Insiders share tips on how to cut through Amazon's rigorous interviewing process and get hired

  • Amazon is known for putting candidates through a rigorous process that involves hours of interviews and includes a "bar-raiser," someone designated to see if a candidate will be a good fit.
  • Company insiders described how to master Amazon's 14 leadership practices and answer behavioral-based questions in interviews.
  • Advertising is a big focus of Amazon's hiring, with 800 advertising jobs recently posted.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Amazon is known as one of the most difficult companies to interview with, putting candidates through tough questioning and quizzing them on 14 core leadership principles that prioritize behavioral traits over job qualifications.

But as its expected $17 billion advertising business grows, Amazon has become one of a few companies that is rivaling Facebook and Google as destination for job-seekers, said two insiders familiar with Amazon's hiring practices.

Advertising in particular is a big focus, where Amazon recently had more than 800 openings across nine teams. 

"They are actually working on genuinely cool problems in the space," said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were interviewing at the company at the time. "There is a bit of prestige of having Amazon on the resume."

Business Insider spoke to current and former employees and a recruiting firm for tips on getting a job at Amazon and what to expect.

How to get in the door

A referral will give candidates a leg up, and employees get a bonus for making a successful referral, but Amazon doesn't lean on referrals as much as other tech companies, according to Glassdoor. 12% of reviewers on Glassdoor said that they got an interview at Amazon this way. To compare, 15% of Netflix employees come from referrals, and 25% of Facebook employees come from referrals, according to Glassdoor.

An Amazon spokesperson has said that while referrals can give candidates a boost, the company's full interview process plays a bigger role.

How to prepare for the interview 

Amazon is known for tough interview questions. Instead of asking about people's background or resume, candidates are asked behavioral-based questions. The goal is to find people who align with the company's culture, and it's normal to only be asked a few questions during an hour-long interview, sources said.

Connor Folley, CEO of Amazon-focused adtech firm Downstream and a former Amazon employee, said recently that he prepared for interviews by scouring Glassdoor and compiled all of the questions into a word document.

"You'll find that people with no marketing experience are hired into a marketing manager role," he said. "More important is your proclivity towards these leadership principles than having experience in the role itself."

Here are some examples of typical interview questions, according to Amazon's Glassdoor page:

  • Tell me about a time that you disagreed with a manager or team member.
  • Describe a time when you went above and beyond the scope of your job.
  • Tell me about a time that you handled a crisis.
  • What is an example of a time you had to make a high-impact business decision with little data or time.  

Amazon's 14 leadership principles are at the core of the interview process. The principles include "customer obsession" and "learn and be curious."

Applicants are encouraged to memorize the principles and provide examples of how they embody the values.

Amazon also uses the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, in interviews. Candidates are first asked to describe a situation where they were faced with one of the leadership principles. They are asked to detail the problem and how they solved it. Data-based answers can make a candidate stand out, sources said.

The Amazon employee estimated that more than half of successfully answering interview questions comes from being able to quantify an experience and explain it well. For example, Amazon may ask an advertising job candidate about how they helped a brand with its ad-targeting strategy. A good answer would include specific controls and measures the candidate used to tweak the strategy, the employee said.

How the interview process works

The interview process lasts about a month, which sources described as quick for a hiring process. Hiring managers are expected to get back to candidates about next steps two days after a phone interview. Those who get an in-person interview can expect to hear back within five days, say people who are familiar with the system.

"Amazon has a rule to treat their candidates like customers," said the advertising employee. "They're not in to waste candidates' time. They want to be quick, transparent and over-communicate where they are in each step."

An hour-long phone interview is followed by in-person interviews with multiple people in what's known as Amazon's "loop" system.

It works like this: Candidates come in and interview with about six employees one at a time, with each employee asking questions about one or two of the leadership principles. Interviewers type detailed notes, which limits the amount of eye contact that they make with candidates. All in, the process can last six or more hours, according to sources.

Most of the interviewers are employees in the area the candidate is interviewing for. There's also a person called a bar-raiser from a different department. Sources said that candidates might not know which interviewer is the bar-raiser. These people are well regarded internally and undergo rigorous training to act as a neutral party whose role is to ask tough questions. 

Bar-raisers are meant to make sure that the candidate is better than half of the employees who currently have the role. Both the bar-raiser and hiring manager have to agree to make an offer to a candidate.

"Their job is to dig deeper and probe you — they'll always ask 'Why?'" Rina Yashayeva, VP of marketplace strategy at Stella Rising, an ad agency that specializes in Amazon and a former Amazon employee, said recently. "Everything should be backed by data."

While Amazon's interview process is rigorous and specific to the company, Downstream's Folley said going through the process is a good way to get jobs elsewhere. Downstream's hiring system uses the same method as Amazon's.

"We find often times in our hiring that when presented with a rigorous hiring process, the right kind of candidate appreciates it, sees it as a challenge and feels comfortable aligning their personal brand and career with that organization," he said. "It's almost like the process of becoming a Navy SEAL. You see the challenge, want to prove that you can meet it, and become part of that team."

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