Introduction to Amazon interviews
“Amazon has a special interview process that you will need to prepare for. It is not something you can just wing.” Glassdoor review of Amazon’s interview process
Amazon rigorously apply their leadership principles at interview to ensure that new hires are ‘raising the bar’ of internal capabilities, and aim for every new hire to be better than 50% of the existing hires.
This guide is to help you prepare for Amazon interviews. It focuses on how to prepare for behavioural questions designed to test fit with their leadership principles. It does not help with technical, data literacy or writing sample tests.
Get the Amazon leadership principles interview cheat sheet here
How Amazon interviews
Amazon Interview Process
The interview process is typically comprised of
- A phone screen from the internal recruiting team. This is a skills check with some behavioural questions to ensure you can make it through a full interview process. Take it seriously; like everyone at Amazon the person you will be speaking to has been hired for excellence.
- Further interviews with anywhere between 2 and 7 people. This will include the hiring manager, members of the hiring team and a Bar Raiser interview. Each session will last between 45-60 minutes, and you may be asked to attend a hiring day.
- [Sometimes] tests of some sort. These can be data literacy tests, technical interviews, or writing samples. If you are given one of these, you should invest time in it and prepare well for it. If you’re asked to do one, doing it well is a key requirement to land the role.
Amazon is focused on ‘hiring well, rather than hiring quickly’. The process will take as long as it takes. Amazon would rather leave roles open than fill them with the wrong candidates.
Amazon interview type: behavioural
Amazon’s interview process is based on behavioural questioning. Brain teasers or case studies will not come up.
Every role will be assessed for fit with Amazon’s Leadership Principles. This will account for the majority of your interview process. Different principles are tested for in each round, and principles where a possible weakness is perceived are tested deeply to be sure of your capability.
When thinking about fit with Leadership Principles it’s helpful to think about a heat map, and how you might score in terms of strengths and weaknesses across the principles. Amazon are specifically looking for standout strength in the Leadership Principles most critical for each role. For example, managers will need to score highly on ‘Are Right, a Lot’ and on ‘Think Big’. This is not to say you can not match with multiple principles – just that it’s ok to be weaker and open to coaching in areas which are less critical for the role you’re pursuing.
What is behavioural interviewing?
Behavioural interviewing is a technique focused around asking candidates about their prior actions in professional situations in order to understand their personality, their competencies and how they might perform in certain scenarios. At the core of behavioural based interviewing is the concept that historic behaviour can predict future behaviour. If this person did this thing in this situation, when confronted with similar situation they will likely behave [similarly] or [apply their learnings from the previous situation]. An example might be ‘When do you think it’s ok to push back or say no to an unreasonable customer request?’, designed to test your fit against Customer Obsession.
Behavioural questions are usually open ended and start with ‘Describe a situation when you [had to win over a difficult colleague]’ or ‘Tell me about a time when you [took on a project and went above and beyond]’.
Get the Amazon leadership principles interview cheat sheet here
Amazon interview processes are structured in advance, with different people testing different aspects of the role requirements. They refer to this as ‘the loop’.
Amazon interviewers are required to keep detailed notes and scorecards of their interviews. Be aware of this. Do not simply assume that you can leverage the same examples repeatedly, and don’t expect (as sometimes happens in other companies) for the interviews to all follow the same line or pattern of questioning.
“The first thing everyone does before making a decision on a candidate is to take time to read everyone’s feedback. As a candidate, you’ll hear and see lots of notes being taken during your interview (sometimes to a fault).
It’s critical that the feedback is detailed, uses examples to back up claims, and is objective. It’s harder to be objective than you think when you instinctively want to like or dislike people, which comes with all types of potential bias. Objective feedback also helps guard against nasties like “this person isn’t a cultural fit”, which isn’t related to either a leadership principle or functional requirement. It’s worth noting that everyone has to submit their own written objective feedback before they can see anyone else’s, so we get an unbiased view from the group before making a decision.” “Interviewing at AWS: Advice and tips from 250 interviews”, Nick Matthews
You should be prepared for an interviewing approach that is intended to extract information from you based on behaviour or responses witnessed in previous interviews. If a principle is particularly critical to a role you might be expected to have multiple examples to demonstrate your fit.
The Bar Raiser is a specific additional title within Amazon: a volunteer position on top of the day job based on internal nomination.
“Bar Raisers are skilled Amazon interviewers who undergo lengthy training after being nominated and accepted into the programme. They are passionate about our hiring process and serve as objective advisors during the interview process. Bar Raisers hold positions that are typically outside of the business for which the candidate is being interviewed, so they spot aspects of a candidate’s strengths and learning opportunities that we might otherwise miss. They are experts in evaluating talent against our Leadership Principles” ‘What is a ‘Bar Raiser’ at Amazon’ – About Amazon
The role of the Bar Raiser is to
- Assist the hiring team to prepare for interviews, including setting the right type of questions. They assist the hiring team with topics like: which principles should this candidate over index on in order to be successful in the role? Which principles can they be trained to adopt and which are integral?
- Ensure the process is run in a robust way: they make sure that written feedback is provided and assessment is fair and unbiased. They audit the interviewing team and leader’s capabilities and coach them through the interview loop. They’re mindful that every candidate is likely also a customer. They might push for more diverse panels to review the candidate to avoid confirmation bias or other types of biases. They will work to make sure that the timing is appropriate for the candidate, that the candidate has context on the process, and that sufficient information is being gathered on the candidate to inform decision making appropriately.
- Level for the company: the person being hired must be better than 50% of those currently in similar roles, and it’s the Bar Raiser’s job to act as quality assurance.
The Bar Raiser is the final decision maker on whether the candidate gets an offer at Amazon or not. Rather than in some companies where 3-6 months of probation is a formality, at Amazon it’s extremely intensive. Recent hires do fail. As you can imagine, if they have relocated or given up great roles for the job and do not make it through probation, it can cause serious personal impact.
Bar Raisers are actually there to help – they might see things which other interviewers do not, they are focused on designing and ensuring a robust process. Ultimately if you don’t get a role at Amazon, it might be for the best given how clearly they have defined their culture.
Different Bar Raisers apply their powers differently: some use their veto, but the majority work with the hiring committee to move to a shared and communally owned outcome. As a candidate you need to succeed in all your interviews.
What Bar Raisers look for on top of Leadership Principle fit
- Resourcefulness: Amazon operates as a system of start ups, and there are few playbooks or straight lines to how to do something.
- Role Models: Amazon is excited to work with candidates who bring leadership skills, functional expertise, or something else to the organisation. The Bar Raiser wants to be excited about you joining.
- Not afraid of failure: Due to Amazon’s decentralised operating model, and ambitious vision, the company looks for people who learn lessons from failure, and aren’t afraid to share what they have risked and the outcomes.
- Have you earned their trust: Do they believe what you’re telling them? Are you authentic? Have you proved you can deliver?
- Ability to scale: Amazon comes across lots of candidates who could ‘do the job’ as it is now, at a basic level. But should the job change or evolve, or become more complex, they wouldn’t be able to step up. There might be a great functional fit, but leadership gaps.
Questions Bar Raisers might look to answer with the hiring committee:
- Is this person better than 50% of people who work here today?
- After a year would this person be successful here, or are the risks just too high?
- What is their super power? Do you admire them?
- Do we think the actions we have seen are driven by their surrounding culture? If given a different environment, would they adapt?
How to prepare for an Amazon interview
Things the interviewers specifically look for:
- Understanding of the principles: they are sent out in advance to candidates, but they can be easy to misconstrue. It’s key to research the principles properly and gain a proper, deep understanding of each one.
- Answers which are credible: it can be easy to make the headline / principle title point, but forget the detailed language in the description. Doing so can mean that you miss being credible.
- Preparation: Interviews at Amazon are a high bar, and it’s rare to get through without any preparation. Failure to prepare is an immediate red flag on fit.
Check out Understanding the Amazon Leadership Principles here
Using the STAR method in Amazon interviews
Amazon specifically advocates for using STAR in their own guide online to how to succeed during their interviews here. It’s worth investing time in getting comfortable with the concept and learning to deploy it confidently.
The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework is a useful structure to keep you focused, clear and concise. It encourages you to
- [Situation] Describe the context you were in
- [Task] The specific task or activity you had to perform
- [Action] What you did
- [Result] The impact of what you did (result).
Example question: “Tell me about a situation where you didn’t have all the required data, but you had to make a decision. Walk me through what happened.”
Situation: “When I was working at MyWowser, we received an excel spreadsheet daily with 10 key operating metrics and no more than that. We additionally looked at a lot of anecdotal customer and real time data.”
Task: “My job was to ensure we sold enough units daily of various different products or services to achieve certain revenue goals. C-suite invested resources to attempt to automate this with machine learning and automated distribution. My role was to work with the product and engineering squad responsible for this to achieve this goal due to my domain expertise. We did not have a top down / or managerial directive on what good looked like. The company was under financial pressure and thus we could not lose money, so we had to manage risk while getting to an automation goal which paid back.”
Action: “The product owner’s role was to manage the team, the model and the tests, while mine was to define the testing strategy, the key inputs and guardrails and manage stakeholder comms. I defined a list of key metrics which had to be input into the model and success metrics for A/B tests. The model went through 3 cycles of A/B testing with me refining and adding inputs until it achieved an A/B result of -2% down on cash-in versus my team vs a slight improvement in customer experience, as the model weighted hygiene factors slightly higher than cash and demand factors. Throughout this I kept senior stakeholders informed and confident in the progress of the tests.
Result: “The result of this was that a reduction in headcount by 80% within the team across EMEA within 12 months since the team was no longer required to perform a manual series of actions and their managers had agreed to the cuts. While not all of this can be attributed to this automation event, since we had to put in various other automations to cover other aspects of the team’s role, it was undoubtedly the most significant achievement, since it proved internally that the team could be automated. The loss in cash-in was offset by longer term salary and overhead savings, adding 1.3% to regional EBITDA”
Get the Amazon leadership principles interview cheat sheet here
When deploying the STAR method, remember these points
- Answers must be comprehensible and credible. It should not require the interviewer to ask too many follow up questions that are simply aimed at understanding your point. In order to achieve that you need to clearly describe the situation with brevity, without jargon or internal language and avoid too many technical terms.
- Use facts and data to establish benchmarks: Ground the story in a plausible reality and show what impact you made, giving enough data to make it clear what it was, where you took it from and to, etc
- Pick the right story for the right situation: both in terms of the principle but also in terms of the seniority of your remit and actions in terms of what you’re describing. Since Amazon roles follow a strict level system with expected competencies at every level, it’s important to strike the right note at the right job level.
- Illustrate don’t state: give examples of real situations rather than making statements like ‘I am very customer focused’.
- Make sure the story is one with a decent impact: fixing small bugs or making small tweaks is not sufficient to impress the interviewer.
- The key thing to get to is what you did and what the result was: do not spend too long on the situation or the task; focus on your behaviours and the impacts.
- If something went wrong in the middle – share it: Amazon is looking for people who are comfortable with failure and who learn from it. Examples which show you adapting to failure shouldn’t be off the table.
If you are asked for a writing sample, use the same methods there.
Get the Hustle Badger Interview Question Framework Flashcard deck here
Timing your answers
A typical Amazon interview will last between 45 minutes to one hour. If you break that down into its component parts:
- 8-10 mins on introductions
- 25-35 mins on interviewer questions
- 10-15 mins on your questions
25 to 35 minutes is not a very long time. Typically Amazon interviewers will ask 2-3 behavioural questions within it.
You want to be able to balance giving the interviewer a clear, structured answer with sufficient detail. You should be able to deliver your answer in 5-7 minutes, and leave time for some questions. You should practise your answers with a friend / partner / housemate to spot the holes, where you’re woolly, and where you talk for too long a period.
- Delivering the answer in a 3 minute period and asking them if there’s sections they’d like you to dive into further
- Delivering the answer in 7 minutes with your interview prep partner either proactively asking questions or you prompting questions and adding extra detail at the end of each section of your STAR structured answer
Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer questions if you think it will help you clarify things or deliver a better answer. For example: ‘There was a time in my career where XX happened – does that sound like the right sort of thing to go through to answer your question?’
Do not fail to do your own prep work on which questions you would like to ask them. It’s really easy to be so focused on nailing their questions that you forget to do your own homework. Interviewing is a two-way street and you’re looking for as much information as they are. Great questions from you can sway an interview in your favour. Questions should become more detailed the longer you go through the process – you shouldn’t be asking generic questions by round 6.
I not We
Remember to pick examples where you were the person who demonstrated the behaviour. Avoid talking about things you did as a team, or times when the team drove a result. Giving examples where you aren’t clearly the centre of the story creates confusion about what you were personally responsible for.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pick examples where you accomplished goals as a team. It just means you have to clearly state what you did (and you alone) to help.
Example of an answer which makes it sound like the team did the heavy lifting, rather than you: ‘After a year of pain regarding our checkout infrastructure, including many delays to key projects for senior stakeholders, it was suggested that we review provider. After the team looked into various options and ran a session with senior management, we decided to migrate from X to X. We staggered the migration into three parts to deliver impact swiftly and avoid ‘no release’ for 6 months…’
Example of an answer where you sound like the person who drove the outcome: ‘When I joined as PM for the payments team, I invested significant time in speaking with senior stakeholders regarding their needs for payments, plus auditing competitors. It was immediately obvious that our payment infrastructure was lagging significantly behind the market, and that we were losing revenue by not being able to accept payments in more than 6 currencies, by not being able to accept common ways to pay in some of our major markets, such as Paytm in India, and we were missing things competitors used regularly like coupon codes. I pulled together a gap analysis; then interviewed and drilled into timelines to fix with my engineering manager. I also scheduled and ran multiple calls with our payment provider to understand their development roadmap and whether that would meet requirements. My analysis showed that the team had minimum 3 years of work to do, and that the payment provider could never support some needs. I surfaced this to senior management and started advocating for different solutions…’
Understand Amazon’s organisational structure
Amazon is structured around largely autonomous, modular, small (‘two pizza’) teams. Two pizzas means: if you can’t feed the team with 2 pizzas, the team is too big. We assume they’re talking about large American size pizzas.
This means that different teams have different ways of doing things; and the only source of information about that is the team itself. Remember to incorporate that into your thinking:
“What may look like a giant corporate spaceship is more accurately a bunch of ships with their masts loosely tied together. What that means as an interviewing candidate is that every team you interview will have their own ways of doing things. I’d recommend asking about the team-level details you may care about in every interview.” “Interviewing at AWS: Advice and tips from 250 interviews”, Nick Matthews
It’s ok not to know the answer
You will likely get pushed in an Amazon interview. You should have answers to the behavioural questions but let’s say you’re asked something about a skill or a piece of functional expertise you don’t have. It’s fine to say that you don’t know.
Don’t google it and then answer it on a remote call – it’s very obvious. Don’t try to bluff your way through. The interviewer is actively trying to get down to the bottom of the bucket of all the detail they can get about you. Not knowing something is ok – after all, Learn and Be Curious is an Amazon Leadership principle.
Check out Understanding the Amazon Leadership Principles here
Don’t use sample answers which are not your own that you might find online. There are no answers you can learn off by heart; you have to think about how your own work experience demonstrates the principles. Interviewers will dig in and ask follow up questions that aren’t in your samples.
Prepare but don’t memorise answers word for word. Reciting canned answers is very inauthentic. The ideal state is to have some examples ready to call on, that you’re comfortable with, and leverage those.
Don’t forget to research the company overall. ‘Why Amazon?’ is a common question, and you should know how to answer it well. It’s worth additionally learning about the enduring influence of its founder and reading current news as well as learning the leadership principles.
Don’t think that this work is wasted: if you do get the role, it will start you off well to understand Amazon’s culture. If you don’t, this process will make you a stronger candidate in future interviews.
Other tips and tricks
Things change all the time at Amazon – so don’t forget to ask about the process.
Make sure you’re comfortable explaining things using the STAR method on the spot in case of a question you don’t have a top of mind response for. Get your interview prep partner to prepare you for this by asking you random questions like ‘Describe a time at your brother’s wedding when you took to the dance floor’ and answering them in the framework until it feels natural.
Be yourself: the interview process is specifically designed to find out who you are, and whether you’re the right fit for Amazon. If you’re not that person, they’ll find out eventually. You might find that the real you is exactly who they are looking for: Amazon hires people for their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.
Good luck in the process!
Hustle Badger Resources on Amazon
Hustle Badger Interview resources
How to answer Amazon interview questions?
Amazon uses behavioural interviewing to assess candidates. Expect open ended questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when…’ focusing on your past professional experience. In order to answer them well, it’s recommended to select strong examples from your job history that demonstrate a fit with Amazon’s Leadership Principles, and to answer using the STAR method to structure your response. The STAR method stands for: Situation (the context), Task (what you had to do), Action (what you did), Result (the impact that you had). It’s advised to focus most of your answer on Action and Result sections, using detail and data to substantiate your answers. Find a full guide here.
How to prepare for Amazon leadership principle interview questions?
Amazon looks to assess existing fit with the leadership principles at interview and to identify any gaps or weaknesses. In order to prepare, it’s key to: fully understand the meaning and purpose behind the principles; identify examples from your career which demonstrate the principles; prepare answers to sample questions using the STAR method, and ensure your answers are credible, comprehensible and contain detail and data. Practise with someone using an example question list. Check out a full guide to Amazon’s Leadership Principles here and a full interview guide here.
How to answer Amazon behavioural interview questions?
First of all, get familiar with Amazon’s Leadership Principles. Secondly, it’s recommended to think through your work experience to find strong examples of where you demonstrated the behaviours outlined in the principles, and map examples to principles. Thirdly, get comfortable with the STAR framework to structure your answers. STAR stands for Situation (the scenario you found yourself in), the Task (what you had to do), the Action (what you did), and the Result (what happened as a result of your actions). Focus the majority of your answer on the Action and Result sections. Get comfortable answering fluently using the framework by practising with a partner. Check out a full guide here.
How to prepare for Amazon interview questions?
Practise using an example question list mapped to the Amazon Leadership Principles. Invest time in understanding Amazon’s leadership principles and practising answers based on your professional experience, using a framework to structure your answers such as the STAR framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Aim for 5-7 minute long answers focusing on the action you took, and the result you gained, including relevant detail and data. Practise with someone to find the holes in your answer and where you need to refine your statements. Don’t over practise or learn answers off by rote – you need to sound authentic to the interviewer and to respond appropriately to the question they’re asking you. Don’t learn answers which are not your own experience – you will be found out as interviewers drill into details. Check out a full guide here.
What is the Amazon interview process?
For non-fulfilment roles you will be interviewed by the in-house talent team who will screen you for experience and potential to get the job, the hiring manager, members of the team, and an Amazon Bar Raiser. There will be anywhere between 2-7 interviews. These will be 45 minutes to 60 minutes long. The process is known as ‘the loop’. The Amazon Bar Raiser role is a volunteer position with special training, where interviewers from outside the hiring team help structure the process, audit the team to ensure it’s fair, and act as quality assurance. They additionally look to ensure that the new hire is better than 50% of existing Amazon employees in similar roles, since Amazon looks to upgrade its talent consistently via new hires. Find a full guide here.
Where can I find an Amazon interview question bank?
You can find 92 sample Amazon interview questions and a full guide to interviewing at Amazon here. Be wary of prepared responses – Amazon looks to understand your work experience and will drill in with detailed questions. Your professional examples should be your own if you want to succeed.