founders have had successful exits in the past, they're great relationships for you to have.
  • “What are the backgrounds of the people on your team?” In general, you want to work with world-class people. The more impressive your team members are, the better your network will be.

Determine where you want to be and if this startup will get you there.

You will have to ask yourself, not an interviewer, all of these questions. Candidates often hurt themselves by settling for startups that, on paper, seem like smart career moves, but in reality, are the furthest thing from what they want.

Ask these three questions to figure out whether not this startup can get you what you want, career-wise:

  • “Is this startup in the field you ultimately want to work in?” If there's a field you're incredibly passionate about, join it. Don't waste time.
  • “Will this startup expose you to technology and problems that excite you?” You will not do your best work if you aren't excited about it.
  • “Does this startup have the sort of role you'd ultimately like to be in?” If you'd like to be a PM, but this company doesn't have PMs, don't accept a different role hoping you can change the company's strategy.