The Amazon Interview Process | Tips from Hiring Experts

The Amazon Interview Process | Tips from Hiring Experts

May 24, 2022
Table of Contents

Amazon’s interview process can be grueling. However, the good news is that it’s fairly consistent. Because we know the structure of the interview beforehand, it makes it much easier to prepare and minimizes surprises. It doesn’t mean the interview is easy (not by a long shot!), but it does mean that you will not be going in blind. If you’re preparing for an interview with Amazon, check out our Amazon Coaching Program and speak to a real coach with experience hiring for Amazon.

Here’s the basic process:

Step #1: Screening call with HR or Internal Recruiter

This lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour. HR or the recruiter will spend most of the time asking questions about your career. They will usually start in chronological order from your first job to your most recent position. You’re expected to answer questions in the

STAR format (click here for a detailed guide).

It’s unlikely you’ll get too much feedback during that conversation, and it might seem more “informational” or casual — but it hardly ever is. Job-seekers tend to come out of the conversation feeling good, which is strange because you have no indication of whether or not you made it to the next round! I believe the reason for this is because the recruiter/HR will let people talk most of the time without interrupting them. People love to talk but don’t realize whether or not they’re saying the right things. Here’s the best way to approach this initial call and to make sure you are saying right things: 1) Practice talking about your career from start to finish. There will inevitably be pieces you’ve forgotten, including the reasons you’ve left certain jobs and so forth.

The reasons for our decisions often get lost in the fog of time, so you might need to review and brainstorm. Typically, the past five years of your career are considered the most relevant. 2) Go deep. You will likely be asked about your biggest failure and biggest achievement in your career. Choose your examples wisely. It’s better to have one or two very detailed and pertinent examples (in the past five years), rather than ten shallow answers. 3) Don’t talk too much. We have a tendency to be overly descriptive with our answers, but it’s usually best to keep concise. I recommend keeping each answer to one minute or less. If the interviewer wants more details, they will probe. Overall, be honest about your job search and be ready to explain why you are interested to join Amazon, as well as the specific role.

Step #2: Interview with hiring manager

This portion is either in person or via a phone call with the hiring manager, who would be your direct manager. The hiring manager is on your side. They have the biggest pain point, meaning that they really need to hire someone. It’s in their best interest to be nice to you, and they usually are. That doesn’t mean you won’t get tough questions. However, I find that this first meeting with the hiring manager is going to be one of the main chances where you get to ask specific questions about the role.

For this interview, you should be ready to sell yourself. Prepare fewer questions about the company culture, and more questions about what kind of goals the manager has, what projects you would work on immediately, and their expectations for the role. The hiring manager will usually be the “easiest” interviewer you come in contact with. Your conversation will likely be about the role itself and your career goals, along with what relevant experience you have for the job. You should use this meeting as a chance to learn as much as possible about the job. You want to figure out: What would I be doing on a daily basis and what will it be like working with this manager? Here are some good questions to ask them in the first meeting:

  1. What are the three most important leadership principles for this job?
  2. How do you define success for this role? What metrics are you using to measure my accomplishments?
  3. What specific tools will I be using on the job?
  4. What is a typical day like?
  5. What are the opportunities for advancement and growth in this role?
  6. Do you have any hesitations about my skills or experience for this job?

The Top Amazon Interview Questions

For behavioral questions, the interviewers are free to choose their own question, regardless of the role. Every role at Amazon usually has 3 or 4 leadership principles that are key to the role. You need to find out what those are and then you can tailor your answers to make sure you’re hitting those principles. For a data analyst role, the most important principles are likely 1) dive deep, 2) learn and be curious 3) insist on highest standards 4) invent and simplify. Or, if you’re interviewing for a sales leadership role, “hire and develop the best” is probably going to be one of those.

A good way to find out what the most important principles are is simply to ask the internal recruiter, or the hiring manager when you meet/speak to them in the first call. “What leadership principles are most important for this role?”

To prepare for the behavioral interviews, you should have answers ready to all those questions in the master list, and your focus on the top principles which are relevant to the analyst role.

An example of behavioral questions they’ll ask you:

  1. Describe a difficult interaction you had with a customer. How did you deal with it? What was the outcome? How would you handle it differently?
  2. Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for a customer. Why did you do it? How did the customer respond? What was the outcome?
  3. Give me an example of when you were able to anticipate a customer need with a solution/product they didn’t know they needed/wanted yet. How did you know they needed this? How did they respond?
  4. Tell me about a time when you were trying to understand a complex problem on your team and you had to dig into the details to figure it out. Who did you talk with or where did you have to look to find the most valuable information? How did you use that information to help solve the problem?
  5. Tell me about a situation that required you to dig deep to get to the root cause. How did you know you were focusing on the right things? What was the outcome? Would you have done anything differently?
  6. Tell me about a problem you had to solve that required in-depth thought and analysis. How did you know you were focusing on the right things? What was the outcome? Would you have done anything differently?
  7. Describe a time when you refused to compromise your standards around quality/customer service, etc. Who was your customer? What was the result?
  8. Tell me about a time when you were unsatisfied with the status quo. What did you do to change it? What was the impact? Would you do anything differently in the future?
  9. Tell me about a time when you worked to improve the quality of a product / service / solution that was already getting good customer feedback. Why did you think it needed improvement? How did customers react?

Step #3: Writing Test

For certain roles, you will be required to submit a writing test, which will be roughly two pages and given to you to complete on your own so that you can do it at home. The best way to write this is using the STAR format, which I will explain in the section below. My recommendations are to: 1) Keep the length to two or three pages – no more than that. 2) Revise your writing sample to be as logical and concise as possible. 3) Always include the reasoning behind decisions you made in the story. 4) Include numbers/data where you can.

This writing sample is taken seriously as part of the interview process because as an Amazon employee you will not be using PowerPoint presentations. In fact, PowerPoint presentations are not allowed at Amazon. Instead, you have to write reports frequently and explain your thoughts in a detailed written format. This is a two-page essay to be written at home about a topic of the hiring manager’s choice. You are typically given a week to complete it. Depending on the level and role, this step may not be required.

Engineering and Technical Interviews

The leadership principles and your culture fit are critical to getting hired, but the greater your technical expertise, the more flexibility Amazon will have on the ‘culture’ piece. Amazon will give you either a surprise test during the interview or an actual engineering/ coding test (with advance notice). If you are applying for any position that requires the use of Excel (it will say on the job description), they’ll probably test your pivot table skills for 20-30 minutes as part of the interview process. Be prepared. If you are applying for a business analyst position, for example, they probably won’t tell you if there is a test, but depending on how technical it is you can at least expect they will test your SQL skills in the interview.

This may not necessarily require you to use any database management system, but will come in the form of a question like, “If you have two SQL database tables that are not joined together, how would you create another table to join them?” For any positions that require programming skills, you can expect the coding test to come at the start of the process. This means it will either be your first or second interview, right after speaking to an HR person/recruiter. This is not going to be an extremely complex test that will require hours of your time. It covers the fundamentals of the language so you should brush up on the basics. You can chat with a technical interview coach on Carrus to practice and review your code (get matched).

Keep in mind there is no rush to get through all of the interviews. If you feel you need 2-3 weeks to brush up on certain skills, or can’t answer some of the questions above, then make sure you practice ahead of time before applying for the job. If you have already applied and feel overwhelmed, and not ready to answer, then request to postpone the meetings.

Interview Preparation Checklist for Technical Interviews

With that in mind, here are some tips for the technical interviews.

  1. Always bring a pen, a backup pen, and paper even though it’s a ‘programming interview’.
  2. Don’t be afraid to restate the question/problem. You might have some time limit (an hour), but it makes sense to make sure you fully understand the question, then figure out the best method to solve, and lastly spend a fraction of the time actually executing.
  3. Understand the properties of data structures and how to use them.
  4. Understand how your language uses internal structures to manage the codes/objects you write. 5. Like all Amazon interviews, being concise is key. This means not talking too much, but not leaving out key points. The interview should never be a monologue.

Your technical skills are an important part of the hiring equation, but it’s also important for interviewers to know what you did, how you did it, and in what context. Using the STAR Method is the best way to to do this (See Chapter 7). Specifically, Amazon hiring managers want to know a few things about your technical expertise. Be ready to address these two big questions. 1. How you work on a team. Are you a strong communicator? Have you worked cross-functionally? What examples do you have of this? 2. Achievements + impact. You might have created some great system, but how was this used? What impact did it have in the business? Can you speak in terms of speed, efficiency, ROI, sales, revenue, marketing, etc.? Furthermore, there are hundreds of questions that have already been posted online for you to practice:

Amazon Interview questions for Engineers.

I recommend reading the book Cracking the Coding Interview which will give you a more thorough list of questions to study!

Step #4: Final “Loop” Interview

These are the final rounds of interviews. It can be two to nine interviews, usually back-to-back. The number of interviewers correlates with the level of the role. So, a Level 7 (L7) role would have seven total interviewers; an L5 would have five, and so on.

(Click here to check out salary ranges for Amazon) The remainder of the loop interviewers will be a grab bag. Some interviewers will be related to your role and others will be from a completely different teams. What teams they are from depends on the role. In fact, it is likely you will not even work with most of them in your actual job, or they might not know what job you are interviewing for. They are simply involved in the hiring process to test your culture fit. If you know their names ahead of time, it can be useful to quickly check them out on LinkedIn to get an idea of their backgrounds. All of the loop interviewers are there to provide a more objective assessment, and at the end of the day they are looking one thing: your fit with the leadership principles. Or in other words, your fit within Amazon culture.

Who is the Bar Raiser?

One thing could make or break the outcome of whether or not you’re hired at Amazon. And that one thing is the

Bar Raiser

A Bar Raiser is a skilled interviewer on the hiring committee who acts as a neutral third party in the decision to hire a candidate. Think of them as a mediator. The “bar” is an imaginary line that represents the 50th percentile of all Amazon employees working in that role, so “raising the bar” means finding someone who’s better than half of the people working at Amazon at that level. A Bar Raiser’s role is to make sure that every hiring committee focuses on maintaining and improving this bar.  Bar Raisers have extensive knowledge of Amazon’s Leadership Principles and their primary purpose is to ensure that candidates that are chosen are those who will “raise the bar” on performance in their team. It’s a way for Amazon to avoid hiring unsuitable candidates especially in times when teams are anxious to fill a role.  The primary questions that Bar Raisers will be assessing you on are those related to their Leadership Principles. But which ones? “[You could get interviewed on] any, but are more likely to be leadership principles that are less related to functional aspects of the role,” says former Amazon career coach

Chase

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing position. The Bar Raiser is not going to be the one to ask you a functional question like how you would approach a marketing campaign, what data you would analyze, and how you’d plan out the deliverables. Instead, the Bar Raiser could ask you something like, “Tell me about a time you made a bad decision,” to assess you on your behavioral competencies on decision making and course correcting.

Kevin weighs in:

“Good bar raisers are really good at asking the follow-up question, as well as, asking questions in ways that force you to expose your natural tendencies. Also in most of my interview loops there the bar raiser typically asked behavioral questions. So I would recommend prepping on your background and being able to speak to why that prepared you to succeed in this role.”

Step #5: Hiring Meeting

After you finish meeting with all of the interviewers, the people you met with will convene in one room together to debate whether you are the right candidate for this role. Usually, you will know the result within one week of finishing final interviews. There’s not much you can do at this stage, but if you haven’t already, definitely send a thank you note to the people you have met. Sit tight!

Step #6: Offer Meeting

If all is positive, HR will ask for your current and expected salary. Based on this information and the level of the job, they will send you a written offer. Sometimes, HR will invite the interviewee to their office to explain this in person in an “offer meeting” instead of a phone call. This meeting isn’t a place where you will negotiate. Any negotiation should come before the offer meeting. Check out our article on Insights into Amazon’s Compensation Philosophy & Salary Negotiation Tactics

Step #7: Reference Check

If your role is above L5, Amazon usually requires one or two reference checks, sometimes more for senior roles. These are conducted by the HR manager or hiring manager over the phone and last about 15-20 minutes. Typically they will request at least one former boss and one former peer, or if you are in a management role, they will want to speak one of your former direct reports.

Amazon Interview Process Timeline

I have seen this entire process, beginning with sending an application to getting an offer, take anywhere from three weeks to three months. Usually the more senior the position, the longer the process takes, due to the number of interviews to schedule. It all depends on the role. After the loop interview, everyone that you met in the process has to convene in one room and debate your candidacy. This is referred to as the hiring meeting. Once they decide, they will be able to give you either a verbal offer or give you feedback on why it didn’t work out. Depending on everyone’s schedule this can take a while to book. Typically the hiring meeting is scheduled within a week, however for more senior positions, it takes longer, since it is challenging to get VPs and directors in the same room at the same time.

Also, there are situations where interviewers can’t come to an agreement in the hiring meeting and the vote is split. In that case, they may have to meet again, or they may invite you in for another interview, a “final, final” interview. You can reach out to the internal or external recruiter and simply ask them, “When is the date of the hiring meeting?” Once you receive the date and time they will be having the hiring meeting, 99% of the time if you don’t hear back from them on that day it means you didn’t get the job.

Unfortunately, it can take them a while to give you the negative feedback. If the feedback is positive, however, they’ll be eager to contact you on that day to tell you the good news. The process can vary depending on a host of factors, such as the level of the position. For example, if the hiring manager is too busy all week for an interview, then sometimes HR will schedule the interview with a different stakeholder. I have even seen hiring managers meet people twice as part of the loop. If your position requires lots of data analysis or use of Excel, then you can expect to have a 20-30 minute test included somewhere in the interview process. This test is not communicated ahead of time, but it typically comes in the beginning stages of your interviews, before the loop.

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