[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: your mental interview post-mortem

Taking notesGoing through the interview process for a job you really want and then not getting it is the kind of disappointment that can really sting for a while. But stepping back and evaluating your own interview performance shortly after it takes place can be helpful in terms of preparing for future interviews, whether or not they are for the same job and company. This process can be especially important if the recruiter of company has either declined to give feedback or they provided some vague comments like “we just decided to move forward with another candidate”, which really isn’t feedback at all. Regardless, unless the recruiter is giving you a list of things you can improve on, including your skills and how you prepared for and presented yourself in the interview, you need a little post-mortem. In fact, it couldn’t hurt to review your interview performance, even if you did get the job.

To do this kind of exercise, you have to be willing to be self-critical. It’s worth it. We all have stuff to work on in life, in general. An interview failure is an opportunity to identify some of them. The goal is to get that dream job or one like it.  So today, I’ll run through the list of things to reflect on after an interview to identify “areas of opportunity”, as we like to call them. 

It’s best to work through this process shortly after the interview, when it’s fresh in your mind. If you are anything like me, you are assessing what you could have done better the second you walk out the door after your interviews. But taking some quiet time to document some of these things might help you identify some themes and connections that you wouldn’t otherwise. Here are the areas to reflect on (each of which I will examine in more detail later in this series):

Cues you were given during the interview. The thing with cues that are given while the interview is taking place is that they are sometimes hard to process when you are in performance mode (not like you have the lead in “Hello, Dolly!”, but in the sense of trying to perform well in the interview). Thinking back to each interview, can you recall any corrections or clarifications, the interviewer redirecting the conversation or appearing to lose engagement? If so, what were you talking about and what did they say or do?

What you were asked. At most large companies (probably most funded start-ups too), interviewers are assigned areas to focus on. Otherwise, your interview day would be an exercise in redundancy. If you think back through your list of interviewers and some of the questions they asked, you may notice a pattern that suggests each of their areas of focus. And this will give you a good sense of the competencies they are hiring for.

Free research. Jump on LinkedIn and search for people who have worked for the company you interviewed with, in the role you interviewed for. You may see some trends in backgrounds.

What the company says they care about. Obviously this is something that you would also want to review before the interview. But afterward, take another look at any values or principles they publish.  Then think back on your interviews, not only looking for times that you said something that was inconsistent with their values, but the opportunities you had to say something that WAS consistent with their values that you didn’t take.

Sit down in a quiet spot and take some notes, draw some pictures, make a spreadsheet, create a mind map; whatever the best way is for you to think through the themes. Then consider how you would address any issues, if you were to interview for the position again. For example, if your answers failed to take into account data available or that you jump into solution mode without taking the time to truly understand customer experience, those are things you can start to integrate into a kind of checklist for answering questions. I recommend documenting a few areas of focus, identify any learning gaps and areas for more research, and then start to create a little interview prep kit for yourself.

At the very least, by following this approach, you will feel better-prepared and more confident walking into that next interview.


[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: asking for interview feedback the “right” way

FeedbackPart of what got me into recruiting, and into blogging, is that I like to help people take the next step in their careers. It’s a big, meaningful life change. Back when I was a recruiter, I absolutely loved extending offers. And declining candidates was the worst. I blog a lot about getting the job, but I thought I would share some thoughts on what to do when you don’t get the job. It’s a life experience full of opportunity to learn and improve and can ultimately help you move forward in your career.

So I am going to kick off a series of blog posts on this topic. This series was inspired by a blog reader who asked how you know what to improve if the recruiter declines to give you any feedback. I’ll start off with that decline conversation in this blog post and then move on to some of the things you can do to evaluate your interview performance and increase your likelihood of getting the job next time.

The tricky thing about the decline conversation with the recruiter is that you might now know that it’s coming. I mean, you might have an idea, just based on the interview day itself. But otherwise, you need to mentally prepare for this conversation while you are still hopeful. It would be good to practice asking the recruiter for feedback in the right way, before you even get the call.

Just know that the recruiter on the other end of the call hates delivering this message to you – probably not as much as you may hate hearing it, but still, they generally dread these conversations because they, like me, got into recruiting because they want to help people. And definitely not to hurt peoples’ feelings. A great recruiter will spend time with you on the phone, help you understand the outcome, answer questions you might have and be a career sounding board. But I have to be honest: the amount and quality of actual feedback that recruiters deliver in this conversation spans a broad range. It is reasonable for someone who has invested time in interviewing to want feedback. Yet, there are a number of reasons why an individual or a company might decline to offer it. My opinion on this practice isn’t the point of this blog post. What I want to do is help you navigate this conversation so that you get something of value from it.

Specifically, what I want to help you do is ask for feedback in the right way. This is especially important in situations where companies have a policy of not providing detailed feedback or a recruiter is uncomfortable delivering what they perceive as negative messages. Basically, you need to ask for feedback without asking for “feedback”. I am seriously advocating for not using the word “feedback” in this conversation. You may get a better result.

Continue reading "[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: asking for interview feedback the “right” way" »


Amazon is Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company of 2017

FailureYou may have seen that Fast Company named Amazon its most innovative company of 2017. Even having a front-row seat to so many of the cool things Amazon is creating, I forget about how many different ways Amazon is changing how people shop and live. The Fast Company article “Why Amazon is the World’s Most Innovative Company of 2017” kind of puts it into perspective.

I think about the word “innovative” quite a bit as a word nerd who spends her time talking and writing about working at Amazon. The word gets used a lot, let’s be honest. Obviously, other companies innovate; and I am a happy customer of some of the other companies on the FC 2017 list. But there are some cultural elements that are pretty unique to Amazon that I think make this a particularly great place to innovate, so I thought I would share some of those.

Innovation is Inherently Part of Everyone’s Job Here.

You probably already know that Amazon is obsessed with customers. I mean, customer obsession is literally Leadership Principle #1 here. So everything we do collectively and individually is viewed through the lens of customer benefit. We are always looking to address what Jeff has referred to as the “divine discontent of the customer.” It literally guides what we do.

If you think about all of the different ways that Amazon touches customers, you see that the opportunities to improve their experience are endless. We can find new technologies to better meet customer need or help us do it more efficiently, we can delight them in ways that are sometimes unexpected. All of that is innovation. And that’s not just because technology plays a central role in how we delight customers. It’s because we are always building. Everyone here can build.

I think people use the words innovation and invention distinctly. Most people associate invention with making something tangible and for the very first time. But that narrow definition of invention is different than the often- iterative process we think of as innovation. We do both at Amazon, of course, but if we use Amazon Prime as an example, you can see how innovation can continue, long after the invention. Initially conceived to offer customers faster shipping options (at a lower overall price), Prime members now have access to free books and some of the best TV programming and movies available.  And the features for members keep coming. Employees in that organization are still building, and they always will be.

I’ve seen and heard a number of promotion and award announcement here and they almost always include the word “built”.

Failure is Expected and Not Hidden

I’ve seen companies pay lip-service to the notion that failure is expected, but before Amazon, I had never seen failures shared so openly and used as an asset.  Sure, all innovative companies want employees (or at least some employees) to take risks because that is where the magic happens. But failures are frequently seen as career-limiting and something to hide. Here, we comfortably refer to initiatives as “experiments” because we know that failure is a possibility; it’s a sign that we are pushing hard enough to try new things.

At Amazon, employees obviously try to mitigate risk by using data. But when you are breaking new ground, some amount of risk is unavoidable. Ultimately, failures will occur. As Jeff has explained, “Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time.” That means you should still expect to fail 90% of the time. And then turn that failure into a tool for other people to learn from.

You may know that we have a writing culture here. So you would be correct in assuming that failures are well documented. Employees here have access to massive amounts of data on what we have tried that’s failed, the impact of the failures, what was learned and how to keep it from happening again. The documentation isn’t about who gets the blame when things don’t go as hoped, it’s about what we can learn from our own failures.

Online, you can see a number of articles on how failure is regarded here (here are some). One example that I think illustrates the value of learning from previous failures is Amazon’s Marketplace business – that is the part of our business where third party sellers can offer goods for sale on our platform (versus Amazon owning the inventory itself). That path to Marketplace (which accounts for 50% of units sold on Amazon) started with Amazon Auctions. Never heard of “Amazon Auctions”? That’s because it wasn’t successful. Learnings from that failure were integrated into something called zShops, which eventually became Marketplace.

By the way, if you are interested in Amazon and haven’t read any of our shareholder’s letters, I would encourage you to. The 2015 letter speaks to our tolerance for failure and gives more insight into the origination and development of Marketplace.

Diversity of Opportunities Drives Innovation

Amazon is involved in so many sectors. Devices, retail, services, cloud computing, robotics, natural language processing, television and movies. I can’t think of another company that has as many diverse businesses under one proverbial roof.

For employees, because moving between organizations is pretty simple and Leadership Principles are the key, universal success factors at Amazon, people can build a career here moving from org to org, sector to sector and completely change job roles. That variety and ability to move keeps employees interested and engaged, but it also does something else: it moves innovation and approaches to problem solving across organizational boundaries. The people in a room making decisions about an initiative likely come from varied professional backgrounds. You don’t have to be a lifer in a specific space here. So it’s not unheard of to have a retail team that includes people who used to work in AWS and Kindle. Employees can make a move because they want a new challenge and bring their diversity of thought, based on their previous history, to a new team.  This cross-pollination brings new, great ideas to the table. And there is a certain kind of person who is energized by that.

When I talk to people about how they might determine whether a career at Amazon is a good choice for them, I think about my blog interview with Brad Porter and what he told me about finding people who get bored working on the same problems. Amazon is a great place for people who have, at times in their career, found they are dissatisfied when they aren’t actively learning and building things. Because the opportunities to innovate here are abundant.

To read more about Amazon’s knack for experimentation, you can read this article from Sunday’s New York Times: “Amazon’s Living Lab: Reimagining Retail on Seattle Streets”


At Amazon, you can innovate faster than you’ve ever innovated before

The pace of our work at Amazon is fast. When it comes to innovating, we focus on getting our work into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible. This gives us the opportunity to learn from our customers and improve upon what we’ve built. We never stop looking for ways to make the experience we deliver to customers better. It’s part of our DNA.

Because of the quick pace of innovation here, it sometimes feels like, as a company, we’ve packed several years’ worth of launches, awards and innovations into one year.

Last year was no exception. Here is a sampling of some of the exciting things we produced last year.

 

 

One of my favorite fast innovation stories is about Prime Now, which took 111 days from idea to launch. Amazon Prime is probably the best example I can think of when it comes to our commitment to ongoing innovation on behalf of customers. The list of benefits that come with a Prime membership keeps growing (Lifehacker has a good list here they seem to be keeping updated).

What this means for employees here is fresh, new problems to solve. And ambitious goals (like enabling one-hour delivery).


Dave Lefkow: from Bacon Salt to Wickedly Prime

Dave Lefkow 1Dave Lefkow is the perfect lunch buddy. Currently a Senior Product Manager in our Consumables retail organization, he’s responsible for bringing deliciousness to customers’ Amazon shopping experience. And he always knows a great spot to grab lunch. We recently sat down over banh mi to talk about his work and food.

We’ve been friends for a while and one thing we have in common is that we’re both from Chicago. 2016 was a great year to be from Chi-town. Anything to say about the World Series?

My co-workers know what a huge Cubs fan I am, so they congratulated me like I actually played on the team. I guess I did drink a lot of Old Style to help make this happen… so I humbly accepted their congratulations.

You’re a Senior Product Manager in Amazon’s Consumables Private Label business. What is Consumables, exactly?

If you consume it, it’s a consumable product. Obviously, food and drinks. But other things people use up too, like toothpaste, cosmetics and baby diapers.

Wickedly PrimeWhat do you do in your role?

I develop snacks for Amazon’s own private label food brand, Wickedly Prime. Anything you might snack on – nuts, chips, popcorn - I’m working on. Yes, it’s as great as it sounds.

I also work with an amazing team of researchers, product developers, packaging/commercialization engineers and sourcing managers. Our group is doing some really innovative things to bring these products to life, and I’m really proud to be part of it.

When I talk to people about the work they do at Amazon, they always seem to connect it to a vision that makes the work more important or “impactful” than it seems. Why is your work important to Amazon?

Grocery is a growing channel at Amazon that the company is investing heavily in. As we get into making our private label line, we’re learning a lot about how to optimize things for the Amazon platform that will translate into a better overall customer experience across the board.

As part of that, I get to solve some pretty meaty business challenges like how we can cost effectively get delicate products to survive last mile, air and over-mountain shipping and what packaging innovations Amazon can develop that a traditional grocer can’t.

Aside from getting to work on those cool challenges, what else is particularly challenging about your work or the Consumables space?

We’re a startup with the resources of the leading ecommerce provider behind us. But… we had never developed our own packaged food products before. That comes with a whole new set of challenges, and an iterative process that is evolving as we learn more lessons.

Learning as you go is a theme I hear a lot at Amazon, especially since we are such a data-driven company. But fortunately, you have experience in packaged foods, so it’s not all new to you. Can you tell everyone what did you do before you joined Amazon?

Before Amazon, I was quite literally pursuing bacon-flavored interests – as founder and CEO of J&D’s Foods.

While working in the tech space, a friend and I came up with a crazy idea: a seasoning that makes everything taste like bacon. We called it Bacon Salt.  We ended up winning money on America’s Funniest Home Videos (my kid hit me in the face with a whiffle ball) and buying 6,000 jars of Bacon Salt to start.

All 6,000 jars of Bacon Salt sold out in 5 days to people in 12 countries and 25 states – we did it from a website without spending a dollar on marketing. Then things got really crazy.

We got interviewed on Oprah for 10 minutes. We were on ABC News, the Today Show, The Tonight Show, the Late Show, Good Morning America, Daily Candy – over 3 billion consumer PR impressions in all. We parlayed this into distribution in more than half the grocery stores in America. We made other bacony products like Baconnaise, Bacon Croutons, Bacon Popcorn and holiday novelties like Bacon Lip Balm, Bacon Flavored Envelopes (called Mmmvelopes) and Bacon Scented Pillowcases – among others.

In short, we built a multi-million dollar company with the premise that “Everything should taste like bacon.” Only in America!

OK, but seriously, WHY bacon? I have to admit that this is somewhat of a rhetorical question because: mmmm, bacon.

Why wouldn’t you want your food to taste like bacon? The fact that it hadn’t been done before was the surprising part.

Dave Lefkow Anderson CooperI was at your launch party for Baconnaise and saw some crazy stuff. What are some of the weirdest things you did or had happen to you because of Bacon Salt?

There are a lot of crazy things to choose from (including almost getting arrested at a national monument in a giant bacon costume and having Anderson Cooper and Jon Stewart absolutely hate on us on national television).

But the all-time craziest story is the time that I fell through the roof of an RV dressed as a giant slice of bacon. It happened when we were promoting our launch at a chain of stores in Pennsylvania. We thought it would be a good idea to hit college football tailgaters and pass out free Bacon Salt – dressed as Giant Bacon. At a Penn State game, some college kids took me up to the top of an RV to do a kegstand, and walking back (Giant Bacon can’t see his feet!), I fell through one of those little plastic windows onto a couch below – where their dad was watching football. I’ll never forget what he said: “You’re paying for that window, son.”

That is a great story, assuming that your landing was soft. So I assume that your experience dressing up as Giant Bacon isn’t really applicable to what you are doing at Amazon, but how do you think other aspects of your experience as a bacontrepreneur has benefitted you here?

I’m able to apply my experience to a much bigger set of challenges and opportunities at Amazon.

Ownership, drive, innovation, customer obsession - these are all skills I learned as an entrepreneur and use heavily here. It might sound cheesy, but as I watch my products come to life, I really feel like an owner at Amazon.

I also love to invent. And Amazon is like a playground for inventors. If you have a great idea, they want to hear it and there are processes to bring them to life.

Do you get sick of thinking about food all day or does it make you hungry?

I live to eat – so thinking about food makes me hungry and happy. Mmmm… food.

OK, so if you could only eat 3 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Well, bacon gets its own wing in my food hall of fame. And, by the way, variety is the spice of life, so I wouldn’t ever want to eat 3 foods for the rest of my life. But if you’re asking for my 3 favorites, I’d say: chicken tikka masala, gnocchi in black truffle cream sauce (from List in downtown Seattle), and bourbon pecan bread pudding.

Ooh, those are good. Foods made out of bread are the best. Aside from eating, what do you do for fun outside of work?

I play water polo – it’s the only sport that allows me to burn all the calories I consume on a daily basis. I also have two great kids, a cat, a dog, and a wonderful partner in crime. We hike, we explore, we play games. We jump on trampolines – never a dull moment! 

I mentioned that you are  great lunch buddy, and maybe when this blog posts gets published you will have a bunch more lunch invitations. What is your favorite lunch place in South Lake Union (Amazon’s neighborhood)?

There are way too many good ones to choose from to pick one – I’m loving the urban campus!

Let’s start with breakfast – I like the Zach sandwich at Serious Pie and Biscuit. It’s all sorts of bacony, biscuity, fried chickeny goodness. The Pasta Bolognese at re:public is pretty awesome. And we’re pretty close to some other spectacular eating adventures. Like Dutch babies at Tilikum Café. Crumpets (Vermont Life Changer) from The Crumpet Shop. Onion Obsession sandwiches at Paseo or Un Bien.

I have to agree about the Zach at Serious Biscuit (followed by a nap) and that re:public is also great. It’s one of my favorite places for happy hour (they make a great old fashioned).  We are a little spoiled by the food options around here.

Awhile back, I started something on my team called Lunch Around the World – every month we pick a new area of the world to lunch on. We’ve had some really excellent Indian (North and South), Mexican, Oaxacan, Caribbean, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Greek foods.  Like I said, variety is the spice of life!

I imagine your team is full of food-lovers like yourself, so the lunchtime conversations must be fun. I imagine there are some hazards to the job.

Let’s just say that for every food product we launch, my coworkers and I have eaten several pounds of it before it gets to the consumer. It’s a labor of love, but I’m guessing my doctor will have something to say about my sodium intake at my next checkup. And we all have to watch our weight. Totally worth it though!

 Thanks for lunch and the great conversation, Dave!

If you are interested in developing product, we have Private Label teams across several of our retail categories. You can find several of the Private Label job openings here.


One million bananas worth of peculiar

Recently, Amazon handed out it's one-millionth banana. Not through Amazon Fresh or an on-campus cafeteria, but through it's two Community Banana Stands. Yep, they are a thing. Started back in 2015, the stands (well, just one back then) were conceived by Jeff Bezos himself, as a fun way to share nature's perfect snack with Seattle.

The two current stands are located in front of Amazon buildings, on Terry Avenue (in Van Vorst Plaza near Mercer), and in front of Amazon's Doppler building on Westlake Avenue. They are open for business, well free bananas actually, Monday through Friday. Anyone is welcome to come and enjoy the bananas; you don't need to be an Amazon employee.

You might wonder WHY Amazon is handing out free bananas to anyone who walks by and sharing banana-related trivia. You might even say it sounds a little peculiar. We're OK with that. Does there really need to be a reason other than that it's just fun?  

Seattle Times covers our one-millionth banana milestone, with a little banana trivia of their own here


Using Amazon’s career site (blog series): when you know what you’re looking for

Career site search

Note: this blog post is for the active job-seekers out there. Casual readers may be bored by the detail. What can I say? I am honest.

Not long ago, I shared a post about Amazon’s career site and some thoughts on career sites in general. I promised more words on how to use Amazon’s site for different job search scenarios related to how much the job-seekers knows about Amazon’s many organizations and job roles. 

In this post, I’ll talk a bit about the user experience when that person knows the group and role that interests them. I hope to make this process of navigating our site as simple and fruitful as possible for those of you who are interested in joining us. So my insight on how the site actually works might help you save some time.

As I am sure you know, Amazon is a big company, and we do a lot of hiring. So there are high volumes of teams and jobs represented on our site. There are three things you can use to cut through this massive amount of information: navigation, search and filters. Unless you want to spend time scrolling through thousands of job postings looking for the right one. I’ll use an example to illustrate the approach I recommend when you know the team you want to work in and the type of role on that team that would best match your skills.

Here’s the example: I recently posted about Prime Air. And I suspect that the idea of drones delivering packages to customers is pretty exciting, especially for folks working in tech. So for our example, let’s say a software developer is interested in working in Prime Air.

Continue reading "Using Amazon’s career site (blog series): when you know what you’re looking for" »


Prime Air's first delivery



We recently released video of Prime Air's very first, fully autonomous customer delivery. On December 7th, a nice man in England placed an order which was delivered to a little landing spot in his yard. The amount of time from click to receipt of order? Thirteen minutes. Though keep in mind, as the video explains, that we are testing with relatively nearby (and smaller) fulfillment facilities.


You may have noticed that the drone design has changed. And since the purpose of a private beta is to test, learn and innovate (or re-innovate), there may be more changes to come. I wish I had some inside knowledge to share but as I have mentioned before, we have so many teams launching new, innovative projects that even those of us working here often see all of these cool innovations roll out at the same time you do.

To learn a little more about Prime Air, you can view our informational webpage here

Some of you might also wonder what kinds of skills it takes to work in Prime Air. Current openings include research scientists, software developers and  variety of other kinds of engineer roles. You can check out their current openings on this page.

Oh, and a little trivia for you: the first delivery was a Fire TV and a bag of popcorn. Sounds like someone planning for a fun night in.

 

Amazon Prime Air_Private Trial_Ground-HIGH RES


Seattle for newcomers (and people who want to be)

Seattle peopleAsk someone on the street here in Seattle where they are from and chances are they will name someplace other than Seattle. According to new US Census data, on 40% of King County residents were born in Washington State. As someone who has a hard time answering the question “where are you from?” I’ve never been able to come up with a simple answer. I’ve been in Seattle for 17 years now, so even though I would never refer to myself as a native Seattleite or Washingtonian, this is certainly home to me.

Working in the tech industry, my friends are a mix of Washington-born-and-bred and fellow-transplants. The tech industry here attracts a lot of new talent from outside the Puget Sound area (Puget Sound = the body of water Seattle sits on; no, we are not a coastal city). Many of the people, like myself, who have relocated here for work, have fallen in love with Seattle. Like any other city, we have our growing pains. But to me (and others), they are far outweighed by natural beauty, clean air, mild climate, proximity to things you want to do, interesting culture and professional opportunity.

The Seattle Times covers changes in the makeup of Seattle’s population, and they ran some stories this past week aimed at helping transplants acclimate. These stories and resources are also good for people thinking about joining us here.

This quiz will help you find the just-right Seattle neighborhood for your lifestyle. I took the quiz and my old South Lake Union neighborhood was one of my recommendations. The Times has assembled some neighborhood profiles here as well.

If you are planning a visit to check out our fine city, here are the top attractions. In my opinion, Pike Place Market is the must-do. It’s the “tourist attraction” that locals still love. I love everything about it, especially on a chilly, rainy day.

Just for fun, here’s an architecture quiz. Those of us who now call Seattle home can test whether we are worthy. I got seven out of 12. Someone needs to brush up on their local architecture.  Fun fact: one of the buildings featured used to be home to Amazon.

Seattle is known for its great restaurants. But that doesn’t just mean the cloth napkin kind. Here is a guide to cheap eats in Seattle including a map. Seattle is the city that introduced me to pho and I am eternally grateful.

When I got here, I couldn’t have told you the difference between Snoqualmie and Snohomish. Now, I think I do better than average when it comes to local pronunciation. Here’s a quiz where you can test your pronunciation of local towns and attractions. And you can compare your success with that of the folks here. It may make you feel better about your first time trying to pronounce Puyallup. PEW-al-uhp.

Here’s the rest of the Newcomer’s Guide. Let me know if you have any questions, like whether everyone in Seattle really drives a Subaru (nope, just 10% of residents) or whether there is actually good pizza here (you’ll love it, once you calibrate your expectations, especially you Chicagoans).

For more info on moving to Seattle:

The things I wished someone had told me about moving to Seattle

Seattle relocation information