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10 Tips for How to Ace an Amazon Interview

Unlike most companies where interviewers can use their discretion to ask whatever questions they think are important, in the Bar Raiser Hiring Process at Amazon, interviewers are assigned specific, objective data to gather, focusing on the Amazon Leadership Principles.

I spent 15 years at Amazon, 10 as a Vice President. I was a Bar Raiser (more on what that means later) as well as a member of the Bar Raiser Core team which selects and trains Bar Raisers.  I conducted an average of five interviews each week for a wide variety of positions across Amazon ranging from University Interns to Vice Presidents and Senior Vice Presidents.  I am also the co-author of the bestselling management book Working Backwards, which describes the six processes which have enabled Amazon to innovate and scale, including the Bar Raiser Hiring process (chapter 2).

Here are my 10 tips for how to ace an interview at Amazon

1. Study the Amazon Leadership Principles.

Countless people have asked me over the years how to prepare for an Amazon interview and I always guide them to focus first and foremost on studying and understanding Amazon's Leadership Principles (LPs).  This sounds corny or perhaps misleading because, at most companies, a list of corporate values or principles is meaningless PR propaganda.  They sound good, but they don’t really mean anything.  

Amazon is not like other companies in this regard.  Their 16 LPs are knit into every decision and every process-- beginning with the hiring process.  The criteria for who to hire and not hire is based on an evaluation of where each candidate (you) exceeds, meets, or falls short on each Leadership Principle.  

Unlike a test like the ACT where you could be asked to solve an endless variety of problems, the Amazon interview test is limited to 16 topics. To prepare, spend time thinking about the kinds of questions you would ask if you were trying to elicit examples of work related to each principle.  The more time you spend studying the principles and thinking about how these would be put into practice, plus examples from your career where you have done so, the better prepared you will be.

2. Write down examples of your past work for each Leadership principle.  

In addition to being an open book test, it is also an open note test.  Coming up with detailed thoughtful examples for all 14 leadership principles is not something you want to come up with on the fly in front of the interviewer.  Not only is there nothing wrong with having detailed notes in front of you for the interview, but it also demonstrates that you are serious and prepared.  Writing down your answers will force you to recall good examples and capture the details.

Each Amazon interviewer has been trained to conduct interviews using behavioral interviewing techniques.  What is behavioral interviewing?  It is a method of interviewing based on the candidate’s past work experience.  Rather than asking brainteaser questions (e.g. how many windows are there in the buildings in Chicago), open-ended questions (what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?), or hypothetical questions (How would you improve Amazon Alexa?).  Behavioral interviewing is the best predictor of future performance because it is based on past performance.

In a behavioral interview, every question starts with “give me an example of a time when you did X?” where X refers back to one of the 14 LPs.  For example, if an interviewer has been assigned the LP “Insist on the Highest Standards” then they will ask a question like “Tell me about a time when you identified an opportunity to improve a process, product, or service that you thought that it wasn’t good enough and how did you go about improving it?”  Do this for all 14 LPs plus see my list of example questions at the end of this document.


3. Be a S.T.A.R.  

While you are completing step two, you need to keep in mind something called the S.T.A.R. method.  The most skilled and experienced Amazon interviewers won’t simply ask you a question, dutifully record your answer, and then move on to another topic.  They will be asking probing follow-up questions in order to really understand how you acted and lead in the example you are providing. They will do this by using the S.T.A.R. Method.  S.T.A.R. is the acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  In short, the interviewer needs to gain a complete picture of the situation you, your company, or your team were in, what role you played in the project/problem, what actions you took, and what were the (measurable) outcomes.

By understanding S.T.A.R., you can prepare and pressure test your responses before the interview.  A winning answer that ticks each box in S.T.A.R. looks like this:

S: The situation was complex and high stakes for your company/team/department.
T: You (the candidate) were in charge or primarily responsible for all or at least a large part of the project/problem/initiative while working effectively with other team members.
A: You took meaningful action(s) that demonstrated strength or mastery of one or more of the Amazon LPs.
R: You persevered through roadblocks and challenges and ultimately made a big impact for your company/team/department and you cite specific financial or customer metrics in absolute and percentage change/rate terms.  

In other words, make sure that you pick the right examples and share the right details in your example to tick each box for S.T.A.R.

4.  Err on the side of brevity.  

One thing that will get you dinged for sure is if you give long-winded answers to each question.  Don’t speak in run-on sentences, telling lengthy tales about your past exploits that suck up the allotted time for the interview.  There is nothing more off-putting to an interviewer than a candidate who gives a long-winded and rambling answer that doesn’t directly answer the question.  Make sure your answers are concise ( 1-2 minutes) and have a clear beginning, middle, and end.   If the interviewer wants and needs more info, they will probe for it.  Better that they ask for more than having the interviewer be frustrated and need to cut you off.

Once you come up with your examples, practice them while recording yourself so that you can both time yourself and listen to how you sound.

5. Prepare clear and well-organized examples.  As you prepare your answers. Make sure to prepare well-organized responses.  For example, when you are describing the Actions (as part of S.T.A.R.) that you took to overcome a specific hurdle, break things down into a list. For example “I identified four important workstreams that needed to be completed. 1) align on the details of the product with the team, 2) write a detailed requirements document, 3) build a detailed project timeline that engineering agreed to, and 4) review the detailed plan with our CEO to get signoff before commencing work.”

Using lists within your examples is one good way to a) make it easier for the interviewer to follow your train of thought (which isn’t easy btw) and b) demonstrate structure and clarity of thought in your work and thinking.  

Also, don't be afraid to ask a clarifying question if you are unsure or not clear about the question the interviewer asks you. It's much worse to "guess" at the question because you'll likely give an answer that doesn't address the question.  

6. Know Amazon.  

Taking a job is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life.  Don’t take that decision lightly.  You are the best judge of what kind of company and culture suits you best.  If you land in a company where you fit the culture, feel challenged and have opportunities for growth, you will thrive.  If you don’t really embrace your corporate culture (but you took the job because of the money, free drinks, and snacks, or how it would look on your resume) you will inevitably become frustrated and will be off to the next company.  

P.S. I hear you on the free drinks and snacks-- it would be hard for me to resist them too.

Every company culture is different.  It is up to you to figure out how the culture of Amazon works.  Invest the time to properly research the company. Furthermore, if you don’t do your homework before your interview, it will show (trust me!) and your odds of getting the job will be greatly reduced.  

Here are some recommended research activities before you interview at Amazon (or any company):

7. Ask Thoughtful Questions.  

A typical Amazon interview will last for one hour.  For the last ten to fifteen minutes of each interview, you get an opportunity to ask the questions.  Use this time wisely.  The worst thing you can do is to say that you don’t have any questions or to ask questions that demonstrate that you haven’t done your homework.  And please don’t ask something like “based on this interview do I seem like a fit for the role?” or “did I address all of your questions?”  Anyone who tells you that you should ask such questions does not know what they are talking about. They demonstrate that you are desperate for the job.  Instead, demonstrate that you are shrewd and choosy when it comes to selecting a company that will be a great fit for you and your career aspirations.

Asking the right questions will not only increase your perceived value as a candidate but will ensure that you have the info you need to decide if this is the right company and job for you.  

Use this time to ask the questions which will help you make that decision (should you get a job offer).  Think about what factors are most important to you and ask probing questions that are based on the research you have already done.  For example, you might have specific questions about how work gets done at the company.  Ask for clarifying details on the department, products, strategy, or the challenges you will face in the role you are applying for.  Seek to understand how your career and job progression could unfold.  If you can’t think of anything, at least ask each person why they joined Amazon, and what are they find the most rewarding and least most challenging about working at Amazon.  

8. Don’t Fear the Bar Raiser.  

One of the distinctive elements of interviewing at Amazon is that one of the people who will interview you will be a Bar Raiser.  Bar Raisers are Amazon interview process experts who will lead the debrief discussion of your candidacy after the interviews are complete.  They are present to make sure that the interview and decision-making process is followed and to help the hiring manager make a better decision about whether to hire you or not.  The Bar Raiser could work in any function or department at the company, typically they are not in HR or recruiting.  

You can usually spot the Bar Raiser because they work on a different team or department from the other interviewers.  On occasion, I have sat down to interview a candidate and they have guessed or asked me if I am the Bar Raiser.  They usually do so with a bit of trepidation or fear that this is about to be a very tough interview.  It won’t be any tougher than your other interviews so don’t tense up and rely on the knowledge that you are well prepared.  

Also, don’t try to win over the Bar Raiser or treat them in some special way (or anyone on the loop).  Just be yourself and follow the tips provided here.

9. Write with Clarity of Thought.

If you are asked to provide a writing sample, make sure to focus on clarity of thought above all else.  You won’t be graded on the content of the document per se, but you will be graded on your ability to write clearly and concisely.  Less is more.

The old adage “State, support, conclude” is the key to putting together a sound argument.  Demonstrate how you can take seemingly unconnected data points and connect the dots for the reader.  Avoid flowery language and descriptors and instead focus on data and facts to describe things.  That is, don’t write, “...the voice assistant market is huge and growing fast.”  Instead, write “...the voice assistant market has an estimated global TAM of $300 billion in 2021 which represented a 22% increase vs the prior year.”

Consider adding a few Frequently Asked Questions or FAQs at the end of your document.   A good FAQ demonstrates an understanding of the most likely questions and concerns from your audience.  Strong answers demonstrate an understanding of the issue plus a thoughtful and reasonable solution.  Using FAQs properly will demonstrate that you understand the Amazon Narrative concept.

10. Extra Credit.  

A thank you note after an interview is not required but it doesn't hurt.  If you chose to do it, do so promptly and write something specific about the conversation you had with your interviewer (e.g. “I enjoyed our discussion/debate about the most important metrics to consider when managing a subscription service”).  

If you feel like you blew it with one of the interview questions, call that out, say what you missed and then share what you wish you had said at the time of the interview.  I can think of more than one time when a follow-up like this flipped me from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ on a candidate.

Know your interviewers.  If the recruiter tells you (in advance) who will be conducting the interview, check them out on LinkedIn in advance to understand their role, and if you have any connections or interests.

[Tell us about your experience] [Form submission] interviewing at Amazon?  What questions did interviewers ask during your interviews?

FAQs


Q: I have heard that Amazon interviewers are busy taking notes on their laptops during the interview.  Is this true and what are they doing?

A: Yes, your interviewers will be taking copious notes during the interview. don’t let this bother you + it is for your benefit.  They will share their notes with the other interviewers.  This is why it is important that you do not give the same example/answer more than once in your interview loop.  If you use it over and over again, it will appear that you haven't done much in your career as these notes are aggregated and read by the entire panel during the debrief meeting.  Make sure you use a wide variety of examples.


Q: How does Amazon handle Technical Interviews for roles like Software Development Engineers?

A: In addition to conducting behavioral interviews about the LPs, Amazon has (historically) also conducted coding and architecture interviews for Software Development roles.  You can expect to be asked about specific coding and architecture problems and are expected to step up to a whiteboard and write out code or solutions to these problems.


Q: What are examples of the specific kinds of questions that Amazon interviewers are likely to ask for each of the 14 Leadership Principles?


1. Customer Obsession:  

“Give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty to meet a customer need?”
“Tell me about a time when you faced a situation where the needs of customers were in conflict with some other constituency such as external partners and internal teams or financial considerations.”


2. Ownership:

“Give me an example of a time when you faced a decision or conflict between what was best for you or your team in the short term and what was best for the company in the long-term?”


3. Invent and Simplify

“Give me an example of a time when you came up with a way to simplify a problem, product, or process?”
“Give me an example of a time when you came up with a new idea to improve a problem, product, or process?”


4. Are Right, A Lot

“Give me an example of a time when you had to make an important decision with limited information.”
>>” Give me an example when you changed your point of view on an important decision after you were presented with more/new information.”


5. Learn and be Curious

“Give me an example of a time when you heard/learned about a new technology or management practice, and applied it to your product or organization?
“GIve me an example of a time when you learned about a new concept, skill, process, technique, etc and incorporated it into the way you live/work/manage.”


6. Hire and Develop the Best

”Give me an example of a time when you identified someone in your organization who had potential, you developed them and they were able to take on more responsibility in subsequent months and years.”


7. Insist on the Highest Standards

“Give me an example of a time when you looked at an existing product, service or process and identified ways to improve it?”
“Give me an example of a time when you were working on a project/process/product/service and thought that the quality of the work or your team’s work wasn’t good enough.  What did you do about it?


8. Think Big

”Give me an example of a time when you came up with a meaningfully different or counterintuitive way of thinking about a project/process/product/service.”
”Give me an example of a time when you formed and communicated a big vision or goal for a project/process/product/service.”


9. Bias for Action

”Give me an example of a time when you took a calculated risk.”
”Give me an example of a time when you took rapid action on a problem/issue.”


10. Frugality

”Give me an example of a time when you were faced with a problem but were constrained on resources to address it and came up with a creative solution.”
”Give me an example of a time when you had limited budget and resources but still had to achieve an important goal.”


11. Earn Trust

“Give me an example of a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it?
“Give me an example of a time when you made a mistake and went out of your way to tell and teach others in the organization about it and what you learned from it.”
“Give me an example of a time when you updated your opinion on an important issue based on input from a peer or a member of your team.”


12. Dive Deep

”Give me an example of a time when you looked at detailed data and used that information to inform a decision or change in direction.”
”Give me an example of a time when you audited/reviewed a project/process/product/service and based on what you learned, made a decision/set a new direction.


13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

”Give me an example of a time when you disagreed with your manager or his/her manager about a decision or an important issue and what did you do about it?”
” Give me an example of a time when you believed strongly in an issue and worked hard to convince others.” 


14. Deliver Results

”Give me an example of a time when you were not on track to meet a deadline or an important goal and what you did to get back on track.”
”Give me an example of a time when you were assigned a goal or objective that seemed big or very difficult to accomplish.  What did you do about it?”

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