Episode 8: How Amazon Hired Me - AWS Sr. Business Development Manager

Nick: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a brand-new episode of our podcast, episode # 8. Today, we're super lucky to have Shake with us. He interviewed with Amazon recently and was successfully hired as a Senior Business Development Manager in the AWS team. Prior to that, he was one of the customers of “The Premium Course to Prepare for the Amazon Interview.” One of the many things that are quite impressive about his performance and journey to get hired by Amazon was effectively his tenacity throughout the way, of talking to Amazon. He interviewed with them multiple times. He persevered. He kept his eye on the prize and eventually got hired. So, welcome. It's so great to have you here.


Guest: Thank you Nick. It's great to be here.

Nick: So, you had this great journey, up to eventually joining Amazon. How did that come about? Some of the early steps along the way? Did they find you? Did you find them? How did that initial connection occur?

Guest: Yeah, one of the luxuries of being here in Seattle is that so much, so many people, do work at Amazon. So, over the years I've developed a pretty good friend network there. So, as I targeted Amazon as a company, I found the teams that sounded most compelling and then I went through the job site and found specific jobs that piqued my curiosity. Then, I took that list and found if I had any social overlaps with people either on those teams or who were friends of friends. I had an informational interview with several people and then I came in as an internal referral.

Nick: This is great for everyone to hear it because we keep telling folks that the referral path is an incredibly productive path for Amazon and it's great to hear that you are one more example that having the right referrals and cultivating the right network is going to hopefully get you there.

Guest: I don't think over any of the jobs I have ever applied to, if I've submitted my application online that I've ever heard a response back.

Nick: It just doesn't work that way. So, how did you prepare for the interview? You went through this stage of being referred to. Then they scan your resume. Then did the initial screen with recruiting. Then did the subsequent phone screen with the hiring manager. Then they invited you on site. At what juncture in that journey did you start preparing? How much effort did you invest in preparing for the interview?

Guest: There were two parts to the preparation. The first part was during the initial phone screens. My first phone screen was with the hiring manager, himself. I probably spent about two hours of time in terms of preparing for that. It was a combination of the recruiter had shared the hiring manager’s name. So, I did research on his background; tried to anticipate some questions. Learning more about the products he and his team were working on, and try to conjecture some priorities. And then, after the phone screen, during the on-site itself. That's when I’d say my real preparation began. I had a giant Trello board where I treated preparing as a Project Management exercise. And so, the things I did were scouring the internet for potential questions that people had asked that were on interviews before. I had learned that it's a very unique interviewing style. And so, I hadn’t interviewed like that before, so I really wanted to get a comprehensive overview. So outside of actual interview questions, I felt the need to become an expert in all things Amazon. So, I went through press releases, looked over what all the different teams were working on, and surrounded myself in hundreds of pages of PDFs and instructional videos to learn what's going on. And then, I spent a lot of time focusing on developing out stories of experiences, based on the various Leadership Principles, as well.

Nick: So, you go through this quite exhaustive preparation process. Your big day comes; you show up at the Amazon office for a day full of interviews. How did that go? Give us some of your color commentary, some context about what happened on the big day of Amazon interviewing you.

Guest: Most of the loops were, I’d say, four to five hours, with the lunch break involved. I was actually surprised at how much fun I had. The interviews themselves were very quick and fast-paced, and each one was about 45 minutes with a small break. It goes by really quickly. Most of the interviewers were extremely cordial and conversational. After breaking the ice, it usually started by asking some questions. Myself, I had done a little homework on each of the interviewers, as well. So, I had some prepared questions, as well. But what really impressed me, was how structured the interview itself was. I'm everyone was consistent in asking similar types of questions, taking similar types of notes, and really poking me for as many details in the stories that I was sharing there.

Nick: it's very interesting to hear you say how it's this process, that there's almost a dichotomy where, on the one hand, it felt like a very fluid and nonchalant discussion that is intended to maybe put you at ease. But, on the other hand, you could detect this very pronounced structure and preparation and process underneath. That's a very Amazonian, I think, trait.

Guest: For sure. Yeah.

Nick: So, what was the one thing, or the one or two things that stayed with you? What was the one, maybe, more impressive thing or more unusual thing that you walked away at the end of the interview and it stayed with you?

Guest: It became a really good exercise in sharing more about me in such a concrete way. The questions being asked were extremely specific and extremely granular, as well. And it recalled my memory to the actual time in my life, so it felt like time traveling and really sharing the story. And I think the lesson I learned is the interview questions really being designed to see how you solve a problem and what type of evidence you can show that: a) you did that, as well as b) what your thought process was. As so that level of rigor stayed with me and I've applied it to other interview loops at different companies too. And that was a very helpful framework. The other part that stayed with me was, I felt everyone was trying really hard to make sure it was a right fit for everyone involved. So, I felt like they really did ask helpful questions to determine that fit on both sides.

Nick: It's very interesting to hear you say how the whole process almost gave you a different perspective on yourself professionally, almost even outside of the interview context, where you took this approach, this mental model as we keep repeating, of presenting yourself. And then you applied it to other professional situations. I am sure in your day-to-day work, career-wise. I’m sure in your professional life, maybe. And there's this very unique Amazonian look and feel to someone. And you could tell that someone's been with Amazon for a while, without being able to quite put a finger on exactly what that is. But I think that structure and that deliberate style of communication is a very typical Amazon trait.

Guest: As someone on the other side of the table right now, I can definitely validate that.

Nick: OK. So, you go through this very interesting process, that's on the one hand very fluid, and on the other hand very structured, that kind of puts you in a time machine back and forth through the evolution of your career. The day is over. How do you feel? What do you feel? Were you feeling relieved? Were you feeling maybe disappointed? What's going through your head?

Guest: I was exhausted and tried to find the closest happy hour that I could. Secondly, it was so hard to turn off my head, in terms of replaying different questions, second-guessing examples that I had given. And one thing that I did that I felt helped, was I took about a half-hour or so, after the interview, to write down a self-evaluation. I made a list of who asked which questions; how I felt I did in those questions; what I would improve. And that journal, and those examples, since I did interview several times, actually really helped both from future learning perspective, as well as during the day of, I was able to do a brain dump and then move on.

Nick: It's amazing to hear how you've been very thoughtful and planful with your post-mortem if you will. But I also want to underscore for everybody else who's listening right now and watching us, that it's quite common for people to feel drained and tired, and it's not a sign that you didn’t do well, it's just a sign that the process is very rigorous and it's working as its intended to work. So, how long did it take for Amazon to get back to you and give you the verdict?

Guest: It ranges from between one to three days, on different occasions. Those were extremely anxious times for me, where I set a million alarms, put in a bunch of calendar reminders, made a note to my wife to call me an hour before the recruiter was supposed to call, to test if my phone was working. Things along those lines. So, I'm glad they called sooner than later.

Nick: Right, and then you celebrate. So, in hindsight what would you say you would have done differently? Did you do something that was maybe less useful, that you would not do in hindsight? Or did you forget to do something that would be more useful, now that you're on the other side of the fence?

Guest: Yeah, I think I did all the right things, but in the wrong proportion. I did spend a lot of time doing research on various products and going deep into different tutorials and trying to be some magnitude of subject matter expert in it. But none of that information was helpful for me during the actual interview itself. I came to realize that it really is about dissecting my background and how I handle situations. And so, I would have done some level of market awareness as to what's going on role-specific, but really spending more time on honing my stories, and the examples of my accomplishments and failures. Practicing Amazon interview questions. But there was such a departure from writing and actually speaking with someone. I wish I had spent more time rehearsing verbally by myself or with someone else.

Nick: Oh wow, so that's great to hear. So, would this be the one major piece of feedback and advice that you would give to people who are currently going through the process of interviewing with Amazon and are just as nervous as you used to be?

Guest: Yeah. Probably the two biggest pieces of advice I can give are: one, to chill out and to not tie your self-worth to what the outcome of the interview loop is. It really is designed to assess whether it's a mutual fit and sometimes it's just not and there are many other places in the world where you can add value. And secondly, I would practice speaking and sharing stories audibly.

Nick: That's a great takeaway. So, in closing, anything that I should have asked and I didn't, or anything you wanted to mention to allay the concerns of all those who are crunching through their interview loops and who are chewing through their fingernails, not knowing what to expect?

Guest: Yeah, after having gone through interview loops several times and now having spent a few months, knowing the team: so much effort goes into the interview process, to make it useful. And that there is a ton of logic behind every decision being made. And, so at first, I mentioned being really anxious when I got negative news from the recruiting team, but now I know that, in hindsight, that would have been a really challenging role for me, and just was not a good fit. And so, it's less one-sided that Amazon's not evaluating you; they're validating you in context. And so, to have faith in the process of everyone is trying really hard to make it as positive an experience for you. And really just focus on yourself.

Nick: I’m so glad to hear you say this because we as humans, under this type of duress going through the interview loop, we tend to fall into these mental shortcuts of: “Oh, if I had only said this one line differently, or this person looked at me funny, and if I had only done this one little thing differently, the outcome might have been different.” While I think what you're saying is: sure, some of these things might have helped, but the process is much more thorough and thoughtful. It's important that you should prepare this holistic portfolio of your work, focus on practicing, in your case verbally was very effective. And just don't assign your personal self-worth to what Amazon is going to think. Keep knocking on the door and eventually, good things are going to happen.

Guest: Well that and also during the day of, to get into a really positive headspace. What I actually found really helpful was I didn't do any prep the morning of, but I had a nice breakfast. Went for a long walk. And then I made a playlist of “interview pump-up” music and so I did a walk around the block, just listening to a couple of songs and got into a Zen mindset. And then went into the lion’s den.

Nick: What's a couple of songs on your own the “interview pump” list?

Guest: I'm kind of a Broadway dork. And so, I played a quite a bit of the “Hamilton” soundtrack.

Nick: You guys heard it here first. The “Hamilton” soundtrack is the ticket to getting hired at Amazon. Thank you so much. I really appreciate, we all really appreciate, your time and your grace to give back and share your experience with Amazon. And, everyone else, please keep plugging away. Have faith that good things are going to happen, if you work hard and you prepare. Hopefully, you enjoyed this episode of our podcast. Please, review us, if you'd like? Please, subscribe to our podcast wherever you collect your podcasts. And best of luck in your Amazon interviews, as always. Bye.