[Updated] Amazon’s 16 Leadership Principles: What You Can Expect to be Asked in the Interview

Everything You Need to Know to Ace Your Interview

July 15, 2022
Table of Contents
“The principles are embodied in the natural way of thought and the common language spoken on a day-to- day basis by Amazonians regardless of function, domain, role, level, business model or target market.”

— Arun Prasath, Principal Engineer at Amazon

After speaking to dozens of hiring managers at all levels, including VPs and directors, the number one piece of advice for interviewing at Amazon was consistent across the board: know the Leadership Principles like the back of your hand.

It’s not enough to just memorize the Leadership Principles, you need to spend time thinking deeply about each one and making sure you can relate to them on a personal level. Amazon prides themselves on using these principles every day - not just creating impressive-sounding mottos that are included in a company profile and then forgotten. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Amazon hires based on these principles and that your understanding of them will play a huge role in whether or not you receive that offer.

You should be living and breathing the Amazon Leadership Principles before interviewing at Amazon.

The Leadership Principles are a list of values that define and shape the company culture. In mid-2021 Amazon announced that they had added two new Leadership Principles, bringing the famous list of 14 up to a new grand-total of 16.

The principles on this list are used by Amazonians daily in all levels of decision-making. It cannot be stressed enough that the most important part of the interview process is becoming familiar with these principles, absorbing their true meaning, and being able to relay personal stories that demonstrate this understanding.

In other words, you have to understand them conceptually and be able to provide specific examples from your background story that relate to each principle.

Preparing for this will likely make up the bulk of your preparation. You should have one example ready for each principle. Successful interviewees usually spend 10-15 hours preparing and at least 3-4 hours practicing mock interviews.

Let’s take a look at each principle and what they mean in detail. I have also shared actual Amazon leadership principle interview questions to provide some real-world context.

#1: Customer Obsession

“Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

This Leadership Principle is an all-time favorite, and you can bank on being asked a question that requires you to demonstrate this one.  It is also one that often trips people up in an interview. Possibly because it seems like such a clear-cut principle that candidates don’t always realize what the interviewers are truly looking for. The thing they want to see is that you always bear the customer in mind and care about what is really is their best interests. Amazon have often made decisions that have negatively impacted sales or revenue because it was the best thing for their customers.

Amazon has been described as the world’s most customer-centric business, and this principle is testament to that. Most companies are competition-focused and want to make sure they do not fall behind. Amazon, on the other hand, looks at their entire business through the eyes of the customer.

Here are a few examples of customer obsession that happen internally:

1. Amazon runs usability tests on all their categories online to make sure the platform is consistent with the customer’s needs.

2. When faced with a difficult product or engineering decision, Amazonians ask the question, “how would the customer respond?”

3. The best customer service means the customer does not need to call Amazon. In other words, issues are solved before they arise and if they do arise, they are resolved quickly. Jeff Bezos frequently brings an empty chair to executive meetings as a reminder that there is always someone else in the room – the customer.

Real questions asked in the interview:

  • What is the difference between customer focus and customer obsession?
  • How do you pursue real customer feedback, not just solicit for compliments?
  • How have you WOW’d your customers in the past?
  • Share an example where you use customer feedback to drive an improvement in your previous business.
  • When do you think it’s reasonable and appropriate to push back on a very difficult customer?
  • How have you used data to better understand your customers/clients?

#2: Ownership

“Leaders are owners. They think long term and do not sacrifice long-term value for short term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond their own team. They never say ‘that’s not my job.’ Drive the business like your own car, not some cheap weekend rental.”

Working at Amazon often requires you to go beyond the scope of your job description to get the job done. This means acting quickly, gathering resources, and wearing many different hats. That could be anything from simply mean picking up a piece of trash on the floor, to performing sales activities even though you are in a marketing job. Not every day, but you have to be willing to stretch outside the box.

Similarly, when you fail in a project, taking full responsibility and ownership for that failure is expected. Ownership is synonymous with accountability.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • When did you go outside of the boundaries of your defined role to fix a problem?
  • Describe a time when you have taken ownership in your job.
  • How do you balance focusing on your day to day tasks without losing track of the long term vision?

#3: Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.”

As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Scaling a business that can be used not by just a few thousand people, but by millions of consumers is always a consideration. Amazonians are always thinking about how to make things smoother, faster, cheaper and better for the customer. Often times this takes the form of “kaizen” or continuous process improvement and automation.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • What is the most innovative or inventive thing you’ve achieved (process improvement, product idea)?
  • When was the last time you tried something new?
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#4: Are Right, A Lot

Leaders have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Ultimately, your interview comes down to results. Be prepared to discuss the impact you have had in your previous job (in tangible terms) and the business knowledge you have gained over the years. After all, they are expecting you to succeed.

That said, showing humility is expected. If you speak only of your achievements and no mistakes or failures, this is a big red flag for Amazon. They want to know you have experienced a range of failures and successes, which have shaped you as a person and as a leader.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • What is your biggest achievement?
  • What tangible impact did your achievement have?

#5: Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

They want to know your management style and how you have developed people in the past – did they get promoted and what did they achieve? What did you learn from the experiences? Even if you have no management experience or are not interviewing for a management role, you could discuss how you help others around you, how you have trained people, or how you helped new starters in your previous company.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Who was your best hire and why?
  • What was your biggest hiring mistake? What did you learn from it? How do you earn trust from new employees?
  • What is your management philosophy?

#6: Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed, so they stay fixed.

This principle relates to everything from your attention to detail to the small things (what a customer thinks about the color of a button), all the way to hiring the right people. Never compromise on this.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • How have you raised the bar to increase quality of your work?
  • Tell me about a time when you were unsatisfied with the status quo.

#7: Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

This brings up the dichotomy of strategy vs. tactics. Strategy means a longer-term planning of a goal, like a yearly revenue target. The tactics mean the tasks and methods you use to achieve the goal, like the specific clients you will approach and sales techniques you will use. “Think big” means that you come up with the strategy and vision.

You do not have to be a manager of people to apply this principle. I find there are usually two skills that are mentioned together: dive deep vs. think big. People who have been in a deeply analytical position might not always see the bigger picture. On the other hand, people that are always looking months or years ahead may not focus on the detail. You need to be able to strike a balance between the two, at least in the eyes of the interviewer.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Sometimes we can get buried in the details and lose sight of the big picture. How do you ensure this doesn’t happen?
  • Tell me about a time when you thought differently to improve a process that was working.

#8: Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Often, people get caught up in “analysis paralysis,” meaning that they spend too much time planning and do not take action quickly enough. Amazon believes you do not always need to be 100% sure to make a decision. When you are 80% certain and have a strong business judgment, it is better to decide now with limited information rather than wait another nine months.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Describe a time where you made a judgment call with limited information.
  • How do you overcome analysis paralysis?
  • What is your level of risk tolerance? Why?
  • How does this manifest itself in your work?

#9: Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention.

There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expenses. Amazon does not have a “country club” culture. They operate like a big startup. Money goes towards improving the customer experience and not throwing money around on non- essentials. Rather, analyzing the best options and spending the money wisely.

Amazon employees notoriously do not get cell phones or generous expense accounts. The Company saves a lot of money on unnecessary perks.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Describe a time when you improved a process with limited budget.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make tradeoffs between quality and cost.

#10: Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Curiosity leads to creativity. This leads to new ideas, innovation, and frugality. Amazon wants to know how you come up with these ideas – whether that’s staying up to date with trends or blending other disciplines to create something.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • How do you find the time to stay inspired, acquire new knowledge, and innovate in your work?
  • Describe a time when you took on work outside ofyour comfort area.

#11 Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume.

They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best. Amazon wants to see how you have been proactive in revealing problems and mistakes. The first step in fixing a problem is admitting it exists. Then open your kimono, figuratively speaking, and take responsibility for your action. This is where humility comes in and remembering not to boast about your achievements.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Share an example of a failure in your career.
  • How do you earn trust from a team that you inherited?

#12: Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ. No task is beneath them.

People struggle with this principle the most. Interviewers will ask you “why, why, why” as a follow up to your answers to get more details. You have to be ready to talk about what YOU did specifically in the situation, and how that affected the business. They do not want to know what others did; rather, they are more interested in your specific accomplishments. Use the pronoun “I” instead of “we” and it will make a big difference to the interviewer.

They are expecting a granular level of detail — i.e., how big the marketing budget was, what your analysis was, WHY you chose that train of thought, how you allocated the budget, what marketing methods YOU used, the metrics and financial impact of that.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Describe a problem you solved recently. Why did it happen, what was the root cause of the problem?
  • Why did you change your last job?
  • Walk me through your biggest failure. What could you have done differently?
  • If you have a team, can you describe what their daily activities are? How do you measure them?

#13: Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Disagreement is encouraged as long as you have data and a logical point to your disagreement. Think of examples of when you have challenged the status quo.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • Give an example when you had to push back to HQ or challenged a decision in your organization.
  • Describe a time when you felt really strongly about something on a project but the team decided to go in a different direction.

#14: Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

At the end of the day, it is all about performance and results. Whether that is a financial impact, improving something within the business, or launching a product, you have to show how you made an impact.

Real Amazon interview questions:

  • What is your biggest accomplishment?
  • What impact did you make in your previous company?
  • How do you balance humility with strong leadership?

We have a dedicated article taking a more in depth look at these two new Leadership Principles added mid-2021:

#15:  Strive to Be Earth’s Best Employer

Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? The Amazon Leadership Principles help leaders solidify their vision and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.

#16: Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.
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Bringing it all together

As you have probably noticed, a lot of the leadership principles have significant overlap. “Deliver results” and “are right a lot” are similar. “Invent and simplify” and “frugality” are connected. The principle of “dive deep” can be shown by the way you answer your questions. In other words, you can “dive deep” by being very detailed in your storytelling when describing your past achievements. This is good news because it means that you can find one example that will encompass several principles.

For example, if you are asked to “Describe a problem you solved recently,” you could share a story about a new customer that you acquired. The story could include details of how you had to “earn trust” from your client, brainstorm new ideas in a different industry (“learn and be curious”), and ultimately how you “delivered results.”

This means that you only need to prepare four or five detailed examples of your previous achievements. You can use these examples to answer most questions that Amazon will throw at you. As long as they are related to the leadership principles, you can rest assured that they will be seen as relevant.

Amazon Interview Program

We’ve developed a hands-on career coaching program proven to dramatically increase your chance of landing your dream job at Amazon.

Over dozens of hires and thousands of interviews, we’ve developed a program that has been shown to be effective in preparing you for interviews and increasing your chances of getting a job at Amazon. The content we’ve created gives you a huge advantage over other interviewees, but the real power comes from coaching. You are paired with a trained coach who has a background working directly with Amazon, and who can tailor the program to you and maximize your chances of success.

The bulk of the program is structured around helping you create, clarify and practice articulating your past experiences from the lens of the Amazon Leadership Principles. From countless conversations with hiring managers and senior executives at Amazon, the common denominator between those who succeed in the interviews and land a job at Amazon (apart from some outliers) is how much time they put into preparing for the unique style of interviews, not just their education and pedigree.

Learn more about why this program works and meet some of our Specialist Amazon Interview Coaches.

Looking to practice your interview with a former Amazon employee and trained interview coach? Get a free coaching session here.

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