How We Hire at Buffer

A lot of people have asked us how we hire at Buffer and how to go about getting an interview for one of our open positions. I hope I can shine some light on it here!

Probably the most important element we look for is alignment with the 1o Buffer valuesThe way we go about hiring for Buffer is to primarily look for culture fit. 

Then there’s entrepreneurial spirit: As a startup, we’re moving at a very fast pace that’s often hard to keep up with if you’re coming from a larger company (at least that’s what we found so far). So having successful side projects, having worked for another startup before,  or being able to show us in another way that you’re comfortable with a fast pace is also a big plus.

Another quite important factor is usage and knowledge of Buffer, the product and the company.

Of course we need to know that you’ve got the skills and experience for the position in question, but that’s a secondary element for us. We look mainly for relevant experience to the particular role someone is applying, less for academic achievements. For example, Niel de la Rouviere, one of our awesome front end engineers, is completely self-taught. Of course, academic achievements are welcome to be mentioned.

The best candidates have all four of these attributes:

 

how we hire

 

In general, we only invite very few people for interviews. For example in February, 2,024 applicants through our jobs page resulted in 13 interviews that month.

The main way we try to gauge culture fit in practice is by looking at the wording of each email and seeing how well it is in line with our culture. Especially since we’re a remote team, written communication gets a lot of weight and gauging emotions from it is important for us.

Secondly, we heavily rely on people’s Twitter accounts, how individuals Tweet and whether their postings are also in line with our culture. Would their posts fit on on our team Twitter list?

We know our formula isn’t perfect – we’ve made many adjustments along the way, and we’re still learning. The best advice I can give is to follow along with Buffer, get to know the company and the product and see if you align with the culture well (we found that our culture is very particular and often doesn’t work well for a lot of people). Once you’ve seen how we do things and you like how we go about running a company, get in touch.

We have 10 positions open right now – does one of them belong to you?

  • Adrian Rossouw

    I think you guys should have some kind of auto responder to messages received on those email addresses. Preferably with some information about how frequently you evaluate them and so forth.

    Sending a mail like that into the void and not getting any confirmation it was even received is pretty nerve wracking.

    • Courtney Seiter

      Great feedback, Adrian! We definitely don’t want to cause angst if we can help it. I’ll check on what we can do about that.

    • http://www.sokratus.in/ Abhijeet Raúl Wankhade

      Yeap, as an UX designer I was baffled when something silly like this can be ignored. I still have my “Ready to apply?” window open since yesterday hoping I’ll get some confirmation message over there :p.

  • Parker Agee

    Great insight. Sifting through 2,024 applicants seems like daunting task. Are there any attributes that make a certain candidate stand out easily at first glance?

    • Courtney Seiter

      Great question! I’d love to see if I can rustle up a bit more insight for you on that one. Perhaps a followup post!

  • http://kobak.org kobak

    Just increased one of the numbers for the Buffer team list. This was easy. (got reminded about it in the current blog post)
    The other one is a bit more tricky. ;) Thanks for the insight.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    I like the Twitter analysis. People reveal themselves over time, and there is nothing better than a history lookup to see that.

    • Thea Woods

      Oh… Good point. I hope when I officially apply, that my fondness for posting pictures of cute cats, corny jokes and green smoothies isn’t held against me. O______O

  • http://sweet.ge/ Mariam Sweet

    It’s interesting how long it takes to get a response. I applied and would like to know when it is time to lose hope :))

    • Courtney Seiter

      Yes, hiring can be quite a long process at Buffer. It might be good for us to talk about that a bit more in a future post. Thanks for the nudge!

      • http://sweet.ge/ Mariam Sweet

        Thanks for your reply. I have one more question. Is it ever OK to apply for two positions? As you have some openings very similar to each other… Or would you consider one application for several positions by yourself without applicant knowing?

        • Courtney Seiter

          I can only speak from personal experience here, but I came on at Buffer in an entirely different position than the one I applied for :)

  • Ashley Mittiga

    Thanks for the insights! I have been following Buffer for awhile and love the product and what the company is about. Ill keep all this information in mind and hopefully someday get to join the team and share some ideas ! :) Keep being awesome!

  • http://katetilton.com/ Kate Tilton

    Great insight Leo. As an applicant for a Buffer position the wait is nerve wracking but it’s good to get an idea about how many people are applying for these positions. Thank you!

  • Adrian Rossouw

    I wonder if perhaps the model you are using here is a bit too structured. Can you really assign a job title in the way you are now?

    I don’t know how much heed is paid to these positions in the day-to-day running of things, but most startups I have been involved with have required people to wear a lot of different hats.

    Speaking as a full-stack developer, I don’t know that you would be able to easily pigeon hole me as either front-end or back-end. Not only that, but you would probably miss a larger picture.

    Since you’re talking about replacing the email with a form, I think you should drop the job title and instead look for an [engineer|support|whatever] and have the applicants rate their own capabilities for the specific areas you want to develop. IE: an engineer with really strong back-end, and decent front-end skills.

    I think you should still require a written application, with the additional fields to help prioritisation and filtering. Just keep in mind you are going to subconsciously be selecting for first language english speakers, and for fairness and transparency purposes you should probably consider a policy w.r.t. this. It might also benefit you in the long run to consider different markets you want to expand into, and getting a broader language base in the company.

    In the evaluation interface (language concerns aside), I would not show the personal skills assessment, because it might subconsciously influence the people doing the reviews. Also, if you have them specify what they perceive the abilities of the candidate in those skills are, you can eventually train the system to detect the bias’ of the evaluators and the (assumed) likelihood for people to overestimate their own abilities.

    It could be interesting to tie this into linked in to increase the confidence given to certain required skills based on recommendations. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea of putting too much stock into information gleaned this way, because I know my own endorsements are heavily slanted towards things I did a decade ago when I was more actively involved in open source. Their skills taxonomy is also a bit unruly.

    You would be able to chart the required skills versus the applicant’s submitted and perceived skills over time, to get an idea of the type of applicants you are getting. It would also be possible to resurface older applications if such a thing were desired.

    It would be possible to evaluate the skills of the existing team w.r.t. this as well, so that you can plot the progression of the team, and project where future skills gaps will occur. Bi-annual anonymous skill reviews of the perceived skills of employees might be an idea too.

    Apparently this kind of system is called a skills matrix, but I was unable to find any open source implementations.

    The closest I could find is this nascent SaS product : http://www.skills-base.com/

  • http://betterdoctor.com/health Tuuti Piippo

    It’s been super interesting to see how your process has developed since I first had the chance to learn about it last spring, Leo. Thanks for sharing these insights so openly!

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how to make new team members feel welcome. I’ve learned that it can be challenging especially in tech companies where most of the people work on the product, but not all.

    Do you guys have a specific way to welcome people and make sure they feel welcome, too? I’d imagine that as a distributed team full of kind people you might be masters at this :)

  • lisi

    I wish that more companies followed this method. When I was first job searching post-graduation, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, because I didn’t “look good enough on paper,” simply in terms of my academic accomplishments.

    When I started the internship at my current company, I approached it similarly to your process–at a startup, company culture really beats most other criteria. I can teach someone to do what I need them to do (within reason, of course), but I can’t teach them to fit in with my team. That’s the part that’s probably most important to match when it comes to finding a new person to join us, because introducing someone into the mix that doesn’t have the same work ethic or values as the rest of us do could really throw a wrench into the well-oiled machine we’ve built.

    That “it” factor is organic. When someone sends you an email, you know whether or not they are who you’re looking for when you work at a startup.

    Maybe my problem all along is that I was made for startups, and I shouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to fit into a cookie cutter world where I didn’t belong! :)

  • http://www.postplanner.com/ Scott Ayres

    That’s a ton of applicants!

  • http://tomgibson.eu/ Tom Gibson

    The more I think about this, the more sense it seems to make. I’ve been reading more on motivational theory lately, and there’s a consensus that external motivators (incentives, punishments) don’t work very well in contrast to internal motivators (the stuff we want/love to do without external influence).

    So much of employment culture at the moment is focussed on perks (bribes?!) and the like, while there’s not so much focus on ‘does this person want to be here? Do they love to do this?’

    It looks like Buffer has struck on a way (intentionally or serendipitously) to figure out, as much as as feasible, whether people are working by internal or external motivation. The heavy focus on culture-fit is a way to find employees who will love what they do and will do it well. Awesome :-D

  • http://vallin.mx José Luis Vallín

    I’ve applyed for one of your open positions, but there is not feedback over if it reached anyone, It will be nice to have some confirmation message!! Thanks in advance!!

  • Courtney Seiter

    Hey y’all–just wanted to let everyone here in the comments know that we really appreciate what you had to say about putting auto responders in place to let you know Buffer received your application and we are working on doing that right now. All of us really thank you for letting us know how you were feeling and we hope this will help others feel happier about the process!

    • Marissa @ The Modern Austen

      This is great to hear, Courtney. I know I am one of many who will appreciate this service. It’s refreshing to see that the same solid customer service is extended to those hoping to join the team (and likely to those already on it!). As always, we value your efforts to make Buffer even better.

    • http://bjornsennbrink.se Björn Sennbrink

      Yes, there is a green message bar popping up. It would be great to see the auto responder making it to the e-mail too. Now when you apply there is no confirmation sent. That e-mail could hold the same information as in the message bar, just to let one know that you have received the application.

      • Courtney Seiter

        Thanks, Björn; I agree. We’ll definitely keep going on this to make the experience better!

  • http://www.tanichols.com/ T.Nichols

    Leo, you implied that applicants coming from larger companies generally don’t fit within the Buffer culture. Isn’t that a little biased?

  • http://www.hugovmonteiro.net/ hugovmonteiro

    “We know our formula isn’t perfect ” – May not be perfect, but it’s one of the best I’ve seen. Specially the graph, just sums it up.

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