We’re in a very fortunate position at Buffer where we always have an amazing group of people who apply when we post job openings. As a result, we have to make some pretty difficult decisions. Recently at Buffer, we’ve hired for several positions and had hundreds of applications for each:
For Staff Product Manager, 657 people applied
For Senior Engineering Manager, 564 people applied
For Marketing UX Designer, 516 people applied
Based on these results and past experience, we thought there was a potential that we’d see a high number of applicants for the Content Writer role. Plus, we expected that many of our amazing customers and community members would be excited about and qualified for a role like this, and that is precisely what happened.
We initially wanted to leave the Content Writer role open for two weeks to receive applications but decided to shorten it to one week because of the incredible response we received. In order to be transparent about this, we put the new deadline right on the job posting a few days in advance.
In the end, we had 1,518 applicants for the Content Writer role in one week.
This was both exciting and a little overwhelming. We’re a pretty small team at Buffer — currently 79 people — and in our case, we had four people reviewing 1,518 applications, so it was a big task.
We managed to reply to everyone within three weeks of closing the application, but that was still a pretty long timeline as far as these things go.
Applying for a job can be time-consuming, and we had a detailed application process. It’s understandable that after receiving a rejection email, some applicants were keen for feedback to learn why they weren’t moved forward. We can’t reply to everyone at that volume of applications — though I wish we could!
Instead, we’ve put together this blog post with more about our application process for the Content Writer role at Buffer and some general themes we noticed in applications we were rejecting. These might not apply to everyone, but we hope this can be helpful to a few folks who want clarity on this process, or who are applying for future roles at Buffer or elsewhere.
About the application
Before we share the major reasons we didn’t move applications forward, here is a little more about the application we had candidates fill out. This is the main piece of information that our team reviewed alongside every applicant’s resume.
In addition to asking the applicant for their name, pronouns, portfolio or website, and resume, the application touched on three areas: experience, knowledge of Buffer and our space, and alignment with Buffer values.
How we assessed experience
Here are the four application questions we had to assess experience level:
Please select all areas you have marketing experience with: (You are not required to have skills in each of these areas, this is just an assessment.) Options were: Content writing, Content marketing, Social media marketing, Video marketing, Video creation, Graphic design, Research, Data analysis, Conducting interviews, Email marketing, Audio editing, Podcast hosting.
Please share three URLs for articles that you’re proud of:
Write a short pitch for the kind of piece you would want to write for the Buffer blog (buffer.com/resources): (Max 250 characters)
Why did you pitch that topic? (Max 250 characters)
You’ll notice that we asked for a maximum of 250 characters here — that’s primarily because we wanted to test applicants on whether they could condense their ideas, which is an important skill for this position, and secondly because it’s easier for our team to review shorter inputs.
How we assessed knowledge of Buffer and our space
We had five questions that were more focused on Buffer, our industry, and knowledge of the space we cover on our Content team:
Have you used Buffer before? (Y/N)
If yes, what did you use Buffer for? Why was Buffer the tool you selected? (Max 250 characters)
What is your approach to growing your personal brand? (Max 250 characters)
What is a recent trend in marketing or social media that you’re a fan of? (Max 250 characters)
How would you incorporate that trend into your content creation process at Buffer? (Max 250 characters)
How we assessed values
Values are a big focus for us at Buffer, and we’ve had a variety of ways we assess values over the years. This time, we asked three high-level questions that would give us a decent idea of whether an applicant was a fit for Buffer’s values and remote culture. However, a values assessment continues throughout the interview rounds.
The three questions we asked were:
How do you approach communicating effectively in a remote environment? (It’s okay to talk about tools, but please think beyond that, too.)
Please share your approach to promoting an inclusive work environment, and include an example from your professional past.
Please share a time when you realized you might be wrong about something. What was the outcome? What did you learn? (Please use a professional example, if you have one.)
Themes we saw in applications we didn’t move forward
A few bigger themes came through with applications that we didn’t move forward that go beyond not demonstrating the skills we were looking for, or being misaligned with Buffer’s values. This list won’t cover all of the reasons an application might have been rejected, but it is a broad reflection of what we were seeing.
1. The application was incomplete
Several applications were incomplete or where an applicant chose to skip a question, sometimes even writing, “I don’t have an answer for this.” All of the applications we moved forward were completed entirely.
2. The application didn’t follow the guidelines
A lot of questions had a 250-character limit. We didn’t immediately reject people over the limit, because some people misread it as 250 words and kept to that throughout their application. However, many applications wrote over several hundred words, and those did not get moved forward.
3. The pitch wasn’t specific enough or was not tailored to our blog
We asked every applicant to pitch a topic for the Buffer blog, and we put a lot of weight behind this question because coming up with ideas for blog posts and sharing them with the rest of the content team is a big part of this role.
A number of applications didn’t pitch a specific topic or pitched something unrelated to any other content on our blog. We looked for pitches crafted with our existing content in mind and for solid explanations of those pitches.
4. The writing samples were not relevant to the role
The first bullet point under the requirements for this role was that we were looking for people with experience writing about social media, marketing, and business topics. We read each application first, but ultimately when the writing samples weren’t relevant to those topics, we would not move an application forward.
5. The application was clearly written by AI
More often than I expected, we’d encounter a block of text written very unnaturally. We used a tool called Copyleaks to confirm whether or not it was written by AI. Of course, no AI detector is 100 percent accurate but there are broad patterns we noticed among content flagged as written by AI. In the end, we had a larger number of applications written by AI than I anticipated. We are all for using AI in our content creation process, but we never publish or submit final versions entirely written by AI.
6. The person was very unfamiliar with Buffer
We ask whether or not someone has used Buffer before because for Marketing roles in particular, we’ve found a substantial benefit to working with people who already understand Buffer’s product and target customer.
We didn’t immediately reject people if they hadn’t used Buffer, but it was a massive benefit to any application to have used Buffer before and researched how we operate at Buffer before applying. In many applications, it would be clear the person wasn’t familiar with Buffer, and we didn’t move those applications forward.
It’s possible you applied for the role, and you’re reading this knowing that none of these apply to you — in that case, I want to say I’m grateful for the time you spent applying and that you would consider Buffer as a place to work.
Personally, I applied to Buffer three times before I joined the team, and that has been the experience of a number of others on the team as well. You’re very welcome to apply to Buffer in the future if Buffer still calls to you as a place to work, and in the meantime, we’d be thrilled to have you as a member of our community.
We’re wishing everyone who applied all the best with what’s next for them and, again, are so grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response we received to this job opening. ❤️