For certain positions at Amazon (usually mid to senior level, L6 and above), as part of the interview process you’ll be required to submit a writing sample. This should be roughly two pages and given to you to complete on your own so that you can do it at home. You usually have 48 hours to complete the assessment.
This writing sample is taken seriously as part of the interview process. Amazon famously doesn’t use powerpoints, and instead relies on written memos in their meetings. When you have a new marketing or product idea to pitch, instead of having a bunch of fancy slides to present, you’ll be expected to write a 6 page, structured memo explaining your idea. In the meeting, the first few minutes are spent in silence reading the document, followed by stakeholders diving deep and asking questions about your memo.
As you can imagine, your ability to write clearly and concisely is an important skill to have!
How is the Amazon Writing sample assessed?
Almost all of the prompts for the writing sample will be a Behavioral Question based on the Amazon Leadership Principles. You’ll usually get the option to answer one of two questions, for example, “Write about a time where you had limited data but had to make an important decision,” or “Tell me about a time you had to convince a stakeholder of your viewpoint.”
The writing sample will be assessed based on the relevance of your example, the structure, your adherence to the Leadership Principles and the logic. If you’ve done the preparation of your STAR stories for Amazon, then you should already have plenty of examples to choose from. The best way to write this is to choose a very solid example and use the STAR format to have a structured story. If you’re new to STAR, you can start here.
It’s very common for an interviewer to bring up your writing sample in the actual interview and ask probing questions about it — so make sure to review your writing sample before going into the interview! Be ready to dive deep.
The curve balls
After coaching hundreds of people on the Amazon writing sample, I’ve noticed that sometimes an interviewer will throw a curveball or two. This happens either one of two ways:
- During the interview they bring up the example you wrote in your writing assignment, but are not happy with the example you gave. So, they ask you for another example to answer the question! (A bit stressful if you’ve only prepared that one example)
- Usually there are two question prompts in the writing sample. They will probe into the one you answered, but then ask for an example/answer to the other question that you haven’t answered!
The solution to mitigate these curveballs is to over prepare. In case 1, you should prepare and write out one extra example for the same question prompt (for yourself), which you can use as backup in case it’s asked for. For case 2, you should definitely answer both questions in the writing prompt, even though you are only submitting one. Putting this extra effort will make you more confident in the interview and moreover give you a larger pool of quality stories to choose from.
- Keep the length to two or three pages - no more than that.
- Keep in mind the Leadership Principles as you write and frame your examples from the lens of these values.
- Revise your writing sample to be as logical and concise as possible using the STAR format.
- Always include the reasoning behind decisions you made in the story.
- Include numbers/data where you can.
- If possible, have someone else review your example to get a second opinion.
Here is an example of what an Amazon writing sample looks like for a candidate who successfully received a job offer. Successful Writing Sample
Can I use the same STAR story I used for my leadership principle stories? Or should I have a different one?
It’s okay to reuse a story you’ve already prepared. What’s more important is how well the story is written!
Should I include headers and bold/italics?
Yes, it’s definitely fine to add in headings and subheadings to structure the document if necessary.
What font should I use?
It doesn’t matter too much, but I’d suggest using Calibri 10. This is actually the font that Amazon uses internally, so you’ll automatically create some familiarity…and familiarity breeds trust!
How should I use numbers?
It’s super important to add data. Be specific. Instead of saying you increased sales or marketing spend, give the number. If you have no numbers or data in your example, it’s likely a no-go.
Can I include graphs, images or tables?
This is a big no! And would usually result in a rejection. Amazon is focused on the written word, and the expectation is that you should be able to explain your points without the support of extra images.
Can I write 3 pages?
No, definitely don’t go over the 2 page requirement. If you’re trying to squeeze in a bit more, make the font a bit smaller. :)
Can I use an example from 10 years ago? It’s old, but it’s really relevant to the question!
I don’t recommend it. As a rule of thumb, choose an example within the last 5 years. Amazon prefers examples that are fresh and relevant.
What other tips do you have?
The person reading your writing sample is busy and wants you to get to the point as soon as possible. Don’t make it hard for them! So, get your long version written down first and then edit. To edit, use this method: remove 1 paragraph from each page, one sentence from each paragraph, and one word from each sentence. Be strict and cut out any fat.