How to raise-the-bar in the Amazon Interview?

“It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people… Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”

 

– Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders in 1998, just four years after Amazon was founded.

 

The above statement perfectly captures Amazon’s hiring philosophy in a nutshell. Amazon does not hire ordinary. It hires people who ‘raise-the-bar’. The company believes that every new employee should increase the average level of productivity on whichever team they join, ensuring that the company’s standards get higher and higher as time goes on. This implies that every new hire should be smarter/better/more qualified than 50% of the people currently in the role.

 

To ensure that this statement holds true, Amazon trains a selected few of its employees to be Bar Raisers. These Amazon employees take on essentially a second, unpaid job as candidate evaluators. Apart from taking one of the interviews, the primary job of a Bar Raiser is to ensure that for each position and level, every candidate is being interviewed across a shared set of competencies: the 14 leadership principles (more about them in a while). The BRs also help by discovering hidden hiring motives, like a serious near-term need, and force interviewers to reconsider their feedback in different contexts. Bar Raisers are known not to jump from one topic to another, but savor hearing every applicable detail of your story.

 

Now let’s come to the interview process. Amazon usually conducts about four to six interviews, wherein at least one interviewer is a bar raiser. Each interviewer covers a few of the 14 leadership principles so that in entirety the candidate is judged on each one of them. Behavioral questions are asked to check if the candidate has manifested these competencies in the past. As stated earlier, these are the single most important filter that Amazon uses to select candidates. Amazon strongly believe that with the expansion rate of the company, the only way they can keep the company culture alive is by ferociously guarding their leadership principles. The candidates are expected to fulfill ‘minimum expectation’ on all 14 leadership principles and be ‘outstanding’ on at least one of them. If even one of the BRs has an objection to Amazon hiring the candidate, they can simply veto the application.

 

“Our Leadership Principles aren’t just a pretty inspirational wall hanging. These Principles work hard, just like we do. Amazonians use them, every day, whether they’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates. It’s just one of the things that makes Amazon peculiar.”

 

Having interviewed Amazon recruiters and candidates, we have collated a brief list of questions that are used in Amazon interviews to judge candidates on each of these 14 leadership principles. Please note that the questions below are by no means exhaustive and are just indicative of the space that your interview questions would be penetrating into. You can use this list of questions to work on your laundry list of experiences and pick out your star stories: the stories that best manifest the leadership principles you want to put light upon. Understand that every part of the process has been created to systematically outline leadership traits, understand their importance to you and the degree of applicability of these principles in your life experiences. Choose a few of the leadership principles that mean the most to you and focus on them in a way that’s obvious. Speak in them. Speak to them. Mention them in your stories.

1. Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

• Who was your most difficult customer?

• Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?

• When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?

• Tell the story of the last time you had to apologize to someone.

 

2. Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.

• Tell me about a time when you had to leave a task unfinished.

• Tell me about a time when you had to work on a project with unclear responsibilities.

 

3. Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here”. As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

• Tell me about a time when you gave a simple solution to a complex problem.

• Tell me about a time when you invented something.

 

4. Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

• Tell me about a time when you were wrong.

• Tell me about a time when you had to work with incomplete data or information.

 

5. Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

• Tell me about a time when you influenced a change by only asking questions.

• Tell me about a time when you solved a problem through just superior knowledge or observation.

 

6. Hire and Develop The Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.  We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

• Tell me about a time when you mentored someone.

 

7. Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

• Tell me about a time when you couldn’t meet your own expectations on a project.

• Tell me about a time when a team member didn’t meet your expectations on a project.

 

8. Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

• Tell me about your proudest professional achievement.

• Tell me about a time when you went way beyond the scope of the project and delivered.

 

9. Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.  

• Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

• Tell me about a time when you took a calculated risk.

• Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do?

 

10. Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention.  There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

• Tell me about a time when you had to work with limited time or resources.

 

11. Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing.  Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume.  They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

• What would you do if you found out that your closest friend at work was stealing.

• Tell me about a time when you had to tell someone a harsh truth.

 

12. Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

• Give me two examples of when you did more than what was required in any job experience.

 

13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

• Tell me about a time when you did not accept the status quo.

• Tell me about an unpopular decision of yours.

• Tell me about a time when you had to step up and disagree with a team members approach.

• If your direct manager was instructing you to do something you disagreed with, how would you handle it?

 

14. Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

• By providing an example, tell me when you have had to handle a variety of assignments. Describe the results.

• What is the most difficult situation you have ever faced in your life? How did you handle it?

• Give me an example of a time when you were 75% of the way through a project, and you had to pivot strategy–how were you able to make that into a success story?

 

Our parting advice is that you not try to game the interview i.e. tell them what you think they want to hear. Do not invent stories to fit the image you want to showcase. That attitude more often than not makes the candidate seem inconsistent or ‘unreal’. But most importantly by doing so, you lose out on a very critical opportunity: to showcase the real you. Every story that you’d ever need is already there in your laundry list. What is required is to understand your own self better and craft these stories so that they really bring out your competencies and achievements.

 

We wish you all the best!

This article is part of the series “Unleavables: The top marketing and sales recruiters of India”, featuring actionable insights about their placement process. You may want to check out our articles on Hindustan Unilever and P&G. The next article will put light on how to go about with Group Discussions. Simply like our Facebook page or subscribe to our mailing list and we’ll let you know when a new post comes out.    

At Kraftshala we use stories and expertise to craft the marketing & sales leaders of tomorrow. If you are interested in coaching, teaching or learning more about marketing, write in to us at contact@kraftshala.com

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