Episode 6: How Amazon Hired Me - AWS Sr. Product Manager Intern
Nick: I’m Nick Dimitrov. Welcome to a brand-new Episode 6 of the Amazon Bound podcast. In our previous episodes so far, I was describing Amazon’s Culture, Amazon’s Business and interview process. Starting with this episode, we are going to shift gear dramatically. I am very excited because starting now, we are going to have conversations with you, our customers. We’re going to have 1-1 conversations with some of you who have already interviewed with Amazon. We’re going to find out what the experience was like; how was the day like, what did it feel like to interview with Amazon. And then we’re going to hopefully find out a bit more about best practices; what worked for these individuals, what didn’t work. So that everyone else, listening to the podcast and getting ready for their interviews can use this best-practice advice.
OK, so without further delay, I’d like to welcome our very first guest to the program. His name is Shobhit. Shobhit was one of the early customers of “The Essential Course to Prepare for the Amazon Interview.” Shobhit recently had an interview with Amazon Web Services for the position of a Senior Product Manager, and Amazon made him a job offer. Shobhit is going to start as an intern, because he is still pursuing his Master’s degree with the University of Washington in Seattle. But if everything goes well during his three-month internship with Amazon, and if Shobhit likes the experience as well, he will transition into being a full-time Amazonian.
So, again, without further delay, I’d like to welcome Shobhit to the program. Hi, Shobhit.
Shobhit: Thanks, Nick – how are you doing?
Nick: Great. Thank you. I should also say that we are here in the University of Washington where we are broadcasting from the Foster School of Business, in the UW in Seattle thanks to Shobhit for being so kind to invite us here and I just can't wait to talk to Shobhit and find out more about how the process went. So yeah Shobhit, please tell us first about yourself a little bit.
Shobhit: Sure. I'm Shobhit; I'm currently pursuing my Masters in Business Administration from Foster School of Business. And I so I started my journey at Deloitte Consulting based out of India. Two years into Deloitte, I got the entrepreneurial bug and I really wanted to build my own company, and India was getting funding left right and center and all sort of startups. And I built my startup in event-management services. So, we cater to around 50 plus events, managed $300,000 plus in revenues over three years and after three years, we got acquired. After the acquisition of my company. I really wanted to be in a high-growth ecosystem and there’s nothing like Seattle. We have people like Nick building really high growth companies, and I really wanted to be in Seattle because of the ecosystem and also because of the Pacific Northwest beauty of being out there. And hence MBA seem to be a great experience to learn from people, to be in a global setup of people from different nationalities and building Innovation and value. And Foster School of Business is one of the highly-ranked MBA programs, with great quality of education and I think it was the best of both worlds to land into here.
Nick: Great. So how did you, then, transition from coming to Seattle and going to the UW (completing your MBA program very shortly), how do you transition from that to interviewing with Amazon?
Shobhit: Yeah. So, actually as soon as you come in for an MBA experience, we have had a huge amount of recruitment teams who work with you. So, there is the Career Management team based out of University of Washington's Foster School of Business. They invite Amazon and other companies to come on campus and setup information session. So, I got connected with a few people at Amazon who taught us that: “hey you have to first submit your resume, by the end of December. We will invite you for an interview. There will be four interviews on a single day (one hour each) and all of those four interviews will be judging you on the Amazon Leadership Principles about your ability to contribute to Amazon as an intern and so on. So, I attended the information session and looked into, you know meeting people from Amazon and really connected with their energy and how focused they were. And I thought I should apply.
Nick: Great. So again, I just want to underscore how your journey was a little bit different from that of the average, or the usual, person who seeks employment with Amazon, where you had the almost luxury of the University of Washington resources. Correct? You didn't have to submit a resume into the ether, blindly hoping that Amazon was going to get back. You engaged with Amazon with the UW career placement services. And that's how you got your foot in the door. Correct?
Shobhit: Yeah. I think that's a very important observation.
Nick: Because a lot of customers out there, a lot of people out there who are interested to interview with Amazon and a lot of these other tech companies, I don't think they quite understand the asset that they have at their disposal when they are a student at a university; when they have access to this “dot edu” ending of their email. You have this I think wonderful access to Amazon, this almost preferential access to Amazon and these other companies and you should do everything you can I think, just like what you did, to take advantage of that preferred status in a way and make the best of it.
Shobhit: Absolutely. And I should also say that the University of Washington is a thought-leadership place for Microsoft and Amazon, because a lot of events that keep happening at UW. So, even if people who are not part of University of Washington can come to these events. They are events that happen in the Paul Allen Institute of Computer Science; events that happen at Foster School of Business, which are public events open for all. You can find them at the University of Washington website and recruiters come to these events. Yes, they come to these events and I think these are much more controlled spaces to really engage with, because even the recruiters want to have a good conversation. Right? Like they do not want interact with you on a paper or on a screen. They will love to interact you in-person.
Nick: Awesome. So, okay. So, you find Amazon this way. They like what they see. They like your resume, they invite you to interview with them, and then the interview’s looming in the distance. So how did you prepare for the interview?
Shobhit: I would say that the first thing was to come to you and I think you gave me a great advice about creating a Book of my Life. You know, you told me to start with 2008 to 2013 when I graduated and every event that had happened in my life. So, for the five years of my career I did two stories for every year to really highlight every year. After I wrote all my stories down; I wrote them in the SOAR format that you told me about which is: Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result. I kind of played around with the Result in giving my answer: I really want to convey because you need to re-emphasize your message is what I learned in storytelling. So, I did the SOAR format. After I wrote my stories down. I was very cognizant about learning more and more about Amazon. Learning about how do they write the shareholder letters. What's the cadence; what is the energy I need to hit. What's the timing; how productive I need to be with my words. So, my stories were crisp because of that. The last was Leadership Principles. Yes, you know, there are 14 Leadership Principles and everybody swears by it. So, I made sure that on each and every row I had my stories, and in each column, I had the 14 Leadership Principles and I was ticking off the Leadership Principle that every story was fulfilling. So, whenever somebody asked me a question, I was just giving them a story and that automatically fell in place with the right Leadership Principle. In case somebody would ask me a specific leadership principle, I'd think about, which story can suffice that. So, I think creating that Matrix of stories and Leadership Principles really helps to keep things in your mind of how to work around during an interview.
Nick: Great. Sounds like you really went above and beyond to prepare. So how many stories did you have to think of ahead of time to feel prepared for the interview?
Shobhit: I would say around ten stories, specifically. Because you will cover maximum on to two stories in every interview and we have four such interviews. You need to have eight stories, and then some of the time the interviewer will say “I'm not interested in knowing about this. Can you tell me something about that?” And, so, you need one or two on the side, in your back pocket. So, I would say around ten stories is a good number to have.
Nick: Okay. So, then you go through this over preparation; you feel good and prepared, and then the big day comes. How did that go? Just please walk us through what did the day look like. How many people did you talk to? What was the question and answer session like?
Shobhit: For sure. So, my interview day started at 8:30 in the morning and lasted until 12:30. It was in one-hour slots. The interviews were around 45 minutes each, with a break of 10 minutes, when you can ask questions or you can just take a break. The first interview was with a very senior director at Amazon, and basically he inquired and try to understand more about who I am. I had to just bring in myself. I took it like my day at Amazon. I just thought that I was so excited to be at Amazon. This is my first day at Amazon and I'm talking to the first person I met at Amazon. I will just tell him my story and that was my first interview. My second interview was a complete Product Management case. So basically she was an alumni from Foster and she was testing me on how do I work around building a product. How do I prioritize features? How do I work with an engineering team, just to understand how I think. So, that was my second interview. My third interview was Dive Deep about one specific story in life where I was just being asked five “why-s,” six “why-s” to understand, “why did I do this.” And I think that the interview was more about can I work with this person or not? Like is he intellectually stimulating or not? And is he listening to feedback because he was giving me feedback all the time. You could have done this you could have done that and I was like, yeah, I could have done that and that was very interesting. I think that's where I really got a feeling that this is the company I want to work for; that this is the guy I really want to talk to more. His name was Boyd. And Boyd was super interesting. The last interview was I think a summary of all top three; it had a small case which was Think Big; it was about “hey, tell us about the one product feature that you're going to launch that’s going to give us millions of users.” Something like that; like a big-picture thinking. On the other side it also had some behavioral questions. So, I think the last one was more like a summary of the first three.
Nick: So, it sounds like your interview process was very similar, almost identical, to the interview process of full-time employees. It sounds like the second interviewer really drilled into functional expertise. The other three focused on Leadership Principles, with some additional functional focus. And then maybe this Director- Level 8 person who talked to you in the beginning, maybe this was the Bar Raiser. Maybe not, but it sounds like the process was very akin to the full-time-interview process, which also is a good sign that you did well during the interview; you got the offer, and now effectively it looks like you're going to have three months there of almost experiential learning and employment. And if that goes well, they’re going to make you an offer.
Shobhit: Absolutely and I think when I talked to seniors, and when I talked to people who are working at Amazon, what I got to know is that you have to think about the interviews as just a day at Amazon, as I said. I think that really takes a lot of stress out. I mean, it's not I don't think that interviewing is about somebody coming in and trying to make a decision then and there, whether you're good or not. Amazon interviewing is all about that they are your lawyers. That's how I thought about it. I thought that he or she is my lawyer and I have to give them as much evidence as I can and make it really easy for them to take notes because at the end of the day they have to create and take notes. And then go and present me in front of a committee. So, my idea was to just keep giving them more and more evidence and asking them, “hey did that make sense? can I provide you more information or can provide you a different story?” I was being very empathetic to the interviewer so that they can present my best self when they go and talk to anybody about me.
Nick: That's very insightful Shobhit because again, it sounds like you did Dive Deep and you used a lot of data and illustrations and numbers – one. Two - you engaged in a dialogue with these people and asked them if your questions were and answers were in the right direction. And then thirdly I love your analogy of you viewing them as almost your power of attorney, who would have to represent your interests during the debrief? That's a fantastic analogy.
Shobhit: Yeah, and I think another aspect that came up while I was talking to you was that how to be structured in your responses. If you're asked a question try to give bulleted responses that ABC. A – why, B – why, C – why, and then conclude with ABC – why. So whoever is taking notes has understand, “okay, there are three answers, or two answers, or one point to that,” and what's the reason for it? And what’s the why for it. So that they have everything written down. And then they can cross-question you on anything: okay, then if you said this in A why did you say this? And then why so they can really pick things up and follow up more.
Nick: I think this enumeration, which you shared with the listeners is really helpful to give the interviewer a roadmap, a mental roadmap of your answer. And not get lost because we know what we did best. And it's easy to assume that others would as well but it's not. And almost it's funny how even providing some of the more mundane and specific details in the beginning or when you set up your large accomplishment can be very crucial to help the person understand what you've done.
Shobhit: And just to add to that, even when you are giving structured responses, it's very important to build context, as you just said, for creating a mental map you need to say, which year are we talking about? how big was your team? who was your manager? why did he or she care about whatever they gave you. Then you come to, okay, this is what actually happened and then you come to your structured answers, but if you can build that context in like 10 to 15 seconds, I think that really helps them to be in the right mental frame, as I said.
Nick: So, everything goes well so far. You walk out of the interview. How did you feel afterwards? Did you feel relieved, did you feel drained or what was your feeling like?
Shobhit: I remember talking to my roommate because I was taking it from my room (the interview loop takes place via online video calls), and I said: “I don't know. I said everything that I could. But I just feel so tired. Did they find me energetic enough? I don't know. So, make sure that you have a lot of refreshments with you. That's one mistake I made. I did not have enough access to water, enough access to nuts and stuff like that, because you need to keep yourself hydrated. And the second aspect to that was try to take notes while your interviews are happening. They don't stop you from taking notes. So that you have a better recollection of what to do in the next interview. So, the first interview you go in, you take notes of these are the stories I said, this is what they asked me. So, I have covered this part of my personality. Now, in my next interview, I want to cover some different parts of my personality. So, I would say that there was one regret I had that I didn't take enough notes about how the interview went. And hence. I was not able to present a holistic self of my mine in all four interviews. Instead of maybe I was repeating myself. I do not know.
Nick: I have to share with you that the way you felt after the interview is not unusual, at all. A lot of customers, a lot of people, who interview with Amazon feel like going through an interview with Amazon is one of the hardest things they've had to do professionally. So, it's quite ok. But also, like you said, you felt good, it was out of your hair, you were done with it. And then, you waiting for the outcome how quickly did they get back to you?
Shobhit: So, I think I interviewed on a Monday and I got my response next Monday. It was about a week.
Nick: What was your response? What was your reaction when you heard? Did you start high-fiving people around you?
Shobhit: I actually first dropped a message to each and every mentor, like you, my career management team that: ‘hey, I’ve got this.” Because everybody who's working along with you for making Amazon happened is so heavily invested in you, that they get maximum happiness out of it. And after updating my mentors, I felt relieved that: “hey I have done something really interesting.” And then I called my parents and really a celebrated with them and then I started actually thinking about all right, this is great. Now what's the project I'm getting at Amazon. All right, this is good. Now what's next?”
Nick: Celebrate for a day and let's focus on what's next.
Shobhit: Exactly. Meeting more people and I think that is one thing that I would really encourage every podcast listener right now is: go out there and meet people. You do not get this in books. The experience you get about learning about Amazon, you get it from talking to the people there. And when you talk to the people there ask them: “what's a day like? what is great about Amazon? what's not great about Amazon? which product do they own? what's great about that product? what is the lifecycle of that product?” Because if you really want to find your passion in the interview, you need to find your passion of what part of Amazon excites you. For example, does drone delivery excite you? Does cloud computing excite you? Does e-commerce excite you? You need to find that passion and then exhibit that passion in the interview and I think it starts by being an Amazonian and for being an Amazonian you need to meet other Amazonians.
Nick: Very true. So, everything goes well. All's well that ends well; and you have this fantastic accomplishment in your career already. But if you were to look in hindsight, and in the spirit of being vocally self-critical as an Amazonian, what are some of the things you would have done differently? You mentioned you would have better hydration. You would take better notes. Anything else that comes to mind that you could have done better?
Shobhit: I would have definitely done three things very clearly. One is “Listen well.” When you are talking to an interviewer, you have to give your full attention, to listen to what is the question really. If you ask me a question, I now would even repeat the question: “Alright, you asked me about a time in which I failed,” so that the interviewer knows that I know what he or she had just said. So, repeating the question, listening really well, is very important. The second aspect about great interviewing, which I learned is that you should always try to be empathetic that the other person is taking notes. As I said, earlier on, as well. Because my interviews are very kind. They said, “Shobhit, you’re speaking too fast. You need to slow down.” Or they would say, “Shobhit you have great stuff there, but you need to tell it to me slowly so I can write it down.” So, I was course-correcting while doing the interview, but I think if you speak slowly if you let them take really good notes that would really help. So, listening, helping them take notes and the last one would be try to read the Amazon shareholder letters. I read them just once and I gathered as much as I could about the philosophy of Amazon. But the more you understand the philosophy of Amazon, the better your answers would be. So, in hindsight, I would go and dig out more content; maybe read product releases. Whatever I found really interesting was now that I'm doing this, is go to the Amazon website and see the latest product releases and see their press releases. In the press releases you really get to know how to talk about their products. How do they talk about the experience; about building those products? And what does it mean to them? So, I think those stories would really help you prepare you to be in the right psychology state of Amazon.
Nick: Yeah, perfect. These are very useful pointers. Especially, the one where you said don't rush because we're naturally in this mode of the adrenaline rushing through your veins. You want to do well. This is a one-and-done kind of shot. So, it's natural to want to blurt everything out and often it's counterintuitive. And the right advice is: “slow down. speak slowly. make sure the person has heard you and acknowledged you. make sure that they've taken the notes. if they are your power of attorney, make sure that you've given them the full debrief of how they could represent you. This is very useful. So, a couple of more questions maybe.
Nick: You've been very gracious and generous and offering advice scattered throughout our chat today of: make sure you talk to Amazonians, make sure you listen, make sure you get ready and hydrated. And just everything from very tactical and obvious things to strategic things as read the press releases, read the Amazon shareholder letters. I want to also give you the opportunity to share anything else, any other advice that you have not yet had the chance to share with us.
Shobhit: I think especially for people who are maybe switching to Amazon and don't understand enough about the products at Amazon: go ahead and use those products. I was super passionate about cloud computing and I actually went and made a free account on AWS. And I used their dashboard; I built instances on it. And the reason I did that was that I really wanted to be honest to being a product manager first, before interviewing for it. And I didn't just do it for Amazon. I did it for Azure. I did it for GCP (Google Cloud Platform), because I really wanted to learn everything about Cloud. So, I would say that if you're out there and you're passionate about Alexa, buy an Alexa device. Go out and buy an Echo or use an Echo. For example, I love the Echo device and, in my interview, there was a good 15-minutes section about just Echo. It's about how Echo can be used to contextualize languages in different regions, how it can connect with the data of what they're buying online and how amazing magic can happen with that. Use the product; before you become Product Manager you need to use the product; create accounts; download those apps. And the best part about Amazon is that they have apps for everything. Even for AWS you have an app where you can monitor your usage of AWS and it gets you interested in cloud computing. If you have Echo, we have multiple apps facilitating that so I think that will really help you to get into the shoes of the product manager, getting in the shoes of the team who is building that experience. So, when you're talking to the Amazonians during interviews you're able to really relate to them and their way of thinking. You need to be a user first.
Nick: Yes. You need to be customer-obsessed. You need to know what those customers are experiencing using your products and your services. Awesome. This is good stuff. Last question: anything that you wished we had talked about and we hadn’t? Any areas that we should have discussed to help all those listeners and viewers who are right now getting ready for their Amazon interview and they're sitting on the edge of their seats and want to do a good job.
Shobhit: I think one of the things that we didn't talk about was mock interviews. There is something called verbal structuring. You might have great stories written on paper. You might have great Amazonian principles that you're hitting, on paper. But the way you go and present with someone cannot come in a day. One of the things I consciously did was doing mock interviews every week. I was doing it with professionals. I was doing it with you. I was doing it with my classmates and I had prepared three questions that I wanted to answer. So, I'll say, “OK, ask me a question about when was a time I failed, ask me a question about blah, and about blah.” And then they will ask me those questions and I will just, and these are new people, so, I became really well versed of delivering my point. Not just making my point but delivering my point because every person was listening to me in these mock interviews, but listen to me for the first time. So they have no context who Shobhit is. And do at least one mock every week, three months before your interview, two months before interview.
Nick: Wonderful. Shobhit thank you so much. I really appreciate you spending the time with us. Best of luck at Amazon, and we'll stay in touch. We’ll root for you.
Shobhit: Great. Thank you so much, Nick. Have a good day.
Nick: Okay, that's it. Thank you so much for listening to yet another episode of the Amazon bound podcast. Please subscribe to our podcast. Please review us as well, and talk soon.