Your Chance at Amazon Employment
“I kept improving myself and investing in myself. In 38 years at RR Donnelley, I went from apprentice proofreader to president of its largest unit, Print Solutions, a $3.7 billion business. The number-one thing I learned is you have to
market yourself like a product and differentiate yourself. I got my education—an associate degree, undergrad degree in business and MBA. I always stayed on the cutting edge of management. I’m a risk taker, and I don’t mind taking on tough assignments.”
~ Ronald E. Daly
Amazon employs recruiters who focus on finding and securing top talent for the company. These recruiters seek all sorts of qualities
that might fit the organization. If you are preparing to transition to Amazon, it might help to have some insight into what recruiters are looking for. But these tips will work for most companies, especially large tech companies.
No matter what companies you are considering, you want to be sure that you stand out from the crowd. Nothing is worse for a recruiter than to see the same layout, the same format, and the same boring content in a resume. You need to make sure you shine.
The process begins with research. I know research is about as exciting as watching paint dry. But if you do it right, you will find that research can be rather interesting. More than that, though, this research is critical to your understanding of where you might fit in the organization and gives you a leg up on the 150 other people who might be offered a chance to interview for the job you’ve got your eye on.
First, research the organizational structure of the company. Okay, that part isn’t exciting. But, at the very least, every candidate should know who the power players are in the company. Keep in mind that Amazon has what is called a flat matrix structure. In many companies, titles and positions are everything. It is much like a military structure where there are many ranks, and each one is decidedly different from the next. There are 13 enlisted ranks, 5 warrant officer ranks, and 11 office ranks. In a flat matrix, titles do not hold the same weight, as there isn’t a huge hierarchy. Employees could be working together on a project from almost anywhere in the organization. Associates are expected to maintain a degree of self-management, and the chain of command is usually quite short.
Is this the right structure for you?
As you evaluate that, you might think that some title you have achieved in your former career translates into a similar title at Amazon. Not necessarily. A senior manager at one company is not a senior manager at Amazon. Researching the company structure will help you find the right spot for you.
How will you do that? LinkedIn is an excellent resource for connecting with people who might be able to clarify what roles are available at the company you are considering. Most people are willing to schedule a coffee conversation and give you 15 to 20 minutes of their time to tell you about their role and how it integrates with the company’s mission.
With the information you gather, adjust your job title to match the one you are looking for so that it is easy for the recruiter or human resources personnel to link you to the position you want. This is especially true if you apply online or through a platform like ZipRecruiter. The AI game can work for you or against you. And since most of them allow you to submit multiple versions of your resume, you can be sure to submit the one that gives you the best chance of getting noticed in the midst of thousands of resumes. Or, if it’s easier, simply put your given title at your prior company, and in brackets beside it, put the corresponding position at the company you are courting. This ensures that the AI search feature can find you. Then the recruiter is only going to look at each resume for a few seconds. So having those keywords on the page will help you get noticed.
Your resume itself is a critical consideration. But when formatting your resume, keep in mind that simplicity is superior. You want to stand out, for sure. But the way you can stand out is to do what others aren’t. If your resume is clean and easy to read, you will surpass the competition. LinkedIn is great because it color-codes different parts of the resume. If you’re not on LinkedIn yet, that is your first step.
Content on your resume is your next concern. The old way of presenting yourself was to highlight your roles and responsibilities. Today, recruiters want to see your impact on the company, not just a list of chores you do daily. Remember, they know the position and what it entails. If you worked in the position for any length of time, they can assume you did the things that come with the job. Instead, they want to see your highlight reel. What did you change? What did you improve? What did you create? How did you innovate? How did you solve problems? In what ways did you add value?
The impact is more important than the roles!
Once you are offered the initial interview, know that you have surpassed hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who wanted this shot. So, let’s not blow it on the interview.
An Amazon leadership interview will probe your ability to embrace the company’s principles and show that they align with your values and beliefs. For example, if you can demonstrate in the interview why you believe customers are the most important person in a company’s plan, you will show that you are aligned with their corporate principle of Customer Obsession.
It takes time to prepare to start the search for a new job. I hope that you are in a position where you have some time. A rushed process rarely results in a successful transition. If you hate your current career or are just uninspired and unfulfilled there, the prospect of spending a year preparing to transition out may seem excruciating. But allow me to encourage you. If you do this right, you won’t have to do it again in a couple of years. If you rush the process, you will purchase your return ticket right back to where you are now. You don’t want that. So take your time.
If it helps, put a monthly calendar on the wall and cross off the days. Treat yourself to something special at the end of each month—lunch with a friend, a massage, or a round of golf with a buddy—as a way of marking the time… whatever you have to do to keep your morale high.
It is crucial, of course, to spend that time working diligently on your “mission plan,” which is actually your “transition plan.” That plan should include all of the steps I have outlined below.
In my short time at Amazon, I have conducted and successfully navigated substantial and consequential interviews. I hope that some part of my story helps you get the next posting or position that you want.
Several things ring true about each of the interviews that not only offer insight into my Amazon-specific dialogue but could be seen as universal imperatives for a successful desk-side or phone encounter, which ultimately lands you an offer.
I know “universal imperatives” sound as if now that I have secured employment and advancement in my interviews, I am offering myself up as some type of expert. I am not. In my own story, the following tips were imperative. In your case, they could simply be key factors.
Interviewing at Amazon is going to be grueling. So just prepare for it. While everyone will be pleasant and polite, you will need to get through several layers to land an offer. But there are some things you can do to ensure you put your best foot forward. No one knows what questions are going to be asked because every interviewer is different. But I want to be sure you are well prepared. So, let me share with you the common questions you may hear when interviewing at any company.
“Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
This is a shop-worn question that most interviewers around the world ask. At first blush, it might seem like a lazy question. But there is actually genius behind it if you dig a little deeper. Interviewers ask this question because it is the broadest question possible to get you talking. They are testing your communication skills, your ability to make eye contact while speaking, and what you think are your best qualities and accomplishments. But they also want to see how you think on your feet.
As you answer, you may include elements of your personal life, but focus on what you have to add to their company, mission, and culture.
Outline the experiences that you would like to share. While in the prep phase and just before or after you purchase that killer dress, you have to determine what you want to talk about in the interview when you are asked an open-ended question. What stories resonate with the job you are seeking? Can you recall specifics about what you did? Do you have metrics to back up the stories?
Additionally, ensure that the stories do not conflict with the information that you have provided on your resume. You absolutely do not want to generate questions that are meant to reconcile conflicting information. The experiences should add value to you as an applicant and potential employee of the company and position you are applying for. Leadership, management, dependability, character, and work ethic are attributes that every employer is looking for and should be easy to build out.
The old adage “Dress for success” is partially correct but is often construed as donning an ill-fitting suit that you last wore to a funeral or wedding. The old paradigms about what to wear to an interview are changing. For example, I never wore a tie to either one of my in-person interviews. In fact, I had just returned from a stress-relieving run before my phone interview. Actively think about the impression you will make. A clean and well-ironed pair of jeans or khakis with a non- descript polo can be as powerful as a suit and tie if you feel great in them, and they’re appropriate to the company’s dress code. I might not have worn those clothes if I was interviewing for a banking position with Chase or Bank of America, but they were a perfect fit for the business casual nature of Amazon.
I thought about what I would wear before my last interview and looked for and purchased my shirt a few months in advance. My wife affectionately called it my “interview shirt” because I looked intently for it. It fit perfectly, and I felt good in it. By the way, I got the job. And when I interviewed later for a promotion in my lucky “interview shirt,” I got the promotion, too.
Know your story.
I believe that your elevator pitch has to connect your interviewer to your why. You should be able to speak about your life with ease. As I was working to “break the ice” with my interviewers, I talked about my family, the adversity that I had overcome, my hobbies, and my education. This gave me connection points with the interviewers, allowing them to see me as more than an applicant.
It is foolhardy to go on an interview with one of the biggest and best companies in the world without practicing your spiel a few times. But that is true for any interview with any company. Let’s face it, you want the job. If you didn’t, why waste your time applying? This is the big game, so ensure that you present yourself in the best light possible.
A dry run-through of your past job experience is included in your resume and adds no color to the impression you are trying to make. Talk about your accomplishments with some flair mixed with a dash of humility.
If you are going to share personal stories (and you should), do so with the idea of making them memorable. “My kids supercharge me; my two-year-old daughter is a firecracker, and my son is a beast of a football star…” “My wife is my hero; she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro last year and dragged me along to photograph her experience…” Or, as I stated, “Hi, my name is Lee Flemming; I am married with an adult daughter, am a US Army Veteran, and became an accidental Amazonian in the fall of 2018…”
If you can raise the interviewer’s eyebrows and cause a smile to spread across his or her face, you win. Sharing stories with a bit of life and vigor keeps the interviewer engaged. You want that person to be forced, by your wit and charm, to ask more about who you are. He or she might have 10 people to see that day and 30 in a week. But that person will not forget you, which gets you closer to your ultimate goal of connecting with your interviewer so that you get the nod for the next round of interviews or the job offer.
Here’s a little inside information: Develop a cadence for answering questions because Amazon and many other high-performing companies swear by the STAR Method: Situation, Task, Action, and Result (STAR). After considerable hand-wringing, I thoroughly embraced the STAR Method and used it to my benefit. I am a natural storyteller, which aligns well with the situational paragraph. I am also task- and results-oriented, which ultimately helped me internalize speaking to the STAR. I suggest that whatever cadence you use, ensure that every question is answered similarly. With fire! Your objective is to reduce interviewer confusion and enhance their ability to follow your experiences. You may also want to include lessons learned for some of your more impressive stories. Organized and disciplined speech is difficult, so you absolutely have to practice. As a matter of fact, if you are searching for a job or think you might over the next few months, start getting your answer cadence together.
Connect with the Interviewer.
The interviewer must be able to see themselves working with you. If you know that you do not make a good first impression and sometimes you do not come across as likable, you must overcome that for the interview. That’s a big “if.” Many people are abrasive and know it, but some don’t know it because no one wants to incur their wrath by telling them how abrasive they are.
For this, you will need to take an honest look at your history. Have you been referred to as easy to talk with in your past employment? Do people visit your desk or your office just to say hi? Are you invited to after-work outings? Do you smile when you see your coworkers’ first thing in the morning?
If you answered no to half of these questions, you are probably not as warm and fuzzy as you would like to think you are and need to be sure to 1) present a more winsome demeanor and 2) fix that! It doesn’t make sense to fake it for the interviewer if you are going to be a terror to your colleagues once you get the job. That is another reason why I recommend making this a months-long process. You want to be ready for the next career phase in all the ways that matter. And the interviewer, especially an Amazon interviewer, can tell if you are not pleasant to work with.
No one hires and dedicates considerable income to someone that they do not see themselves working alongside. For example, I have personally never been the subject of an interview where I did not laugh at some point and had the interviewer laugh also. Never.
Challenge the interviewer
Do not be afraid to challenge your interviewer. This is not an open invitation to be argumentative. But you can respectfully and politely disagree with the interviewer’s conclusion or assumption. It shows confidence. And it tells you what kind of company you have applied to based on how the interviewer responds to your request that he or she explain something more fully or challenge the veracity of something that was said. If your interviewer takes it well, you will know that you are considering a company where ideas are freely expressed, and voices are not silenced. If the interviewer balks at the challenge, take it as a warning that this is a company where only marching in lockstep is respected. You will not be at liberty to point out when something is obviously askew, and your ideas to improve it will go unappreciated.
If I have learned anything from Amazon’s open communication culture, it is that no one person has a lock on the right. If you unequivocally know you are right, then do not hesitate to say you are.
Remember that you are not just trying to impress the interviewer; he or she should be actively engaged in trying to impress you. If you are a quality candidate, the interviewer wants a big score for hiring you. The interview is not a one-way street. You cannot approach the interview thinking that people like you are a dime a dozen. Instead, see yourself as a diamond in the rough. The interview is a courtship designed to lead to a long and happy marriage. Don’t waste it thinking you have to suck up.
Laughter, agreement, healthy disagreement, eye contact, and body posture all serve to connect you to your interviewer.
Do you have any questions?
I am always amazed at people who approach the interview without predetermined questions. Again, the company is also being interviewed. You are both after the big prize: you want a great job with a history-making organization, and they want another stellar employee in their ranks to help them grow. Both sides have something to gain, so both sides should be prepared to be examined.
Express an interest in the position by asking appropriate questions. When I suggest you ask questions, I am not talking about banal inquiries like:
• “How much are you paying?”
• “What benefits do you offer?”
• “How many vacation days will I get?”
• “Do we work on Christmas?”
These are questions that are almost guaranteed to take you out of the running by any conscientious interviewer. First, it should be obvious to anyone working at Amazon that it is a company that never sleeps. The demands are strong. As for salary, you can bet that Amazon will make you a solid offer, and you can discuss that offer at the appropriate time. Instead, ask thoughtful questions, demonstrating real research and careful thought about your fit in the company. The organizational vision, culture, and future plans immediately come to mind.
Another great questioning technique is to query the interviewer about his or her experience with the company. First, people love talking about themselves. It immediately connects you to them. But their answers will give you a lot of insight into the company. I asked, “When was the last time that you thought about leaving the company and why.” This was a fantastic question because it allowed the interviewer to talk, I got to demonstrate interest with my body language and active listening skills, and it told me about any potential downsides in working for the organization.
I also asked about “organizational communication and known support shortfalls that require short-, immediate-, and long-term addressing.” Your questions should align with your interests as well as the demands of the position and give you a chance to further highlight your expertise. It is another chance for you to connect with the interviewer.
Ask for the Job.
If this seems obvious, don’t be so sure. So many people leave the interview with a handshake and a thank you but do not expressly communicate their interest in the position to the interviewer. They are like a teenager who asks another, “Are you going to the prom?” rather than what they really want to know, which is, “Will you go to the prom with me?” Let the interviewer know in no uncertain terms that your number one priority is a chance to work with their company. You have thoroughly prepared, dressed to impress, killed the interview, and left a lasting impression. Why would you leave the interview without clearly asking for the job? It is yours to take, and the interviewer wants to give it to you. Ask for it!!
You’re not ready for Amazon.
In many ways, I have been preparing for my role at Amazon for a lifetime. But for those who have not, it can be daunting to move into a company of this size and scope.
It may be that, when you look over your career, you don’t feel that it is impressive enough to capture the attention of Amazon or some other major organization. You may not be enamored of your work product. Or worse, perhaps you are searching for a new career because you were terminated or laid off. Or maybe your company closed its doors, which many employees feel speaks poorly of them. Maybe, when you hear that Amazon is only searching for the best, you become discouraged and worry that you do not qualify as top talent.
If any of this is the case, I have some ideas about how you might be able to rehabilitate your resume and your attitude.
First, your opinion of your resume is not as valid as you might think it is. When things come easy to you, you tend to discount things that come easy to you that others find impressive. Allowing another business professional to look at your resume is not a bad idea, and there are relatively inexpensive resume writing services that can help you revise your resume. A trusted friend, colleague, or professional will give you a more unbiased perspective on your resume.
If you have truly decided that Amazon is suitable for you, but your resume and skills do not yet reflect your trajectory, consider a position in another company to beef up your resume. This may detract from your journey, but it will give you a better shot at a prime position.
During this detour post, plan to stay for two to three years, making a serious mark on the company of your choice. While companies do not regard the length of service with the same weight as they used to, it may take up to three years for you to make serious impacts in the new company that are worthy of being included on your resume.
And, speaking of serious impacts, choose your new company as carefully as you chose Amazon. It does you no good to get stuck in a company that does not have the vision and mission focus to appreciate the impacts you are trying to make. You could end up losing the three years you spent treading water, hoping to get out.
While there, invest in your development in the same way as you would at Amazon. Take courses, get certificates, finish your degree, or whatever you can do with the time and money you have so that you have decided advantages when you are ready to apply to Amazon.
The question then becomes: Are you humble enough to start from a position with less responsibility than you have now? In other words, are you willing to start at the bottom? Quite a few of the world’s best CEOs, leaders, and managers started that way.
An 18-year-old woman got up early each morning and made the trek to her job on the assembly line at General Motors. She was a fender and hood inspector. She loved her job but set her sights on higher positions within the company. Fast forward a few years, and that woman was named the CEO of the same company where she once worked the line.
“Some people are natural-born leaders,” Barra told Esquire. “Some people can be great leaders with the right training. Some people are better as individual contributors. Looking at them from above, it’s very hard to tell who fits in what category. But the people who work for them can tell you.”
~ Mary T. Barra
At the age of 17, this young man started as an unpaid apprentice at R.
R. Donnelly. He worked hard both at his job and on himself. His first position in the company paid just under two dollars an hour. He was eventually promoted to the position of President of the company.
Leaders are readers
If your Amazon interviewer asked what was the last business book you read, would you have an immediate answer and be ready to explain what you learned from the book, or would you sheepishly hang your head as you confessed you haven’t read a book since the last time a teacher forced you to?
I cannot stress enough how critical it is to establish a habit of reading. Forgive the shameless plug, but Amazon has thousands upon thousands of excellent books by people who have acquired wisdom in a particular area. Commit to reading a book monthly for over three years to grow your knowledge.