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How to Get Hired at Amazon

Jule Kim Seattle Headshot Photographer

I’ve lived in the Seattle area since 2006. I’ve spent over 10 years in the corporate tech world, and have worked for large companies like Microsoft and Amazon, and also smaller startups like Avvo.

In the time I’ve lived here, I learned the hard way how to present myself as an attractive candidate who could at least score a phone interview out of 75% of the jobs I’ve applied to. I’ve had at least 6 interviews with Amazon that I can remember, and I may very well have had more than that.

The first three happened when I was fresh out of school, and I didn’t even really know which direction I wanted to go in. For example, I worked in their accounts payable department for about a month, basically as an invoice checker. All the stuff that Amazon sells online? They buy it from other places, and then when the goods arrive, someone at Amazon has to check the number of units and make sure that Amazon got what it paid for. Blech! I don’t remember my days at this job exactly filled with excitement.

I probably wouldn’t have even gotten this opportunity, but my boyfriend at the time worked at Amazon. So his internal referral landed me the interview, and then I got hired on as a contract-to-hire. This happened because I was unable to adequately convince the interviewer that I would stay. Apparently having just dropped out of law school made me look really bad, but at the same time the guy thought I might work out well anyway. So, his attitude was pretty much, “let’s try you out, and then see where it goes.”

This brings me to my first tip.

Tip #1: If you know someone at Amazon, you should 100% get that internal referral.

(The referral, and starting off as a contractor, are both great avenues to get noticed, i.e., land an interview, before you even start the formal process of getting a job at Amazon.)

I have seen the magic of the internal referral work in my favor, and for several other people that I personally knew. In fact, the internal referral is so powerful that I’ve seen a person who wasn’t even remotely qualified for the job or its level not only get hired, but they were even relocated from the Midwest!

In cases like that one, you might be lucky enough that the internal referral ends up carrying you most of the way even if your interview loop doesn’t go that well. Obviously, I don’t recommend that you coast your way. Being prepared (see Tip #3) is always your best shot at landing the offer.

Tip #2: Start off as a contractor.

Aside from my earlier example working in accounts payable, I’ve had another job at Amazon much more recently as a product manager. Again, I started out as a contractor, and I was hired on to the team about a month and half later.

Working as a contractor is a great way for both you and Amazon to see if it’s a good fit. If you’re reasonably good at your job, the contract will usually lead to opportunities to interview, either for the team you’re already working with, or with another team. The advantage is that you’ll have access to the internal job board, so you will see opportunities quickly and also have a greater chance at actually being picked for an interview. If you’ve been doing good work, then you will usually have advocates on your team, and some of them might help you in various ways. You’ll also be able to have informal chats with hiring managers to discuss what the opportunity is, and whether you and your skills are a good match.

The real kicker is this, however: you will have internal access to the Amazon wiki on the leadership principles, which leads me to my next pieces of advice.

Tip #3: Know the Amazon leadership principles, forwards and backwards.

If you’re able to get your foot in the door as a contractor, then you should absolutely study the internal wiki on the Amazon leadership principles. There’s quite a bit of substantial material in there that explains the ideas behind each principle, and how they expect an employee to demonstrate each.

Every interview loop at Amazon will usually have 3-4 interviewers, plus a bar raiser. Before every actual interview, all of the interviewers are each assigned 1-2 leadership principles to grill you on, which means that you must be able to frame your past work experience within the context of the principles.

Here’s an example question: Tell me about a time you disagreed with your team, and how you resolved it.

This question was clearly targeting the “Have Backbone” principle, and they wanted to know how I deal with disagreements, and whether I’m able to still work and deliver results. The key here is that the ideal candidate is able to voice their opinions, examine all the information, and work towards the end goal even if an opposing viewpoint wins out.

There are two hidden sub-principles here. The first is that you should always be speaking up for what’s right, and not just going along with everyone else because you’re afraid to rock the boat. The second is that they want to know that you won’t sandbag the work because you disagree with the direction it’s taken.

The Amazon leadership principles may seem like no brainers, but once the interviewer is really digging down into your responses, it’s not so easy. The key is to prep specific work history examples for each of the principles, down to the details. And, try not to use the same work example for more than one leadership principle.

I spent two days outlining my work examples, and then practiced speaking about them. Practicing your answers by speaking aloud is a good idea so that you stay on track and don’t ramble or lose your train of thought in the actual interview, and you’ll be able to deliver a smoother answer.

Seriously, memorize and really understand the principles and what they mean. I’ve seen other candidates fail the interview, and it was because they hadn’t learned the principles. When they asked me how I passed my interview, I truthfully told them it was all about the leadership principles. And you know what? They didn’t believe me! Their response was basically, “yeah right, you just don’t want anyone else to know how you did it.”

Tip #4: Don’t let the conversation ball drop.

You need to make sure that your answers contain enough information so that there’s something there for the interviewer to work with. Vague or generalized answers will reflect poorly on you, so you should give very specific answers that demonstrate these were real situations you went through, your decisions at the time, and the thought processes that led to those decisions. You’ll get some help from the interviewer in that they will usually prompt you for more information if they want it, but they’ll only do that so many times.

At the end of the day, don’t forget that the interview is a conversation that’s focused on what you can do for the company. You need to communicate your skills and strengths clearly and keep that conversation thread going. I’ve seen too many times where inexperienced candidates just completely shut down the conversation with dead end answers. Not only was this a waste of my time interviewing someone like that, but it makes for a super awkward experience, and I could not end the interview fast enough. Don’t be that kind of candidate!

If you get a question that asks you about something that you simply haven’t done or don’t know anything about, it’s ok to say that, but you need to spin the conversation to what you DO know or how you think you would deal with whatever scenario it is.

Example: Have you ever worked in HTML? Your answer should never be just “yes” or “no.” If yes, you should ask what it is they want to know specifically, or mention a relevant project. Even if your answer is no, you should be able to say something like this: 1) you have other related skills so you’re certain you can learn it no problem, and then ask about what level of HTML will be required for the job. At the very least, you need to say something like 2) you’ve proven to be a very fast learner in the past, so you’re confident that you can pick it up in no time.

At the same time, stay focused and on point. Do not ramble off-topic. The interviewer may forgive one instance of that happening, but if you do it too many times they will actively mention it as a negative trait in the feedback about your interview.

Tip #5: Tailor the hell out of your resume.

For each job you’re applying to ever, you should ALWAYS be rewriting your resume to match the same lingo where it fits, and also to address all of the requirements in the job description. Also, depending on the nature of your profession, you should make sure that your resume exemplifies the best core values in your line of work.

Example: you’re a writer = your resume should be extremely well written and formatted, and obviously should have no typos or other mistakes.

Don’t be lazy! I know that rewriting your resume each for each instance is time consuming, but this is really how you should be doing it. Instead of spraying your one resume to any 100 jobs and then praying you get maybe 1-3 calls in response, do the following instead. Take the time, tailor your resume, and be picky about the jobs that you’re applying to. You should only send in your application for jobs that actually seem like a good fit to your skills and are what you’re looking for. You’ll get a way higher response rate.

Lastly, here’s the hardest part. Make sure that your resume doesn’t read like a list of daily tasks you managed at your previous jobs. It should instead be mostly a list that highlights the major wins, or benefits you brought to the table at each company.

Example of how NOT to do it: “Edited and rewrote user q&a pages.”

Example of how it SHOULD be done: “Edited pages along SEO guidelines, and increased conversions by 30%.”

Think along the lines of what impact your work had, and not just about the actions you took. It’s all about the big picture.

Tip #6: Check your publicly available photos and videos.

If you have pictures or videos of yourself doing anything questionable, risky, or saying things that could invite backlash, take that stuff down. There’s no reason to shoot yourself in the foot because someone on the other side of the hiring table came across content that puts you in a bad light.

By the way, it has become standard practice for recruiters to look up potential candidates on social media to see what information is available, so don’t go thinking that this never happens.

Also, there’s a secondary reason you need to look at your photos. Because recruiters spend a lot of time on social media looking up candidates, profile photos should be quality pictures that are recent enough that you look like you in them. As in, you’re recognizable.

I’ve actually had many recruiters and hiring managers tell me stories how they basically got catfished by candidates who were using photos over 10 years old, etc. When the candidate arrived for the interview, the shock of the utter mismatch immediately left a lasting negative impression that soured the entire meeting.

So, don’t be that person who uses a photo so old or so low quality that people can’t even tell it’s you. Everyone wants to know what to expect.

If you don’t have any good photos of yourself, then go find a friend with a camera, or even better, hire a professional headshot photographer. Not only will you end up with a photo that makes you feel more confident, but you’ll also be creating strong first impressions. Seize every advantage possible.

Jule Kim

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