If you have spent any time on the Internet, you have likely interacted with BuzzFeed content. The rapidly growing social news and entertainment company has amassed a global audience of more than 150 million people in just eight years. It's known for its viral lists, witty lifestyle quizzes, and open door for user-generated content, much of which has something to do with cats.
But you don't get to be one of the biggest media companies on the planet just with cat videos. BuzzFeed's operations include custom advertising, investigative journalism, and a newly announced motion picture studio based in Los Angeles. Earlier this month, BuzzFeed received a $50 million investmentfrom venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which boosted its estimated worth to $850 million. The company has offices in New York; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Paris, France; São Paulo, Brazil; and Sydney, Australia, and plans to expand to India, Germany, Mexico, and Japan this year.
BuzzFeed is hiring like mad right now. Joel Greengrass, senior vice president of talent, reveals what it takes to join the team.
What would people find most surprising about the work culture at BuzzFeed?
People have this vision of us being a chaotic environment of 22-year-olds running around creating lists about cats. We also have Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and some of the top engineers in the world. We run kind of like a laboratory. Given the amount of things we publish on a daily basis, we're forced to experiment and try new things all the time. It challenges people to take intelligent risks. We put a lot of trust in our employees, and they surprise themselves with the results.
What specific qualities do you look for in every candidate?
It's an interesting combination: You need to be self-directed and know how to solve a problem on your own. But you must be excited about the opportunity to work with others and understand that you'll become better by bouncing ideas off of colleagues. You can't have an ego in a collaborative environment such as this. If you have too much pride of ownership of an idea, this is going to be a difficult place for you to work. The other piece I look for is leadership. I want to sit across my desk from someone — whether just out of college or working in the industry for 20 years — and think, I want to work for you! There's a gravitas that comes across in people who aspire to make everyone else's jobs better through their own work.
What do you expect candidates to know about the company before an interview?
I don't need people to come in having memorized every article, list, and quiz we've done in the last 30 days. However, I do think it's important to know about BuzzFeed's story and a little bit about our growth. But rather than having knowledge about us, I want you to have experience with us. Talk about if you've posted in the community, what quiz really spoke to you and made you want to share it, or tell me about a story that you read that surprised you. Transparency is important. Don't B.S. me that you get all of your hard news here. I don't expect that. It's perfectly OK if you use BuzzFeed primarily as an entertainment source. But speak with knowledge about it.
How frequently do you hire new people?
We have 582 employees right now. I've been here five months, and we have hired one new person every day since my first day. We have more than 100 open positions right now. I don't expect that growth to slow down any time soon.
What areas have the most job opportunities?
We're looking for video producers, writers, developers, and programmers especially. But I don't know of any area of the company right now where we're not actively hiring.
How many of these openings are available to recent graduates?
We have junior producer roles in video, entry-level writing jobs, administrative assistants, and a lot of coordinator jobs, such as a recruiting coordinator. We're also looking for entry-level developers in all of our tech areas.
Where do you find most of your candidates?
Our jobs page lists all of our openings, and it changes quickly. It's important to know that we don't post our opportunities on external sites. If you find them there, it didn't come from us and that posting may be old. We do use LinkedIn quite a bit to find passive candidates, which means people who don't know they're looking for a job. We're actively looking for good candidates all the time. Employee referrals are also a big source of new candidates.
Do you attend any career fairs or networking events?
We host a lot of meet-ups through organizations like HackNY. We also host about one meet-up per quarter in our offices in New York. We recently attended the National Association of Black Journalists in Boston and have Uncubed, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Out for Undergraduate Business Conference coming up in the fall. We plan to attend about six to eight college career fairs this year.
Do you offer internships?
We have very robust internship and fellowship programs in almost every position here. I don't want to disclose how much, but every position is paid. Fellows come in for three months and take on the equivalent of a full-time role, only with more guidance and instruction. Internships last 10 weeks during the summer and are for juniors and seniors in college. This program is intended to teach young candidates about all areas of BuzzFeed. You may come in to intern in our editorial department, but you are going to learn about everything we do. Every week, there's a new speaker, special class, or lunch with different departments. The goal is for these programs to become a recruiting pipeline.
Do you ever hire part-time workers?
We do on occasion hire both freelance and remote employees, but it is far more the exception than the rule.
What's the best way to prepare for an interview?
I used to get such a kick out of people making résumés into 25 Reasons Why You Should Hire Me. I love that kind of preparation, but I might poke my eye out with a white-hot needle if I see another one of those. But use that example of preparation as a guide for the interview. Come in prepared to talk about the 25 reasons we should hire you. And if I'm not asking the questions that get these answers, it's up to you as a candidate to weave that information into the conversation.
What's the interview process like for candidates who don't live near one of your offices?
For out-of-town candidates, we always start with phone or Skype with a member of my team. If the candidate moves forward in the process, we will have them do the same with members of the hiring team. If we are still a go, we will fly them to the New York office for final rounds in person. If they accept an offer, we do offer relocation assistance.
How important is it for candidates to have a strong online presence?
If you're applying for a creative position, I want to see your work and read your Twitter feed, and see how witty or original you are. A lot of candidates have blogs, and I want to read those too. I'm not looking for incriminating photos of you on Facebook, but I can get a really well-rounded view of someone by how they represent themselves online. It's especially important that you play in the world of social media. Even if you're in the world of accounting and finance, or a developer, you're going to be better at your job if you're a consumer of the site and you share the information.
What's the best way to interact with you on social media?
I don't mind when people do a little, mini online stalking of me. I like to know that people are so serious about this that they'll spend time looking for every edge they can get. LinkedIn is the place to reach out. People will ask for recommendations as to how to get their résumé noticed. People ask if they can send résumés directly to me. I'm pretty good at getting back to everyone.
How important is a job-specific degree?
If we're hiring an accountant, we're going to look for an accounting or finance degree. For creative positions, it's probably 50–50 in terms of what types of degree you have. A traditional journalism degree, for example, doesn't always prepare you for the type of work we do in editorial.
Do you have any examples of someone who showed that their passion was more valuable than work experience and landed a job?
One of our current food bloggers was an attorney. She had a huge passion around healthy living and organic eating, so she started a blog. She wrote that blog for about a year and left her career in law to write about food for us. One of our data science leads was an art and geography major. In her senior year, she took one math and science class. She applied for a job here, and the day before she met with our CEO, she taught herself Python. With the exception of one class, there was nothing in her background that told us she should be the one to build dashboards for the company. But she proved her intelligence and drive in a very short amount of time.
What types of questions do you typically ask in an interview?
The most important question I ask every candidate is "Why BuzzFeed?" They need to be able to articulate where they see themselves within the company and what brought them to us. If you can't answer that question, you're probably not going to get hired. I also want to know how self-aware you are. I ask if you've ever gone to a supervisor for feedback and what you learned from that. I look for people who run toward the fire and solicit that feedback from a boss.
What questions should candidates always ask in an interview?
I like when people ask questions that show an interest in growth. Such as, "If we fast-forward 12 months, what would this role look like?" "How can success be measured in this role?" "How can I help contribute to growth?" I like when people ask me for my viewpoint on things as well. "What do I find most unique about BuzzFeed's culture?" I've had candidates ask me if I were the CEO, what would I change tomorrow? I like questions that make me think. That's memorable.
What questions should I never ask?
I get slightly turned off when people are asking about perks, salary, and benefits in early rounds of interviews. I want people who are interested in working for this company, not just a company that has free lunch in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays. Our team will bring up salary and benefits. And if we are excited about a candidate, we're going to figure out how to make it work.
What's a mistake people make in interviews all the time and don't know it?
If you're really serious about your job search, you're going to find a friend or family member, and role-play the interview a little bit. If you come in and draw a blank or can't have a conversation about yourself, I wonder why you're here.
Do you have any pet peeves?
I don't need fan mail. I get so many emails that begin, "I love your site. Do you have any job openings?" I mean, thank you for your interest and passion for BuzzFeed, but that's not exactly selling me on your skills. If people come in and they're basically applying for every open job that we have, that's a big red flag for me. I need to know what they want to do here specifically.
Do thank-you cards or emails matter to you?
It really does matter. I'm very surprised if I don't get a thank-you from someone. It's enough to the point that I will be pretty turned off. While a generic thank-you email hasn't hurt anybody, I do love to get a thank-you that includes information from our interview. It shows the person was listening and is engaged. And I'm a total sucker for a handwritten thank-you, which is ironic given what we do here. When you get a thousand emails a day, it's a refreshing change. We send out our own handwritten notes to new hires once they've accepted an offer.
What is your preferred interview dress code?
It's a very casual environment. I think it's always best to err on the side of over-dressing than under-dressing.
Do you care about GPAs on résumés?
I still see GPAs on résumés sometimes, especially on international CVs. But I've honestly never had a conversation with anybody about it.
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