Is Amazon’s second North American headquarters coming to a city near you? Dozens of communities around North America are making their pitches this week–hoping to land a $ 5 billion complex and 50,000 new high-paying jobs.
If your city lands the new HQ, or if you’re willing to relocate even if it doesn’t, a career at Amazon might be worth looking into. So check out their current listings here, and prepare for their interviewing process.
Here’s some advice on how to do that–based on published discussions with Amazon executives and interviewers, and the experiences of people who have been through the process.
1. It’s not really about the questions
On message boards and social media forums, you’ll see a lot of people searching for the common interview questions that Amazon will ask. Of course, there are technical questions pertaining to every role, but many potential applicants seem to be obsessed with finding the cultural and hypothetical questions they might encounter.
The best advice? Don’t worry about it. It’s far better to focus on the answers that the interviewers will want to hear, regardless of what questions they ask.
While applicants largely have to sign nondisclosure agreements that make revealing the questions a breach, Amazon goes out of its way to explain the answers its interviewers want to hear. In fact, as we’ll see, they’ve even prepared a one-page cheat sheet of sorts, and published it on their jobs website.
2. The answer, always: Customer first, competition second
This comes direct from Jeff Wilke, the so-called “second most important Jeff at Amazon,” who is also the CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, he was asked how he uses interview questions to gauge whether someone will be a good cultural fit at Amazon. His answer:
“In an interview situation, we use the leadership principles as a guide to help us evaluate whether somebody would fit in. There are lots of situations where you could decide to optimize for the customer or to get ahead of the competitor. We want to pay attention to competitors, but we obsess over customers. If I detect that they are too focused on competitors, they probably aren’t going to be a great fit.”
Here’s a link to the Amazon leadership principles; sure enough, it starts off with “Customer Obsession.” Even if you’re a bit cynical about whether Amazon practices this in reality, they’re telling you right upfront that this is what they want to aspire to. Again: “obsess over customers.”
3. What to say about decisions you don’t agree with
Somewhere in the interview process, perhaps many times, you’ll likely be confronted with a question about a time in your career when you thought your employer was headed in the wrong direction, and you had to decide how to react to that decision.
Your answer, assuming you want to be hired, should be that you first forcefully, respectfully objected–but that once the decision went against you, you fully committed to trying to make it happen. Maybe even use the phrase: “disagreed and (yet) committed.”
The second-to-last Amazon leadership principle? “Have Backbone; Disagree and commit.” My colleague Justin Bariso wrote about it earlier this year. And in that same Wall Street Journal article, Wilke seizes the chance to talk about how he “disagreed and committed” with Jeff Bezos about launching the Kindle.
I don’t know how many more times Amazon can tell you, but this is the answer they want to hear!
4. Demonstrate curiosity and hunger for growth
Amazon has an interesting category of employees called “bar raisers,” whose work as specialized interviewers, interviewing people in entirely different roles from their departments (but all in addition to their regular jobs). One of the human resources employees who helped create the program said that among its most important goals is to identify and reject one-dimensional applicants.
“You want someone who can adapt to new roles in the company, not just someone who can fill the role that’s vacant. It can be an expensive process because it takes longer, but think of how expensive it is to hire the wrong person,” the former Amazon HR employee, John Vlastelica, told the Wall Street Journal.
Lo and behold, these characteristics are woven throughout the Amazon leadership principles–from “Invent and Simplify” to “Learn and Be Curious.”
Again, maybe you’re skeptical about whether these principles really are deeply held within the company, but you’ll only learn that first hand if and when you accept a position. Until then, these are the values the company at least claims to aspire to–and the ones they want to hear you espouse in an interview.
5. Remember: they need you as much or more than you need them
It’s daunting applying for any job sometimes, but remember: When Amazon opens this new facility, it reportedly plans to hire 50,000 people. Some say that Austin, Texas is the frontrunner; if so, well, that’s a city of just under 1 million, meaning Amazon would apparently be trying to hire a workforce equal to 5 percent of the entire population of its new (second) home.
Statistically, if you land an interview for a non-warehouse job with Amazon, your odds of getting hired have been roughly 40 percent. (I’m basing this on an interview with Dave Clark, Amazon senior vice president, who said the company typically needs 75,000 interviews to hire 30,000 new workers.)
Even if those numbers are off slightly, the bottom line is that Amazon needs a ton of people. And as one (anonymous) bar raiser reported, “While recruiting, we consider the candidate as our customer and strive to make their interviewing experience delightful.”
6. Remember: you might not need (or want) them at all
This isn’t to throw shade on Amazon, but the company itself spends a ton of effort weeding out applicants who might be technically proficient, but not at all a fit culturally. As one business school professor put it, if an applicant finds the interviewing process off-putting, “that’s a probably a good sign that they don’t belong there.”
Thus, you’re probably doing yourself a favor if you realize this yourself and take yourself out of the running. Besides, if Amazon opens its second North American headquarters in your city, a lot of other opportunities will be created as well–maybe even the opportunity to start something of your own.