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The 10 Questions I’ve Been Asked the Most in 400+ Values Screening Interviews

Over the last year, I’ve done at least 400 values screening calls and I always turn the call over to the applicants to ask whatever questions they have for me. Here are the top ten questions I get asked and my responses.

7 min read Open
Nicole Miller
Nicole Miller Director of People @ Buffer
The 10 Questions I’ve Been Asked the Most in 400+ Values Screening Interviews

We’ve brought in nearly 30 new teammates in the last year, and for each of those hires, we’ve done 15 to 25 values screens. So over the last year, I’ve done at least 400 values screening calls and I always turn the call over to the applicants to ask whatever questions they have for me.

I’ve been asked some really insightful questions over the past year, and I’ve seen some trends emerge. Here are the top ten questions I get asked and my responses. At a glance:

  1. What has kept you at Buffer for so long?
  2. How do you build culture in a fully remote environment?
  3. What does career growth look like at Buffer?
  4. What do you like least about working at Buffer?
  5. What would make someone successful in this role at Buffer?
  6. What does a typical day look like?
  7. Do I have to change my schedule to a certain timezone?
  8. How did the pandemic affect or change the company?
  9. Does the 4-day workweek apply to everyone?
  10. Why is this role open now?

What has kept you at Buffer for so long?

If I had to guess, this has been asked in about four out of every five interviews I’ve conducted this year. It’s a staple one, and for a good reason. It’s the foundation behind the concept of a “stay” interview (the opposite of an exit interview when someone leaves your company.)

Here’s how I respond: (and it’s a common sentiment I hear from Buffer teammates again and again) I’m here because the team is amazing. The people are all genuine and care deeply for the work they do and the people they work with. And I greatly admire how excellent our team is at what they do. Everyone strives to raise the bar, and that sentiment drives me to be better and to work harder every day.

Additionally, I find a lot of joy and fulfillment in how Buffer is constantly evolving as a company. Because I started in 2014, I’ve been especially privileged to watch us grow from 25 to now 85. So much of the day-to-day changes, and because we have an emphasis on growth and experimentation, we’re able to try new things, push the boundaries and make mistakes.

Perhaps one of the biggest things that has impacted me as a person and is one of my favorite things about Buffer is the perspective we have that  if we try this and it fails, at least we can write an Open blog about it and what we learned.

How do you build culture/camaraderie in a fully remote environment?

Also included this: How do you do team-building across various time zones and in a pandemic?

This is a huge question, so I’ll default to sharing a few blog posts (including this new one!)

The short answer is that it starts with our foundation in a shared set of company values, and an emphasis on culture from the moment you apply at Buffer. We screen for values alignmentand we pair all new hires with with a culture buddy to help share insights around our company culture, history, and inside jokes. (We even have a Buffer vocabulary guide for referencing the unique phrases and gifs and memes we use a lot.)

We have a lot of daily and weekly activities to keep casual conversation flowing and team engagement as a focus: interest groups on Slack, weekly rotating pair calls, peer masterminds, casual hangouts on Zoom, small-group breakouts during All Hands, and more.  

What does career growth look like at Buffer?

This is a tricky one in some respects: we have career frameworks and clear expectations for growth within areas (both deeper in your role and what it looks like to progress into management), but there are times where we might see lower turnover and thus management opportunities are less available. Conversely, I’ve seen many phases at Buffer where we’ve been able to move teammates from one department into an entirely new department. (This is far less common these days at our current size.)

But what I always respond with this question is that those who truly seek out and solve business needs at Buffer are seen and rewarded eventually. Sometimes it might be a few months or years down the road, but Buffer truly aims to reward the effort put into the company.

What do you like least about working at Buffer?

This one is perhaps an easy-out, but the thing I like least is not having more in-person collaboration time with the team.

Even aside from the realities of a global pandemic, we’ve had troubles getting all teammates together because of the worldwide distribution of our team. Missing a yearly retreat (when we still had them) meant perhaps two years between seeing your teammates in person. I still believe the trade-offs of remote are far worth it and that we’re able to push the bounds of synchronous work with our habits of written communication and defaulting to transparency.

What would make someone successful in this role and at Buffer?

As I mentioned above around career progression, the teammates I’ve seen be most successful at Buffer in my eight years have been the ones who see a need, jump in and solve it. So from what I’ve seen people who are proactive, well-informed, and diligent with your time and energy are successful here.

The other key tenants of effective teammates at Buffer are the items we try to screen for in our hiring process: excellent written communication and being self-driven in a remote environment. We also look for those who contribute to and advance our values-driven culture.

What does a typical day look like?

This one looks different for almost every area and sometimes depends on the project or goals for the quarter. Generally, we have only a few consistent meetings: weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones with your direct manager, a monthly, company-wide All-Hands or Town Hall, and then an occasional team-building chat like a pair call or mastermind. Beyond that, there’s a little Slack time, a lot of catching up on Threads (which is what we use instead of internal email).

The rest of your day is structured around your team and any time commitments you might have (for our customer advocates, we do like to know who is in the inbox to make sure there’s predictable coverage.) There’s an immense amount of trust and flexibility — as is needed for successful remote teams!

Do I have to change my schedule to a certain timezone?

Generally, the answer to this one is no - though depending on the makeup of your team and how much collaboration you need to do with teammates across the globe, there might be the occasional or repeating meeting where you need to get up early or stay up late. We do ask all team members to collaborate on these and try to spread out the burden of who is most inconvenienced. So if a teammate in the UK needs to meet with someone in Australia, they alternate who stays up late or gets up early whenever possible.

And of course, we rely on asynchronous communication, which optimizes for everyone working the typical 9-5 schedule in their own timezone while still being able to move projects and tasks forward.

How did the pandemic affect or change the company?

The pandemic changed quite a bit about how we’ve approached work in the past two years: first, we canceled our in-person retreat, which definitely set a different tone for the year around building relationships. Relatedly, we changed to a four-day workweek to better balance work and life for teammates, especially parents.

The limited workweek and reduction in overall work time cut into some of the extra cushion we had for team bonding activities, and it’s something we’re really working on currently to strike the right balance between async activities (water-cooler threads in Slack, writing challenges, sharing teammate interviews via video) and synchronous hangouts over Slack. We’ll be writing more about this soon as we continue to experiment and learn what works for our team.

Does the four-day work week apply to everyone?

In short: absolutely! Here’s what our customer support teams do in order to keep things as seamless for our customers as possible.

Why is this role open now?

This is certainly a great question to ask and our growth as a company has been rather steady. This is because we’ve deliberately chosen not to take a “growth at all costs” mentality, and thus we balance growth in our team with revenue growth and/or mindful investment in our company based on overall strategy.
So often, the answer to this one is that we’re backfilling a position, seeking an entirely new role to support the team, or (for our customer support team) looking for someone in a specific timezone for better coverage.

Bonus: I don’t have any questions because you’re so transparent

This generally isn’t a deal-breaker if I hear this from a candidate. I overall love the confidence that candidates sometimes have when they tell me they’ve read this blog for years or read through dozens of articles after applying.

I do want to see a level of deeper reflection and interest in the specific role or what it’s like to work at Buffer. I understand not everyone is comfortable doing interviews, and everyone at Buffer who does values screening is encouraged to help make candidates feel comfortable and successful in the values screening.

We are transparent, and we do our best to share as much on the Open blog as we can, but things change constantly at Buffer. (I tend to joke that once we write about something on the Open blog, we change it the next day!) A better approach for this question or response would be, “What haven’t you all shared yet on the Open blog?” I’d love that sort of a question.

Over to you

What is your favorite question to ask in interviews? What else would you want to know about Buffer? Send us a tweet to let us know!

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