Episode 5: Amazon’s Interview Process

Take a guess what your Amazon interviewer will do, once she has finished interviewing you, once she has shaken your hand and passed you to the next person on the loop. You guessed it. Your interviewer will go back to her desk and will write a document. Just like everything else that Amazon’s employees do. The interviewer will prepare a written document, transcribing her recommendation of whether to hire you or not, based on your behavioral interview answers. Once the interviewer posts her hiring recommendation, only then will she be able to see how everybody else has voted about you.

I’m Nick Dimitrov, welcome. You are listening to Episode 5 of the Amazon Bound podcast. In our previous episodes we covered the topics of Amazon’s Business and Amazon’s Culture. In this current episode, we will talk about the Amazon interview process.

I should first start out though by being vocally self-critical, as Amazon would call it, and apologizing for how long it’s taken us to publish this new episode. It’s been a month since our last episode came out and that is just way too long to make anyone wait for a new podcast drop. Part of the reason for the delay is we’ve seen good interest from students who have enrolled in our services and we’ve been busy helping prepare them for their Amazon interviews. Having said so though, that’s hardly a legitimate excuse. We will try to publish new episodes more frequently, going forward, but if we continue to fail at doing so, we will space out our episodes some more, until we have a bigger team with certain people dedicated to just running the podcast.

OK. I hope this makes sense. I’m sorry, once again. Now it’s time to move on... Let us now announce the quiz winners from our last episode. We received 38 correct responses to the Amazon Culture Quiz. And here are the names of our winners: the first five responders who will receive a free copy of the ebook “Nine Proven Do-s and Don’t-s for the Amazon interview.”

Winner #1 is Igor from Sydney, Australia; Winner #2 is Christopher from Buffalo, NY; Winner #3 is Satya from Atlanta, GA; Winner #4 is Shivaji from Norfolk, VA; and Winner #5 is Roberta, from San Jose, CA. To these five winners: Igor, Christopher, Satya, Shivaji, and Roberta – congratulations. You should already have received an email from us with a link to download the ebook. Great job!

OK, let’s go back on point and talk about the Amazon interview process. We will cover six different topics, in this episode, dedicated to Amazon’s interview process: 1) Amazon’s Hiring Bar; 2) Amazon’s Interview funnel; 3) Amazon’s written sample; 4) the interview loop; 5) the written feedback after the interview; and 6) the interview debrief. Let’s go.

Starting with Topic 1 – Amazon’s Hiring Bar

Amazon’s Hiring bar is defined by two questions: The first question that Amazon asks when they interview any candidate is: 'Is the candidate better than half of the people who currently work for Amazon, at this level?’ And the second question Amazon asks is, 'Is the candidate committed to Amazon and will they have upside potential at Amazon, in the long run?'

If the answers to these two questions are yes and yes, then Amazon hires the candidate because the candidate is considered to be raising the hiring bar. If the answer to one, or both questions, is no, then the candidate is considered to be lowering the bar or being at bar, at best, and the respective hiring decision is no-go. Amazon does not compare candidates with one another. They are not choosing the best one of the bunch. Amazon compares external candidates solely against the hiring bar. And because of this approach, Amazon is willing to wait for as long as it takes to make the right hire, once the hiring bar is met. If not, that open position is going to stay open for a very long time.

OK. This wraps up Topic 1: Amazon’s hiring bar.

Let’s move on to Topic 2: Amazon’s Interview funnel.

What I refer to as an interview funnel are the steps that a candidate goes through, from the very beginning when you apply for a position, to the very end when you receive your hiring decision from Amazon.

The first step in the interview funnel is the online application. You have to apply for an open job online. There's a number of possible ways to apply. 1) You could be referred by an internal Amazon employee; 2) you could be sought out by a recruiter; 3) you could participate in a college-hiring drive; or 4) you could just apply online, in an unsolicited fashion, for any Amazon job you like.

At the next step, an Amazon recruiter will review your application (which is mostly your resume) for the specific open position you’ve applied for and, if your resume is impressive enough, the recruiter will pass on your application to a hiring manager. If the hiring manager also likes your resume, they will interview you by phone, or will ask a team member to interview you by phone. This phone interview is called a phone screen and could take anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.

After the phone screen, Amazon recruiting will usually abide by what they call the "2-and-5 Promise”. This means that you will hear from Amazon with a decision within two days after the phone screen, and within five days after the onsite interview loop. We're going to get to the interview loop in a minute.

So, at this point, you're phone-screened by someone on the Amazon team, within two days you hear back from Amazon and hopefully, their response is 'Yes, we like you, and we need you to come interview in person in a full-blown interview loop.’

If you are a Level-6 candidate or higher, you will be expected to complete a written sample and email it to your recruiter, before you sit for the onsite loop. We will touch on the written sample a little bit later on.

After you have emailed your written sample, you will attend the onsite interview loop. You will be interviewed by four, five, or six Amazon employees. After the loop, they will debrief, in person, about your performance, and will reach a decision, whether you're a hire or a no-hire. And again, this decision will be informed by whether you raise the Amazon hiring bar.

That’s it for Topic 2: Amazon’s interview funnel.

Let’s move on to Topic 3: Amazon’s Written Sample.

Level 6 and higher-level job offers are contingent on the applicant providing a written sample before the interview. The written sample is meant to ensure that candidates for senior-level positions can write clearly and succinctly. Amazon will usually send you two questions and ask you to respond to one of them in a written essay.

Amazon does not expect you to be a perfect writer. They don't expect you to be super polished in the ways of the Amazon written delivery. They do expect you, however, to write clearly. When completing your written sample, it's important that the response you provide is your own. You also shouldn’t disclose any confidential information, in your writing.

And that’s it for Topic 3: Amazon’s written sample.

Moving on to Topic 4: The Interview Loop.

On the surface, the Amazon interview loop looks like any other classic interview loop in any other high-tech company. You're going to be interviewed by anywhere from four to six interviewers. The Hiring Manager and the Bar Raiser are the most important participants in the Amazon interview. Before the actual interview, the Hiring Manager, will distribute to each interviewer, two to three Leadership Principles and functional competencies to evaluate you against during the interview. And each interviewer will use the behavioral interview method of asking you specific questions from your professional career to collect data about your prior performance, and will evaluate the leadership-principle areas that the Hiring Manager has assigned to them.

Based on that data, the interviewer will decide whether you raise the Amazon Hiring Bar. In your Amazon interviews, you will usually sit, 1 on 1, across from your interviewer, and they're likely going to be typing on their notebooks, as you answer their questions. That is generally a good sign, because they are taking notes about your behavioral data and experience, which they will later use to justify if and how you raise the Amazon bar.

Also, throughout your interview loop, each Amazonian will treat you respectfully and professionally to ensure that you have a positive customer experience. It doesn't matter if Amazon hires you. You are likely an Amazon customer and Amazon wants to keep your customer-satisfaction level as high as possible, at all times.

OK, this ends Topic 4: the interview loop.

Let’s move on to Topic 5: The Written Feedback After the Interview.

Once each interviewer is done with you, they will go back to their desk. And guess what? They will write a document. Just like anything else that Amazon’s employees do at Amazon, the interviewers will prepare a written document, transcribing their recommendation whether to hire you, based on the notes the interviewer took about your behavioral answers, during the interview. In the document, each interviewer will evaluate you against Amazon’s Leadership Principles and will determine your areas of professional strength as well as the areas where they don’t think you raise the Amazon bar. Lastly, each interviewer will conclude their essay with a Hire or a No-Hire recommendation.

Once the interviewer completes and posts their written essay about you, only then would she be able to see how everyone else has voted.

OK, this concludes Topic 5: the written feedback after the interview.

Moving on to Topic 6: The Interview Debrief.

The interview debrief is the Bar Raiser's show. The Bar Raiser quarterbacks the entire experience. The debrief is a 30-minute meeting, during which the Bar Raiser encourages everyone to read everyone else’s written feedback. This period of reading in silence is then followed by a robust discussion that seeks truth, not cohesion. The interview team eventually reaches a decision about you, based on the data they have collected during your interview. Deciding whether to hire you is not about people's personal preferences or whims. The hiring decision needs to be 100% behaviorally justified.

That's why it is so important that each interviewer writes their interview notes down, while talking to you. Then, based on these notes, if the group identifies enough risk areas, during the debrief, that drop you below the Amazon Hiring bar, the ensuing decision is a No-Hire. If those risks are addressable and mitigable, you will raise the bar, Amazon’s decision will be a Hire decision and Amazon will make you a job offer. Congratulations!

A No-Hire decision, on the other hand, could be paired with either a Recycle or a No-Recycle annotation. A No-Hire and a No-Recycle decision is your classic No-hire decision, where you didn’t raise the Amazon bar. This means that Amazon is going to hold off from interviewing you again for 6 to 12 months, to give you the opportunity to improve the professional areas where they believe you are lacking. Unfortunately, Amazon wouldn’t tell you what those areas are.

The second type of a No-hire decision is a No Hire decision paired with a Recycle. This means that you did raise the Amazon bar, but you are not a perfect functional fit for this specific open position. This likely means that the recruiter will let you know that Amazon will consider you for other open roles, where you might have to go through a second, shortened loop maybe, before Amazon makes you an offer. In other words, a No-Hire paired with a Recycle is a good decision; it’s not a bad decision, it's just a temporary lack of fit, that's going to be hopefully remedied in a future Amazon interview.

So, to reiterate, the Bar Raiser and the Hiring Manager are the two most important people during the debrief. They have to agree on the hiring outcome, in order for Amazon to issue a Hire recommendation. Ideally, during the debrief everybody else on the interview team will also align with the final decision. But, at the end of the day, the Bar Raiser and the Hiring manager determine the final Go / No-Go outcome.

In addition to quarterbacking the hiring decision, the Bar Raiser also role-models best behaviors to the other Amazonians during the interview debrief. Often, people who are new to Amazon might engage in imperfect interview practices. The Bar Raiser monitors this behavior during the interview loop. Then during the debrief, she reviews the interviewers’ hiring assessments and gives them real-time feedback, with the attempt to improve their future performance, and as a result also improve the experience of the candidates who interview with Amazon.

Alright, this covers Topic Six: “The Interview Debrief.”

And this also gets us to the end of this episode. I hope this has been a useful episode for you.

I am Nick Dimitrov, your host. Thanks for listening. The next episode will be the first episode where we will interview one of you, one of our students, and give you the opportunity to share more about how you prepared for your Amazon interview, what the actual experience of interviewing with Amazon was like, and of course – what was the final outcome.

Please, stay tuned. Please subscribe to our podcast and give us a review. See you soon.

Amazon Bound Podcast - Episode 5: Amazon's Interview Process