How We Find the Perfect Fit With Our New Hires: Inside Buffer Bootcamp

puzzle piece

Some call it a trial. Some call it a probationary period. We call it the Buffer Bootcamp.

Our intro period for new hires is something we often reference in our monthly updates and hiring reports, but we’ve yet to really take you inside how this process works. Well, we’re happy to change that! We’d love to invite you in to see how these first 45 days for new employees look and to explain what we hope to achieve during bootcamp.

I recently completed my Buffer Bootcamp, and I’ll be your guide, taking you inside my experience and how the bootcamp works.

The Buffer Bootcamp overview

Put simply: Bootcamp is our opportunity to ensure that the new hire and the company are a perfect fit with one another.

The name is a clever take on the traditional probationary period, and it’s far from a bootcamp in the traditional sense—there are no pushups, buzz cuts, or army fatigues here, promise. It’s simply an immersion into the way that Buffer works and a chance for everyone involved to find out if the fit is perfect.

Here are the bootcamp basics.

  • Buffer Bootcamp is a 45-day period. We count weekends in here, so bootcamp typically ends after six weeks.
  • During these six weeks, the new hire has a one-on-one chat every two weeks with either a team lead or our CEO Joel to discuss how things are going.
  • In terms of pay, new hires are contract employees for the first six weeks and then become full-time, salaried employes if hired on.
  • No healthcare benefits, equity, or retreats just yet.
  • New hires do get a Kindle Paperwhite and Jawbone UP right away so they can dive into the Buffer culture.

 

Bootcamp gets brought up at every stage of the interview process so that applicants know in advance how things work when they start at Buffer. The goal is to be as transparent as possible about the onboarding process and the expectations for new hires.

Any and all questions are welcome. I know for me, coming from a traditional office setup, bootcamp was radical, exciting, nerve-wracking, and fascinating. Like many new hires (and maybe you, too), I had lots of questions. Here are a handful that get asked most often.

What’s it like to join Buffer without a guaranteed, full-time position?

There’s definitely an element of risk with signing on for bootcamp, especially for those of us who left other jobs to join Buffer. You’re likely to hear new hires say they are “jumping in head first” (or feet first, depending on how they jump).

I jumped head first. Before joining Buffer, I spent six years in the marketing department for an international health company, and I appreciated a lot of the safety I felt there: steady income, job security, seniority, etc. Signing up for Buffer Bootcamp was a thrilling moment for me—and more than a little nerve-wracking. Maybe everyone feels this way when changing jobs? Maybe those of us with families weigh these decisions a little more heavily?

Fortunately, there are a number of reassuring moments along the way. Right off the bat, the “Welcome to Buffer” email from your team lead goes a long way toward building you up and reminding you about the purpose and intent behind bootcamp. Here’s an excerpt from the email I received:

To start, you should know that we think you’re awesome, inspirational, and smart. (That’s why we chose you to bring on board, out of many applications.) We are super, super excited to have you on board with us! We wouldn’t have chosen you if we thought that you didn’t have exactly what it takes to kick ass at Buffer. So, Buffer Bootcamp is a short amount of time for us to get to know you, you to get to know us, and give you a really honest taste of what it’s like to work for Buffer. (We hope you’ll love it!)

There are also some healthy perspectives to take when looking at bootcamp. In many ways, bootcamp is similar to a probationary period at any job.  With bootcamp, we’re just a bit more intentional about ensuring an ideal fit.

Or if metaphors are more your style, here’s a helpful one we’ve floated around:

Bootcamp is a little like dating.

Both sides are really interested in each other and eager to spend time together and build a relationship. There’s no need to rush off and get engaged right away. It takes time (six weeks, say) to know if you two are a good fit or not.

Most of the time, the fit is great, and after 45 days, the new hire is given an offer to join Buffer full time. Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t work out. Which leads to the next question …

How many people make it through Bootcamp?

Presently, about 70 percent of the new hires become full-time employees after the 45-day bootcamp.

We really try to ensure a good fit during the interview process so that we’re bringing on only those who are most aligned with our culture, values, goals, and ideas. It’s inevitable that there will be occasions where the fit isn’t perfect. We hope to minimize these as much as possible with the way we interview.

I went through three different interview stages:

  1. Interview with Leo—introduction to Buffer, about the position
  2. Interview with Carolyn—mostly about Buffer culture
  3. Interview with Joel—a good mix of position and culture and Buffer in general

Culture is just as important in these interviews as the position itself.

When those times do come that a Bootcamp period doesn’t end in an offer, the decision can be either that of the company or that of the employee. Buffer wants what’s best for both parties, which is why each side gets a say in how the fit feels.

Again, to borrow from the introductory email:

With such a small team, we find it helpful to make sure that, after the interviews are over and you’re getting your hands dirty, it still feels like a great fit. (We fully expect that it will.) At the end of the 45 days, if either you or Buffer doesn’t feel sure, then we’ll part ways with no hard feelings. This is something that we do take quite seriously, especially with such a small team. We feel it is super important that all new hires are aligned and feel comfortable.

There are many different variables that could affect someone coming on full-time with Buffer. Here are just a few that might have an impact:

  • Practicing the values and culture of Buffer
  • Ability to keep up with a fast-paced, startup environment
  • Quality and consistency of one’s work
  • Willingness to accept feedback

It’s perhaps no coincidence that many of these factors—culture, startup, skill—are central to the way we choose candidates to interview. You can see below how these attributes (along with Buffer usage) inform the way we hire.

How Buffer Hires - Venn Diagram

Throughout bootcamp, the team lead makes a point of communicating how the bootcamp period is progressing for the new hire and if there are any specific ways he or she can improve. This is the impetus for the one-on-one chats every two weeks.

What are the one-on-ones like?

Coaching, feedback, and open communication are highly valued at Buffer, and this begins right from the start during the six weeks of Bootcamp. Here’s the schedule for a person’s one-on-one chats:

At 2 weeks: Chat with your team lead

At 4 weeks: Chat with Joel

At 45 days: Final chat with your team lead

The wonderful part about these chats is that the new hire does most of the talking. You are encouraged to share your experiences so far, to celebrate your successes, and to identify areas of improvement. The chats have a two-part focus: work and culture. You have the chance to discuss what you’ve accomplished as well as how you’ve experienced Buffer’s values.

There is, of course, plenty of opportunity for feedback at this stage. The team lead passes along any bits of helpful advice or areas where you may be able to take another step forward. The goal is that you’ll have a clear idea of where you stand, and vice versa. Feedback is encouraged for any areas of improvement that you could see Buffer make as well.

The bootcamp is an entirely two-way street.

My chats were evidence of just how fast things move at Buffer. When I joined up at the first of March, Courtney and I were both content crafters, along with Belle, and we worked with Leo on blog content, social media, and marketing.

When it came time for my two-week chat, everything had changed! Courtney was Head of Content Marketing, Belle was transitioning toward a full-time role at her startup, and Leo was overseeing a huge number of areas in his role as COO.

So my two-week chat was with Courtney, my new team lead. And I found that it’s harder than you think to talk about yourself for an hour. Good thing I brought notes! That first chat turned out to be an incredible moment of encouragement for me, as I felt really validated that I was moving ahead in the right direction.

At four weeks, I chatted with Leo (who happened to be at Buffer retreat in South Africa!). He was great to have so many specific examples of things I was doing well, and we talked at length about culture, productivity, and the challenges of working remotely. I got some great tips about boundaries.

My 45-day chat, I was thrilled to be offered a full-time position on the team! Leo delivered the good news, and we talked at length again about my work and where I’d like to go with Buffer. He asked, “What parts of my job make me happiest?” No one had ever asked me that before!

What’s it like meeting everyone on Sqwiggle?

Along with the two-week chats, a main task of bootcamp is for the new hire to sync up with everyone on the team at some point during the 45 days. Even with a team of 20, it’s harder than it sounds!

Buffer Sqwiggle room

We use Sqwiggle as our video office. You can click on a teammate and chat instantly, so most of our sync ups occur right there. I remember my first couple days at Buffer, I watched the Sqwiggle tab with great interest since I got to see where all my teammates worked and when they came online. (Those weren’t my most productive days on the job, I’ll admit.)

There is a goal behind meeting all these folks, of course, beyond the great introduction. Connecting in a purposeful way trains you to reach out, connect, and socialize with your coworkers well beyond the six-week bootcamp.

Working on a remote team can feel isolating if you let it. The Sqwiggle intros are one way to combat this. For me, these syncs are huge because I’m now the sole crafter at Buffer. It’s so helpful to have teammates who are just a click away.

Another way to feel involved is with Buffer’s weekly pair calls. We’d love to write more about these later, so I’ll give just a quick overview: Each week, you are paired with a different teammate, and you sync up daily to talk about what you are working on and what improvements you are hoping to make that week. New hires jump into these pair calls immediately from day one. I was paired with Joel and Leo my first week, and Joel again in my second week. Talk about starting off on a good foot!

(New hires are also encouraged to add a few sentences about personal improvements to Buffer’s weekly improvements hackpad. You can see our most recent one here. )

What do you do with the Kindle and Jawbone?

We have a big focus on reading and self-improvement at Buffer, so it’s great to get new hires plugged in immediately with a Kindle Paperwhite and Jawbone Up. Here’s how we work with each of these awesome tools/toys.

Kindle Paperwhite

Everyone on the Buffer team is encouraged to read as much as possible, so sending each new hire a Kindle and gifting free e-books—on any subject, whenever you want them—is designed to remove all hurdles from reading.

We even have a neat system in place that drops alerts into Hipchat, our 24/7 chatroom office.

Hipchat

You truly are encouraged to read whatever you want; there are no rules about reading job-specific books. Here is a list of the ones I grabbed during my Bootcamp. (You’ll see that they started out job-specific until I got the courage to ask for something else.)

  • Advice to Writers by Jon Winokur
  • Poke the Box by Seth Godin
  • Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  • Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  • The Well-Spoken Thesaurus by Tom Heehler
  • My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman
  • Football Scouting Methods by Steve Belichick

 

Jawbone UP fitness band

Many of our weekly improvements involve exercise, movement, or sleep. Since the Jawbone UP tracks all these activities, it has become a really helpful tool to add some quantitative data to our improvements.

Beyond that, our UP bands allow us to track and celebrate the improvements of everyone on the team thanks to our connected accounts inside the app.

We connect with teammates so we can see their progress on sleep, steps, and activities, and we can leave congratulations on their achievements and follow up with goals during pair calls. Let’s say I have goal to sleep eight hours every night and go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m. The UP band tracks all this and makes it accessible to the whole team. Anyone can follow up with me on how I’ve done on my goals.

It’s also an essential tool for those of us with jobs on the computer. You get a great snapshot of how much (or how little) you move each day. It was really interesting to see how my movements split: Great on the weekends, poor on weekdays. The UP band inspired me to hop on my bike and ride to a new work spot more than once during bootcamp.

What happens when you’re done?

For starters, we have a big GIF party in HipChat!

Hipchat-screencap

First things first, though, at the 45-day chat with your team lead, you may be given a full-time offer to come work at Buffer. Again, this is all about the perfect fit for you and the company. It is an offer, and you get to choose whether you want to accept it. (My answer was yes, right away!)

At that point, you become Buffer’s newest full-time employee. And we celebrate!

Hipchat-screencap2

Full-time employees receive a number of additional benefits.

  • Attend retreats
  • Choose between a salary bump or additional stock options
  • Join Buffer healthcare (if you choose)
  • Grab whatever equipment will make you happier and more productive (e.g., MacBook Air)
  • Get added to the team page

(Funny timing for me, I just missed the cut for joining the team on retreat to South Africa. My bootcamp ended four days after retreat ended. Funny timing for Buffer’s Dan Farrelly, too. He accepted his full-time offer one day before retreat and hopped right on a plane to Cape Town!)

In addition, your two-week chats become mastermind sessions with your team leads and are held every two weeks. These have a slightly different format than the other chats, something we’ve outlined in detail here.

That’s it! 

Bootcamp is an incredible experience in learning how Buffer works and how it feels to be part of a fast-paced, value-focused company. The perfect fit truly does work both ways. Bootcamp is about you seeing what it’s like to be at Buffer and Buffer seeing what it’s like to have you involved.

If you’re interested in joining our growing team and experiencing this bootcamp for yourself, it’d be awesome to have you browse our job openings. We’re looking for 11 or more new bootcampers!

Any questions about how bootcamp works? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments. Let me know any thoughts you have, and I’ll be more than happy to chat!

Image credit: Gwen<3you

  • Alec Wilson

    Have you done any analysis of how the bootcamp affects candidates applying in the first place? I attempted to get a friend of mine to apply as a Content Crafter, as he is a fantastic, hard working writer who no longer wants to be married to one location, but the 45 day trial period that would require him to quit his job with benefits and risk it not working out threw him. I am still encouraging him to apply (the myth that an at-will employee is necessarily “secure” while a contract employee is necessarily “expendable” is a hard one to shake), but I’m curious if you worry about that. In terms of solutions, my first thought is something like the Zappos modei – where those who don’t come on because of fit (not fault) get two weeks pay or something like that. You could modify this somehow to give an option that incentivizes forgoing this at the beginning (similar to your salary/equity choice), I just haven’t thought of it.

    Anyway, just curious. As someone who plans to run my own startup, Buffer has been an inspiration in its openness and transparency, two things I firmly believe in, so I’m interested in some of the potential pitfalls I see and how you have addressed them. It may be as simple as that willingness to take a seeming risk is as good an indicator of fit as any.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Such great insight here, Alec! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s really valuable to hear your friend’s experience and how the idea of bootcamp could affect applicants. Makes a lot of sense, and your Zappos idea is a great one!

      • Alec Wilson

        Thanks for the reply. I was mainly curious if you’d done any research on it. Like I said, the willingness to bet on themselves and take the risk may be a valuable signal of fit. You may be reducing your total pool, but only filtering out those less likely to be a fit. Keep up the awesome posts!

  • http://belovednewo.blogspot.com/ Laura

    I really enjoyed this post, Kevan! The .gif celebration parties are hilarious! You gotta love an appropriate-for-the-moment .gif, right?! While Bootcamp does sound a bit intimidating, it also sounds like a great way to jump right in! Most jobs probably do not give the kind of feedback Buffer does, which is a shame because it helps people grow, correct any issues, and be congratulated on achievements. I applied for a position at Buffer after using the application for some time to help promote my blog and help get the conversation flowing on my social media accounts. The more I read about Buffer, the more I get super excited at the thought of working there. Maybe some day! :)

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      So great to hear this, Laura! Yes, nothing beats a good .gif party. :)

  • http://bjornsennbrink.se Björn Sennbrink

    “What’s it like to join Buffer without a guaranteed, full-time position?”

    My answer to that is: Try working as a freelancer for a couple of years and you will know what to reply when asked :)

    As always, very interesting to learn more about how you work.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      This is an awesome perspective! Thanks so much for sharing this. Sounds like I have lots of good company with fellow risk-takers. :)

      Your comments about employment made me think of this article about Amazon/Zappos paying employees to quit. Not sure if it resonates with you or not, but I found the ideas interesting:

      http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/04/why-amazon-is-copying-zappos-and-paying-employees-to-quit/

    • Anonnnb

      Just to clarify – after the boot camp, you become an at will employee from being a contractor. At will employment is the standard here too. The change is you get benefits and tax advantages over being a contractor.

  • http://www.lklawless.com/blog Laura K. Lawless

    Thank you for sharing all of this, it’s fascinating! Can you give me an idea of approximately how long it took between submitting your application and being contacted by Buffer?

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Absolutely, Laura! I think my situation might be rather unique. I had written on the Buffer blog as a guest writer before, so I had been in touch with Leo off and on for several months. When I did apply, I also emailed him directly to let him know. I heard back within a day or so?

      I will say, too, that it was my second time applying for the position. I first applied about a year ago, and during the in-between time, I did everything I could to advance my skills and build relationships that would help the next time the job came open. :)

      • http://www.lklawless.com/blog Laura K. Lawless

        Thanks so much for your quick response, Kevan! I’m convinced that Buffer and I are a perfect match, so now I just have to wait patiently for someone at Buffer to realize it too. :-)

      • http://corymarketing.com/ Cory Torrella

        Kevan,
        The fact it was your second time applying says a lot about the company. Before applying for the first time, did you meet/know anyone who currently worked for Buffer?

        • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

          Hi Cory! You know, I had zero connections the first time I applied. I came in totally cold! It definitely made a big difference in my particular case to have a big of a connection with Leo and the blog. :)

  • http://WRRY.me/ William R. Reynolds Young

    To me there’s nothing that makes more sense than a “bootcamp” or a “trial” period. Thanks for sharing your insights into this process.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Thanks, William! It’s a really fun topic to discuss. :)

  • Amanda Proo

    Hi Kevan,

    I love this peek into the Buffer Bootcamp! It must be so rewarding to be surrounded by uplifting people, and the GIF party shows a lot about the Buffer culture. While the 45 day period is a slight risk on both ends, it is fantastic that this is a fit for both at the end of the time..

    As always, thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.entirelyamelia.com Amelia

    Thanks for writing this! Really interesting peak into the process!

  • Peter Peckarsky

    This makes so much sense. Slow to hire (make sure you have the right fit before you commit); quick to fire (be straightforward when the relationship needs to end).

  • http://www.mousebrat.com Shawn Carter

    That is awesome! Possibly the best integration system I’ve ever run across with a company. You guys definitely make working remotely a much more positive situation and that system is going to keep you guys moving forward for years. Congrats, Kevan! Glad to know you’re going to be sticking around for a while.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Thanks, Shawn! Yep, I’m in it for the long haul! It’s really fun to share these inside looks. Really glad you enjoyed it. :)

  • http://natashawalks.com Natasha Walker

    This is an awesome peek into a process I’m sure many of us (including myself) were curious about! This only makes me consider applying even more. Thanks for the in-depth write-up, Kevan!

  • Hamish Macpherson

    That’s so awesome Kevan; so happy for you! Thanks for sharing the process. :)

  • Agnes Dadura

    This is very interesting, just reading it I could feel your excitement. One question though – why JawboneUp? I’ve read they’re often have quality problems after a few weeks of usage, so I chose Fitbit instead (which is quite awesome). I’m still curious about UPs though :)

  • Kirk Kraft

    I remember when the standard “probationary” period was 90 days for nearly any employer (at least the ones I worked for). The level of interaction in that probationary period left much to be desired. Sure, you received an “evaluation” at the end of the 90 days but not much other feedback during that time. The bootcamp seems like a much more effective and interactive way to engage employees, whether or not they end up being offered a position or not. Thanks for the awesome insight, Kevan.

  • Gwenna Hunter

    Those gifs are hilarious! Especially with the little girl, lol!

  • http://talkkindnesstome.com/ Jane

    This makes me want to put on the Paul Harvey voice and exclaim “And now you know . . . the rest of the story”. This makes me wonder what my rank would be in 45 days. What would my ‘rest of the story’ be? How exciting for those who successfully complete Boot Camp – for them, for Buffer, and for all students, we who learn from one of you every time you publish.

  • http://thedsmgroup.com/ Jason Diller

    We did this when I worked at GAP in NYC. It worked out perfectly. We hired about 75% of the people brought into “the program”. Hiring is an art AND a science… no one bats 1,000. It minimizing risk on both sides.

  • http://www.prozynergiatechnologies.com koton usani

    Great way to hire!

  • http://www.thetolkienist.com/ Marcel Aubron-Bülles

    Others may have said this before …

    … but I so want to work at Buffer right now :D

    Thanks for the insights – and congratulations on being taken on board!

  • http://www.briangerald.com/ Brian Gerald

    I’m curious to know how many of those 30%-who-didn’t-make-it-through people turned down an offer from Buffer vs how many were not given an offer. In the (granted only 10) years I’ve been working, I’ve never seen someone not make it through a traditional “probationary period.”

    Something about this seems like the same-old the worker is at the whims of the corporation (or even an aggressive version of that) but while trying to dress it up with hip startup lingo and make it seems like a mutual thing. If roughly half the time the new hire walks away, then the dating metaphor is appropriate. But if it’s more often than not Buffer withholding an offer… that’s not dating, that’s just capitalism.

    I say this as a Buffer Awesome Plan customer and overall big fan of the company — I’m constantly pointing my job-seeking friends this way — with heaps of love and affection.

  • http://kpanastasi.com/ Katya Pavlopoulos

    That was so interesting to read, thanks for sharing! With so much focus on self-improvement, a company can NEVER go wrong. You’re in a great place!

  • Anna Shelton

    Wow, talk about transparency. Do you ever do volunteer projects on your international trips?

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Anna! That’s a great question! We contributed to a South Africa nonprofit following our latest retreat, as our way of giving a little back to the community that hosted us! We’re always looking for new ideas, too, and your comment is a really helpful nudge to keep this top of mind! Thanks! :)

  • Zaki Shaheen

    To me it sounds like a regular “probation” period. I was hoping to see some “curriculum” that one has to go thru during the bootcamp like at facebook. Could you elaborate on that.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Zaki! I totally should have mentioned this! I thought there might be a Bootcamp curriculum, too. Turns out, there isn’t! We receive a few emails with some general info, but mostly the Bootcamp is an opportunity to figure out a lot on your own. We’re encouraged to experiment – it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

      Great question! Thanks. :)

  • markkoeks

    Great post Kevan! Really been enjoying your work and getting some Buffer insider info is a nice add. I love how quickly things changed regarding roles, in two weeks!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Great to hear! We’ll try to get some more “inside info” out there for you! :)

  • http://nikipaniki.com Niki Torres

    Amazing read. I love the GIF party. Fitting in with the company culture is much more important than the skill. That and the attitude. More respect for Buffer now, for sure.