Chris Doner
Jan 15, 2016 · 10 min read
I originally began writing this as a section in my 2015 reflection. It turns out I had a lot to share! Because of its length, I decided to go ahead and make it its own article. Here’s my entire Buffer application and interview experience from discovery, to rejection, to where I am now; reflecting on the growth that resulted. Enjoy :)

As this year has progressed, I’ve became less and less satisfied with my current job. I’m not growing and learning here like I have in the past. Things have changed a lot too, and unfortunately not in ways that align with what I value and how I enjoy working. My four-year anniversary here happened in August and I’ve since realized that I am in need of a change. I wanted to be in a place where I would be learning and improving again, and frankly, happier.

Seemingly out of nowhere, along comes Buffer. In the past, I would never have put in the time and effort that it takes to apply to such a sought after job. Because of their transparent nature, I knew they received thousands of applicants each month, and would only bring in a handful to the interview stage. But something about this place was different. Their values. Open and honest transparency, clear communication, focus on self improvement, seriously everything they were about sounded freaking perfect. I had never seen an opportunity that aligned so seamlessly with the things I valued. The fit was just too perfect to not give it a shot.

For a solid month I poured myself into the application experience. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I was going to give it my all. And I did. I tried to learn as much about the company as possible by reading Buffer blog articles left and right and watching video interviews of the team (there are lots of good ones of founders Joel and Leo out there). I even followed all the Buffer employees on Twitter (and added them all to a list called “Future Co-Workers”, obviously).

My next step would be creating the application. I needed to put something together that would make me stand out, and clearly present why I believed I was such a good fit, all the while staying humble and aware of my weaknesses. This was a fun challenge and unlike anything I had ever done before. I ended up designing a presentation in Medium with graphics covering the four categories they look for in the people they hire. My awesome wife helped me by triple and quadruple checking my spelling and grammar (not my strong suit)! After weeks of late nights working on it after the kids were in bed, everything was finally good to go. It was such a relief to hit that submit button. This process really consumed my time and focus for weeks. It was a lot of hard work, but the hard work paid off:

I’m pretty sure the text message to my wife after getting this email was something along the lines of “holy shit holy shit holy shit”.

What next? Well, I prepared my ass off. I created some mockups and prototypes of some product improvement ideas to show David. I designed a notebook for the Buffer team with task management sections catered specifically to their work methods and values. I even started an Evernote doc with interview prep topics, including things like; questions I wanted to ask, personal experiences I wanted to touch on, side projects in the works, and a bunch of other info I thought may be good to have handy.

It was time for the interview with David. The meeting began with a bang as my internet connection decided to go to hell. After multiple failed attempts I finally just gave up and used the Skype app on my phone to connect. I was super nervous in the beginning, but I got past the butterflies after a few minutes. Overall I was pretty satisfied with the talk. I thought I was able to carry myself well and we had some good discussions about design. However, once the chat was over, I just kind of got this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I started doubting myself. “What could I have done better?” “Why was I so nervous?” “This was the biggest opportunity of my life; I hope I didn’t mess it up.”

Unfortunately those feelings of doubt rang true when I got an email response from David the next day:

Ouch. Who knew such a kind, gracious rejection would still hurt so damn bad. After an hour or so of wallowing, I wrote this response:

I sure did a good job of pulling myself together there for a moment, didn’t I? While everything I wrote there was absolutely true, it didn’t show the pain I was feeling. Through the Buffer application process I learned about the importance and value of reflection. So, I wrote down every single emotion I was feeling and sad thought that went through my head. I knew many of the things I was feeling weren’t necessarily true, but I still felt them nonetheless, and I knew this would be beneficial. The nonsensical “I failed my boys” and “I’m too old, I missed my opportunity” feelings were hitting me hard. My intense desire to get out of my current work situation made the rejection hurt worse. In fact, my frustration with my job unintentionally shined through in my interview. I did have to pester Dave a little bit to get a little more feedback, but he was crazy busy and ended up generously taking the time to respond. He gave me two particulars:

“The thing that made me pause was when I was thinking about the no-ego doer value. I don’t think you would have meant this to come across like this but there were a couple of comments about how people in your team didn’t know much about design — the main one being when you talked about someone who didn’t know “didly” about design.”

He did mention here that it could have been differences in cultural views of certain phrases that made him feel this way. But no doubt using the word “didly” was a negative, and not a very humble way of putting things. It’s also possible David thought I was talking about other designers on the team. I was actually referring to upper management who honestly aren’t knowledgeable about design — and that is OK! That isn’t their job, it’s mine. I think David’s feelings here were a result of a combination of miscommunication, me poorly verbalizing my point, and my frustrations with things at work shining through.

“Another slight aspect was I felt such enthusiasm when talking to you through the application process and on twitter, but I didn’t quite get that during our interview.”

I get this. I hadn’t realized it during the actual interview, but looking back I see it. I was so focused on how I was presenting myself that I sort of kept myself in check. I seriously could not have been more excited to be in that position but my nerves kept me from being myself, in a way. I was subconsciously afraid that showing my true eagerness and enthusiasm would somehow be a sign of weakness. I know better, but I just wasn’t aware of it at the time.

Getting this feedback really helped. I was feeling completely lost after the rejection. I poured a ton of time and energy into the application, and then I was left empty handed. Back to the job and situation I wasn’t happy with. Wait—empty handed??? That’s crap. The Buffer application process changed my life. I landed a freaking interview with an amazing company that gets thousands of applicants every month. This has helped me get past much of the imposter syndrome that I, like many designers, have been dealing with. I have a clearer scope of my strengths and weaknesses. I understand and have experienced the value of taking a step back and reflecting on life. The whole process has made me more self-aware than I’ve ever been. I believe in myself and I know deep down that if I keep pushing and don’t give up, I will find my place.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been busy as I continue to try and find my way. It’s been a chaotic time, no doubt. Here are some of the things I’ve been working on since my interview:

Continued Job Search

  • I have gone back and forth on whether to find an immediate change with the next thing that comes along, or to keep searching for an ideal fit while I just deal with my current job situation. While still unsure, I went ahead and took two interviews for positions that I wasn’t very excited about. I figured that nothing bad could happen from the experiences. At worst, it would be good practice and potentially give me options to think about. Interestingly, I didn’t get offers from either position and asked for feedback. They both touched on the fact that I didn’t do a good job of verbalizing my design work and decisions. This makes sense, as my design career has mostly been at a place where I’m communicating these things through writing, which I believe I do fairly well. Again, better self awareness for the win!
  • It’s always been my plan to apply to Buffer again after I was able to take time to reflect on the experience. After I didn’t get the job the first time, I had some awesome chats with members of the Buffer team Alfred Lua and Marc Anthony Rosa. They were both great. They let me know it was actually really common for it to take multiple attempts at applying before landing a Buffer bootcamp, and encouraged me to give it another shot in the future. I think the time is coming to give it another go.
  • Ev Williams reached out to me through to talk about working with Medium (seriously somebody pinch me). This only happened a couple of days ago so we’ll see where it leads; but damn! It would be so awesome to work on a product I so obviously love and be able to learn from all the crazy talented people working there. Even if this doesn’t lead to me working for Medium, it is just plain cool.

Exploring New Experiences

  • It has become clear to me that my love for problem solving would be best utilized at a growing startup. This realization caused me to search for a Slack community (they’re all the rage, you know) for the St. Louis startup scene. After investigating and coming up empty, I decided to create one myself called StartupSTL.
  • At this point I’m starting to realize that startups are kind of my jam. I stumbled upon this event called Startup Weekend and immediately knew I had to go. I had a blast, learned a ton, and even took some time to reflect and write about my experience.
  • San Francisco? One of the interviews I mentioned above, was actually for a position at a startup in San Francisco. Obviously, there are tons of opportunities that are right up my ally in Silicone Vally, but it would mean uprooting my family that is and obviously be a huge decision. It is an option that my family and I have been exploring and may be something we go for if the right opportunity comes along.
  • I reached out to a mentor to discuss my feelings of being lost. He, too, is a father and startup guy, so I know he would be able to relate. It was a great chat and just getting to talk through things with him helped me piece things together a bit.

Being Completely Present When With My Family

  • I realized how distracted I was at home with my family. I’ve been really obsessed with finding the change that I’m craving. It has constantly been on my mind in one way or another. I often felt uneasy when spending any time on anything other than working towards the change I seek. This has caused me to put too much pressure on myself and not be completely present when spending time with my family.
  • A solution that has worked great for me and my family so far: Mommy Wednesdays and Daddy Thursdays (Mommy needs her personal time too, ya know). Along with regularly scheduled date nights with my wife, we now each have one night a week that is completely ours. Whether we’re wanting to work on side projects, or in need of a relaxing night with friends, we now have this option. Knowing that I have allocated time to spend on these things has helped me shake the feeling that any time not progressing is time wasted. It has helped me stay clear minded and more present around my family. And I think it has enabled me to be a better father and husband.

Every one of these new experiences has helped me learn and grow. These aren’t things that I would have done in the past. Not to this level at least. Like I said, the Buffer application experience has changed my life. I know I will look back at this past year as a year that things began to change. 2015, the pivot year.

I hope you enjoyed the read and maybe even gained a little insight to how I think, work, and am trying to figure this life thing out. I’m always happy to chat on Twitter @chrisd008

You can find my most recent design work on Dribbble.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Chris Doner

Written by

Designer with a passion for UX and solving problems. Husband, father, hockey lover, and rock & roller. Currently UX Lead @ ForeSee.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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