Episode 12: How Amazon Hired Me: Interview Tips from an Amazon Recruiter

Nick Dimitrov

Nick Dimitrov

November 12, 2021 ยท 26 min read



Episode 12: How Amazon Hired Me: Interview Tips from an Amazon Recruiter

I discuss, with a former Amazon Recruiter, how successful candidates prepare for and come across during the Amazon interview. Enjoy! Amazon gives you all the tools you need to succeed. They're going to tell you what their Leadership Principles are, they're going to tell you about the STAR process.

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Episode Transcript

Nick: Hey, everyone. I'm Nick Dimitrov and I'd like to welcome you to a brand-new episode of the Amazon Bound Podcast. It took us a while to get this new episode out, but here we are - finally, it's out.

And today, I am super excited because we have a very special guest with us. We're going to have a bit of a different format today; we're not going to be talking to one of you, who has just completed a successful interview round and been offered a role, at Amazon. Today, we're going to do something even more special, we're going to talk to an actual Amazon Recruiter.

Bryant is with us today. He is a former Amazon recruiter and he has run recruiting loops in the entirety of the process: from screening candidates, to going through the phone screen/video screen, through the onsite loop, or onsite virtual loop these days. And all the way to the debrief with the team to decide on a Hire or a No-hire decision and communicating that to the candidate. So, without further delay, I am just so thrilled to welcome him to the program.

Hi!

Guest: Hey, Nick. Thanks for having me.

Nick: Please, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Guest: I used to be a Recruiting Coordinator in the Amazon Alexa team. I worked for Amazon for about two and a half years. I got my foot in the door with a job called Centralized Flow Lead, which is basically in charge of the outbound process at the Fulfillment Centers. And about 8 months in, I switched over to Recruiting, where I became a Recruiting Coordinator for the Alexa team. And I did well over 500 interview loops from the phone-screen stage, all the way to the way to the debrief and hiring process.

So, I started up doing traditional loops which was: you got a candidate, that candidate comes in, we set aside 45-minute time blocks for the five to six interviewers that are going to go and interview that candidate. And then, towards the end of my tenure, I was actually running what we call Blitzes, which is where we bring in 8 candidates in one day and we just have the interview team take the whole day off work and perform interviews. And, we'd bring in food and we'd feed the interview team - it's a good time.

Nick: I remember those vividly. Yes.

Guest: Those are a lot of fun. I think from the recruiting side and the interview team side. The interview team gets to take off work, they get fed for the day on company dime. They just get to focus, if you're a rhythm type of person, like I am. You get to set aside a day for, 'I'm going to do recruiting today and that's it'. And the rest of the week, I am going to focus on whatever my traditional job is. So, I really enjoyed that. After about two and a half years, I decided to go back to college and pursue my passion in Design and Art. So, that's what I'm doing currently.

Nick: Thank you so much for this lovely overview. You're in a very special position to have unique insights and perspective on the entire Amazon interview/hiring process. So, what I would love to do in the next 30 minutes or so, is take our listeners on a journey if you will. From the very beginning to the very end of the process, just as you described it.

And, let's start at the very beginning. And, even before the very beginning: the prequel to the beginning, which is 'How should candidates prepare to get to the phone screen or the video screen?'. How would someone who wants to apply to Amazon and they haven't even received an invite from a recruiter or a hiring manager, how would they be able to stand out and get that foot in the door and get that phone screen/video screen scheduled? Should they focus on their resume? Should they focus on a referral? What are some interesting steps that you can recommend? Useful steps that you can recommend to interested candidates.

Guest: I would say it's a little of both. You have Recruiters who are combing through resumes through both the internal Amazon system and there's an external system that we use as well. So, having a resume that is tailored towards the job you're applying to, that's Job Application 101. So, you want to make sure that you have your resume that is tailored to the job you're applying to. Comb through, make sure there's no information that is not relevant to the job. And make sure that everything that you're putting on your resume is tailored to the job you're applying to. And then if you have a referral, if you know somebody within Amazon, that's always going to help you. That's always going to be beneficial.

I would say the way LinkedIn used to be, you could go and you could just search 'Amazon Recruiter' and you could connect with those people and get the ball rolling that way. LinkedIn is a little different now than it was when I was working at Amazon. I'm not sure that's still a viable option, but that was very beneficial for me when I was applying. Head-hunting agencies - that's how I got my job at Amazon. I'm a Veteran and I was able to use a Veteran head-hinting agency to develop a connection with a Recruiter within Amazon. And, that's how I got my interview.

Nick: I think that is so helpful for people to hear it from the source, like you. How important that personal connection is. I remember, when I was at Amazon - as many as 50%-60% of the roles that are open on the team, we would fill via referrals. And it's incredibly important. And to your point, now it's a bit challenging to maybe stand out from anybody else who might be hitting these Amazon Recruiters, but I think it's in their best interest, right? If you try to reach out to them or to a potential Hiring Manager on LinkedIn, or some other way - maybe walk to them at a conference, at re:Invent, or whatever, you're actually doing them a favor, because they have pretty significant hiring goals. Correct?

Guest: Yes. I don't know what the standard hiring goals are now, but I know that when I was there Recruiters were aiming to get about two and a half hires per month. So, Recruiters want you. The Recruiter always wants to hire you. That's why the Recruiter is not on the hiring loop. They're going to say 'Yes' every single time. They have their own goals to meet. But if you used to work for Company X and you know somebody who transferred to Amazon and that person wants to refer you, that's going to give you a leg up on the competition.

Nick: Thank you. Such an interesting perspective. So then, the next step of the process is: now you've made that impression, somebody's referred you, or your resume was a stand-out resume, you've been screened by a Recruiter, and you're invited to the phone screen/video screen, and the subsequent onsite interview loop/onsite virtual loop. And, we're going to treat those as one continuum, I would think: the screen and the subsequent loops. So, along those lines with your 500-loop rich experience, could you please share with our listeners some patterns or behaviors that you've seen help candidates stand out, during their interview process with Amazon?

Guest: Yes. So, one of Amazon's Leadership Principles, and I am sure everyone listening is already familiar with Amazon's Leadership Principles, one of Amazon's Leadership Principles is Learn and Be Curios. And I think that candidates who asked questions are always at the top of the list of candidates who stand out. There's always an opportunity at the end of an interview to ask the interviewer questions. Always have some questions to ask, at the end of the interview. One of my favorite questions to is ask is, 'How does your team or how does your company foster innovation?'. So, questions like that, at the end of the interview, are not only welcomed but encouraged. And, if you don't have any, I'd say that's a red flag.

But in addition to that, clarifying questions. We interviewed a ton of Software Development Engineers on the Alexa team. Some of the questions that our interviewing team asked are fairly complex and dense. So, one of the things we're looking for (that we were looking for) is for the candidate to ask a clarifying question: 'What do you mean by this?' or 'Do you mean this?'. And those Learn and Be Curious, those asking questions, those really stand out to the interview team and having sat through several debriefs, especially on the Blitz side, especially for the Bar Raiser, they are looking for those things. In addition to your total knowledge of the job, you're not going to be able to fake your way through the interview (you either know your stuff or you don't), but if you're on the precipice, if you're on the edge, those sort of clarifying questions, the desire to be curious, digging in a little deeper than just surface level or just interview questions, those sort of things really stand out. Especially within the Amazon culture.

Nick: This is great. It's so interesting to hear you say this, because a lot of people are potentially incorrectly perceiving that if they ask a question, they would come across as ignorant or ill-prepared. And, it sounds like it's almost exactly the opposite. It's not because those interviewers are trying maybe to hold back information and kind of 'gotcha' in a way. Frequently, it's because, as you said, a lot of these topics are so dense, they're so new that maybe the interviewer doesn't have all the perspectives and the right answers available to them.

And, if you jump in a type of a conversation with them, that would help you stand out because this is not a very cookie-cutter approach that you're going to be hired to do. You're going to be employed to tackle some pretty serious challenges that most likely don't have a precedent, and you're going to have to figure that precedent out.

Guest: One thing that you said there, the 'gotcha' question. Nobody at Amazon is going to ask you a 'gotcha' question. Nobody is trying to trick you. There's no secret code, 'Are you a cat or a dog person?' or 'If you're a tree, what kind of tree would you be?'. Nobody's going to ask you anything like that. I would say that the overwhelming majority of the interviewers, they want to hire you. They want you to join the team.

Yes, there are standards, and you have to raise the bar. You have to bring something to Amazon, your knowledge base has to be better than 50% of the employees that are already there. But nobody is trying to trick you. Nobody is trying to ask you 'gotcha' questions or trap you or anything like that. Make sure you have all the information before you proceed to answer the question.

Nick: And also, just maybe, as you start answering the question and you find out that you're on the wrong path, just maybe change direction. As you find out that additional data from the clarification questions you've asked, it's quite ok to change. It's not going to be held against you.

Guest: Yes. And it's ok to ask at the end after you've completed your answer, 'Hey, did I answer your question?'. And if they say no, then you can ask, 'OK, what did I miss? What do I need to hit on?' and you can further clarify. Again, it's not going to be held against you. If anything, it's going to be held in your favor.

Nick: Super insightful, thank you. The next question I had for you, flipping the other side of the coin, what have you seen some of the worst-prepared candidates do? What are some of the mistakes you've seen them commit that you would suggest our listeners actively stay away from?

Guest: I think I was very fortunate in that I did not sit through a lot of, or hardly any disastrous interviews. I can remember one interview during a Blitz, where the candidate was a Software Development Engineer, and they just were not ready for the questions that our interviewers had. They were not at that level in their career where they could answer the questions or they could program to the level Amazon required.

And obviously I'm not a Software Development Engineer, all I can do is sit through the debrief and listen. And one of the things that this candidate did, in particular it really shut it down: a lot of the times when you have a candidate who comes in and they're not to the level that Amazon needs, our interviewers will flip a switch and they'll go and they'll say, 'OK, we'll just turn this into a learning experience.' And they'll teach. They'll say, 'OK, obviously this is not going the way that we expected, so here's how you do it.' And they'll show you. And they will go and will transition. But this candidate was a bit of a know-it-all and argumentative.

Again, don't argue with your interviewer, ever. Even if you think you're right. Even if you know you're right. Just don't argue. Because one of the things that you're doing, in addition to just showing your technical prowess, your ability to do the job, is you're interviewing as a human being. And, working with other human beings. You're not only interviewing to say, 'I can do this job. I have the technical prowess to do this job.'. You're interviewing to be around those people every day for the foreseeable future. If you're difficult, combative, or argumentative, that's going to be an immediate turn-off for everybody involved.

Nick: It sounds so simple, yet it's so foundational. And, I really haven't heard it elsewhere until now, you saying it, 'Just don't argue with the person.' And, even if you know they're wrong, you just taking it with a graceful approach and say, 'Hey, here's what I think maybe the right answer is. Your approach is different and that's fine.'

And, I also want to maybe draw upon something else you mentioned earlier in our conversation, which is the importance of the Leadership Principles. I think that if people walk in there unprepared, if they have not gone through the Leadership Principles, if they have not studied the STAR/SOAR methodology of answering questions, they're in for some rude awakening. Those are also, I've seen in my interviewing days at Amazon, those are some big sins that a lot of unprepared people are committing.

Guest: One of the things that I suggest, and again, this goes back to Amazon is not trying to trick you. Your Recruiter, if you've gotten this far in the process, they're going to send you all of the information that you need to succeed before you ever get to the phone interview. 'Here's our Leadership Principles, study up on this. Here's the Situation-Task-Action-Result method that we like our interviewees to answer questions in, study up on those.' All that material is going to be given to you. So, really interviewees have no excuse for coming to the interview unprepared. All of the information is given to you, nobody is trying to trick you. They want to hire you. They're giving you the tools to succeed in the interview process.

And, one of the things that I suggest to everybody who does get to the interview process with Amazon is, take 5 or 6 times where you really kicked a$$ at whatever job you're doing now. Or you really succeeded, you went above and beyond, and tie those 5-6 stories to Leadership Principles. Because in those stories, you don't want to just directly tie the Leadership Principle into your story. 'This is a time I learned and I was curious.' You don't want to do that, but you want to have a story that connects to that. You want to have a story that connects to Disagree and Commit, and really drive home that you understand them and that you've done things that are tied to those principles.

Nick: Super useful. The next, I think maybe, interesting topic to cover is, now in these days of pandemic and COVID and working remotely, Amazon constantly keeps (not just Amazon but all these big tech companies, constantly keep revising) their work-from-home policies. Interview candidates have to deal not only with interviewing for some tough positions, but they have to do it online. And, who knows how soon that would change. And, maybe even if it changes back to in-person interviews, I don't think it's going to be nearly as prevalent as it used to be. And, I think that the online interviewing component is going to be here to stay for a while, maybe forever. What is some advice you would give interview candidates on how to prepare and conduct these online interview loops?

Guest: I can say that this was not something that I had to deal with when I was there. COVID was not a thing. But, just like everybody else, I have lived through COVID over the last year and a half, and I feel this as well. I applied for my current job remotely, and I earned that job through remote interviews. So, it is something that I understand.

We all have distractions working from home. I've got a dog and kids running around. So, one of the things that I think is paramount is just finding a distraction-free, quiet place, where you can go. Nothing is going to be going on around you, to take away from the mental energy that you're giving to your interviewer. If you have to use a fake background because you're hiding in the closet, then do it. I do not recommend doing your interviews in a public location. Don't go to Starbucks, because you can't control that environment. You've got noise all around you, people walking around. All sorts of things going on. Find a quiet place, use the digital backgrounds to your advantage. And just make sure that you can be in a space where you can put all of your mental energy towards the interview.

Nick: Now, all these little distractions can throw your rhythm off completely. Maybe the audio breaks. That can throw you off for a loop. And you need to be in this very intense environment for almost the entire day because you're going to have these multiple interviews. So, I completely agree with you.

And, if anything, to that effect, we have had a lot of customers, on and off, who would go out of their way and they would just rent a hotel room. And these kinds of little things, as you pointed out earlier about the importance of the Amazon Leadership Principles, and how people are looking for the manifestation of what you do, in these Leadership Principles. These little things, they make an impression. And so, if an Amazon employee sees you interviewing from a hotel room and you say, 'Hey, by the way, I rented this for the day...' that's going to instantly raise the bar on things like Dive Deep and High Standards, because not very many other people do that.

The point I'm making is don't go renting out hotel rooms, because hotels are back again in being busy. Use the tech background behind you, as you said, but just make sure that you're very focused and present at the interview because it's going to come across if you're not.

Guest: Act like you want the job. Do whatever you feel is necessary to put you in the best position to get the job. That's really what it boils down to for me. When I did my phone interview for my current job I wasn't on camera. And, I tend to answer and speak better when I'm standing and pacing, because I have ADHD and this is who I am. So, I was standing and pacing. I had my headphones in, and I walked back and forth as I answered questions. Use the situation to your advantage. You can do things in this environment that you can't do in the traditional interview. It's not all bad. Just use it in a way that is advantageous to you. Again, if you have kids and you need to hide in the closet, because that's your only quiet place in the house, throw a digital background on there, get a light, hide in the closet. And do what you need to do.

Nick: Great advice, as always. I see we're bumping at the 30-minute mark of this conversation. Last question: was there something I should have asked you but I didn't or that you wanted to share that we didn't quite get to?

Guest: I know that from the outside looking in, it feels like Amazon has this really weird and alien interview process (and maybe I was just in it for so long) but I really don't feel like it's that different from a traditional interview. Amazon gives you all the tools you need to succeed. They're going to tell you what their Leadership Principles are, they're going to tell you about the STAR process. Your Recruiter, if they are a good Recruiter, is going to call you beforehand and walk you through the process. There's no 'gotcha' questions. There's no questions that are completely unrelated to what you're interviewing for. Turn it into a conversation. Take a deep breath. Yawn before your interview, that's proven to calm you down at work. And just talk to another human being.

People tend to build up these interviews like they're bigger than they are, and they're not. The team wants to hire you. The Recruiter definitely wants to hire you. The Hiring Manager wants a person for their team. So, if you have the skills, don't let nervousness get in your way. Don't let the fact that it's a job interview get in the way. Turn it into a conversation. If you have the skills, and you can speak to the skills, then do it. I don't think that Amazon has, I don't think it's really that different from any other interview. Amazon is going to give you all the tools that you need to succeed. So, succeed.

Nick: There, everyone. You heard it from the source himself. Just be yourself, relax, Amazon wants to hire you. You have a bunch of friends and allies on the other side of that Chime video call. And do the best you can.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I can't say thank you enough. I am sure everyone, or a lot of the folks, who are listening would find your advice very useful, very soothing, very constructive at the same time. So, I truly appreciate it. Thank you.

Guest: If you want to work for Amazon, I hope that this helps you. And even if it's in some minor way, as you yawn before you walk into your interview, I hope that you take something away from this. And if anybody at Amazon is listening, 'Hello, it's nice to see you again.'

All the way from Alexandria in Virginia, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Nick: Thank you so much, again. Everyone else, I hope you enjoyed this conversation. As always, please, give us your feedback. Send us emails. Rate this podcast. Subscribe to this podcast, wherever it is you use to listen to podcasts and subscribe to podcasts. And, stay safe.

Good luck with the Amazon interview. You got this. Best of luck. Bye.

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