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Product – What drives our business? An interview with Alexa Shopping leaders!

Piotr-cichosz-414542Being a Leadership Recruiter for Amazon, I have the privilege of working with some of our best and brightest business leaders.  I’m constantly seeking new ways to raise the talent bar here at Amazon and recruiting leadership level product talent is no different.  It’s an honor to support the Alexa Shopping team because I, as a customer myself, am astounded at the idea that I can say out loud, “Alexa, order me dog food” and it appears on my doorstep. 

In an interview with Jenny Blackburn, Director and BizTech Leader of Alexa Shopping, I asked what grabs her attention in external product talent.  “At Amazon Shopping we’re creating a brand new way to shop – there’s no tail lights to follow. We need technologists who are adept at operating in this highly ambiguous, blue sky space, who can identify the problems to solve and innovative solutions to those problems.  We love to see start-up experience, and diverse interests and backgrounds beyond the typical that show a candidate has insatiable curiosity and a self-driven desire to build something new.”

There is a significant difference between companies who develop products because they believe they can make money versus our Customer Obsession model.  We determine what our customers want and need through the use of data and then develop products from there. You won’t hear an Amazonian speak of competitors or what we want – it’s all about our customers and how we can make their lives better through the development of technology.

I had the opportunity to get the perspective of Vicky Gkiza, our newest Director of Product Management for Alexa Shopping.  She had this to say: “For me resumes that pop out the most are the ones of people with diverse background, where connecting the dots is not always obvious and their path is not linear. Candidates with such background have a wider range of experiences and as a result a more diverse skill set.  They show creativity and persistence, which are both core leadership qualities.”

As we continue to build out the Alexa Shopping experience, Abhay Saxena, Principal of Alexa’s Voice Shopping platform, provided the following perspective.  “When hiring product managers, I generally look for people with proven track record of delivering customer value. Has this person identified a customer problem, and a solution, built it, and launched it?  I find that the most successful product managers at Amazon show relentless focus on customer metrics to inform data based prioritization, and a bias for action to deliver features.  Lastly, I am looking for leaders.  Does this person have the ability to inspire a vision for their team?  Can this person be trusted by their team?  Will this person do everything, not just tasks in their job description, for their team to be successful?” 

As a Recruiter, I look for talent that uses data beyond what one would see in KPI’s.  How do you know what your customer wants and needs?  How did you determine that was the right path?  How can you automate product mechanisms by concepts like social shopping, personalization and recommendation systems?  And yes, we love product talent that has machine learning experience.  As a product candidate, you can be certain that you will probably get a question that goes something like this: “How do you solve business challenges through machine learning?”  Here, I’m looking for big examples that are outside of the box and beyond KPI’s.  How did you address economies of scale?  How is that idea big, complex and of magnitude? 


Why … Data?

StockSnap_PHE63L27S6Amazon is an eCommerce organization.  We don’t have the traditional brick and mortar profile like so many retailers.  We grow our business through the use of data; Dive Deep is one of our critical leadership principles.  Whether that’s our business intelligence professionals looking at the data for their org – to our team of professionals that review website traffic to make meaningful use of that data - to our team that reviews our customer surveys.  Any kind of meaningful information is what we use to grow our business. 

Data removes emotion from business decisions – that’s not to say that we don’t look for passionate people.  We do!  But this approach forces us to look objectively at the business challenges that we face at Amazon.  Why is this relevant for you as a candidate?  Regardless of level or position, we require the ability to analyze data and be able to tell a story with that data. 

Are you able to make business decisions through the use of data?  How do you approach solving business problems?   We encourage you to get into the detail of the situation that you are describing so we can see your data-driven DNA!


Saying Goodbye – How to Resign

Rain 2We all want to feel like we’ve left our mark on our company by the things we have accomplished and the relationships we have built.  Hopefully we take with us, an abundance of fond memories, new tools from lessons learned and perspective that have helped us to grow both personally and professionally.  So, saying goodbye is never easy and usually bitter sweet. 

As a leadership recruiter, I’m often asked if we can push start dates out a month or more.  There’s a reason why two weeks’ notice is the standard.  Beyond that, resentment can start to build on both sides; those that you are leaving may feel abandoned, while those that you are joining may feel that your commitment isn’t strong enough if you delay your start date.  Be respectful of those you are leaving behind, don’t be boastful about your exciting new role.  Keep in mind they will still be there.  At the same time, your new manager wants to see your eagerness to jump in and get started.

Exit gracefully and swiftly.  Then begin your new adventure!    


Scope, Complexity, Recency, Relevancy

QuestionSome may still refer to Amazon as an “online retailer”.  I, however, proudly think of Amazon as one of the Big 4 technology companies.  That means we build cool stuff.  The kind of stuff that only comes from ideation that knows no limits.  If we can dream it, we can figure out how to make it.  That means that we need to hire highly intelligent, driven, out of the box thinkers who create, enhance, launch, break, re-build, expand, and who go into the deep end without a life preserver. 

We are the antithesis of a micro managed environment.  Micro management suffocates creativity.  We are purposefully ambiguous – we hire strategic thinkers to figure it out.  We need the wildly creative to grow.  When you have the opportunity to interview at Amazon, remember that examples of your work history should center around scope, complexity, recency, and relevancy.  Examples from 20 years ago – unless that product had a huge impact on the market or are still in use today – should probably be left out.  Scope is a little more challenging, admittedly.  Few companies operate at our scope and scale but if you can bring examples in which you built or enhanced something meaningful, we can suss out those critical thinking skills.   Complexity is important as well – that can come in two flavors.  Perhaps you took something unnecessarily complex and simplified it.  Or maybe there was opportunity to create or enhance something that was too simple or not meaningful and you designed a process that made your business, whatever that business, more impactful. 

As you go through the Amazon interview process, or any like journey, remember to look through the lens of the person sitting across the table.  How can your depth parlay?   


Amazon Welcomes Jeffrey Tambor to Campus

Amazon’s Seattle urban campus community offers consistent opportunities to meet inspirational leaders from across the globe. Amazon Fishbowls are our very own assembly-style speaker or concert engagements, which take place in the Amazon Meeting Center. Amazon Fishbowls have drawn former presidential candidates, world renowned actors and directors, artists, authors, advocates, and philanthropists.

Most recently, I attended a fishbowl with writer and actor, Jeffrey Tambor, who spoke about his book, Are You Anybody, a memoir. I counted down the days until this event, and I was especially interested in whether Tambor would speak about Amazon Prime Video’s role in the Golden Globe winning series, Transparent.

Jeffrey Tambor
Amazonians look forward to welcoming our Fishbowl guests to campus, and often find time to speak with guests after the Fishbowl, or during the session’s Q&A. Check out this photo of Jeffrey Tambor exploring our Community Banana Stand

Beyond his recently published book, and book tour – Jeffrey spoke about his experience on the Golden Globe nominated Amazon series, Transparent. Amazonians were excited to hear that Tambor was on board with Amazon Prime Video streaming even before Transparent started filming. He shared that at the time that Jill Soloway pitched the idea of Transparent and Amazon Prime Video to him, Tambor had also received an offer to do a basic network television show that he said would have done well, but it was too comfortable – his main message to Amazonians is to pick the option that ignites your fire, rather than the option that is more likely to succeed. He took the risk with Transparent because he believed in Amazon, and because ultimately – it was an adventure that excited him.

The session concluded with audience Q&A where some audience members inquired about Tambor’s experience with Transparent, though many questions connected to specific stories and examples in his book. Those who did not read the book beforehand are sure to catchup, and order their copy on Amazon.

While Amazon Fishbowls are open to all full time Amazon employees, they often serve as a way for Consumer Division teams to venture outside of the office together in groups. Those who lead team meetings often use Fishbowl topics and speakers as a launch point for a brainstorm session, continuing to strengthen our approach to innovation and teamwork.


A conversation with Tifa Nguyen about Year Up and interning at Amazon

In Marketplace, Amazon’s organization focused on helping third-party merchants sell on our platform, we like to invent and simplify whenever we can.  Part of this process is attempting to do things that nobody else does – and in this area, Marketplace Technologies Quality Assurance delivers.  MTQA is the team I am a part of, and what I am sharing with you today is an example of how we innovate in the area of hiring by way of our Quality Assurance internship program.

In Seattle, there is a nonprofit organization called Year Up  devoted to helping young adults gain the skills and experience necessary to enter professional fields like high tech, and it is this mission that drew MTQA’s attention.  We have developed a partnership with Year Up to hire Quality Assurance interns, a unique practice not found anywhere else in Amazon. Of course, Amazon hires other interns, but our partnership with Year Up is different in that it gives us access to talented people who might not otherwise be part of our intern selection pool. Year Up provides urban young adults with training, resources and support that helps them jump start a professional career and/or continued education.

Tifa 1I decided to interview Tifa Nguyen, the newest Year Up intern on our team, to get her perspective on what it’s like to work at Amazon, the background she came from, and what her experience has been like through the entire process.

Joe: Hi Tifa, thanks for agreeing to participate in this interview. Please tell us about yourself.

Tifa: Hi Joe, thank you for taking the time to listen and share my stories.  I am currently interning at Amazon (obviously) as a QAE (Quality Assurance Engineer).  Prior to this, I was getting trained full time, for six months at a nonprofit organization called Year Up while working as a server at a family-owned Japanese restaurant during the weekends.  Coming from a non-tech background, landing an internship at Amazon is a huge step for me and I am very excited for what it has to offer.

Joe: Can you explain what Year Up is? 

Tifa: Year Up is an intensive one-year program where participants get trained on-site with courses in IT, Financial Operations, Sales, and more. The program offers professional skills classes for the first six months, and then earn real-work experience at their assigned internship.  Its mission is to provide urban young adults with in-demand skills, college-level classes, and support that will empower them to reach their full potential and achieve a meaningful and professional career.  Year Up has 24 campuses around the US that offer courses including IT help desk, QA, web development and data analysis, as well as soft-skill courses that include business writing and public speaking.  For me specifically, I was placed on the QA track with a minor in project management and now here I am: two-thirds of the way done with my six-month internship at Amazon.  Year Up welcomes low- to moderate-income young adults between the ages of 18 to 24.  Everything is completely free, and students even get weekly stipends.  Students are also provided with many resources from Year Up’s Student Services department that support and help them succeed throughout the whole year.  The courses we take are also college-credit applicable after completing the whole program.

Continue reading "A conversation with Tifa Nguyen about Year Up and interning at Amazon" »


Lauren Schwartz: What happens after I apply?

Editors note: I'm excited to introduce another blogger who has recently joined the Amazonian Blog team. Lauren Schwartz is a recruiting coordinator supporting our business and technical teams focused on third-party sellers on Amazon.com. Aside from being a fellow word-lover like me, she will be a great resource to all of you with application and interview process related questions. So I asked her to start off by providing some insight into what happens when you apply for a job on Amazon.jobs and specifically, the meaning of the statuses you see when you check in on your application. Take it away, Lauren! 

Man and imacWe know the application process at Amazon can prove exhausting, and at times – confusing. If you applied to a job, or multiple jobs via the amazon.jobs career site, you are probably familiar with checking in on your status, which appears on your candidate dashboard. This blog post aims to answer questions you may have about what is going on “behind the scenes” once you officially apply to a job at Amazon.

To see your application status, starting at the amazon.jobs home page, go to the right hand corner menu and click “Review application status”. This allows you to see your personal portal, and where you are in the process with each of the jobs you have applied to. I have translated each of the application statuses below:

Under consideration

  • Your resume is under review, which means recruiters can access and evaluate your resume relative to the hiring criteria they are working with for the role.
  • Recruiters may push your resume to a role’s hiring manager for review.
  • You may receive an invitation to a phone interview with a recruiter or hiring team member.
  • If the role is a technical role such as a software development engineer, you may receive an invitation to take an online technical assessment.

No longer under consideration

  • Recruiters reviewed your resume and decided that your experience does not align with the hiring needs for the position.

Hired

  • This status means that you have had an on-site interview, received an offer from Amazon and accepted it. Of course, you would already have known this without reviewing the status. We hope you are as excited to join us as we are to have you!

I hope this helps you understand what you are seeing when you check in on the status of your applications for Amazon jobs. Due to the high volume of resumes we receive, we can’t answer additional questions about your personal application status here. If you have questions about how to use Amazon.jobs or about our interview process, please let us know.


Storytelling is a key interview success factor

BookPeople are always asking recruiters for career and job-finding advice.  In particular, I find that candidates often want to know how to be successful going through a challenging interview process like that of Amazon’s.  One thing many successful candidates do is they remember to tell stories and that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. 

When you are engaged with a company like ours that drives their evaluation process around company culture and Leadership Principles, you have to understand their company philosophies and why they are important.  Then think about your own career path and history – how does it relate to what they stand for?  Be thoughtful about how your own professional DNA can map to the company’s values. 

When asked, “Can you give me an example of a time when …” think back on the stories you have told about your work experiences. And for each, think about the beginning, the middle and the end.  What was the situation you encountered?  Paint the picture for me, was it a business challenge that was unexpected?  How did you navigate it, what did you learn and how did you help champion others in that process?  Give me important details – but not unnecessary verbosity – so I understand how many layers you peeled to figure out the root cause of the problem. Tell me how you persevered.  Show me your character, your grit, your moxie!  Then, tell me how the story ends.  People who are artful behavioral based interviewers often bring the story full circle by saying, “and then this is the impact it had on the business …”.   Be a story teller. 


Amazon’s Accessibility Awareness Month

OpenAmazon is known to be customer-obsessed. Part of that obsession is ensuring that we optimize our work for accessibility.

According to research from the World Bank, fifteen percent of the world’s population lives with some kind of disability – that’s one billion people. At Amazon, we look for ways to make it easier for people to engage with us, across all of our businesses. This past month has been Accessibility Awareness Month at Amazon, packed full of events to help employees learn more about accessibility, integrate good practices into their work and collaborate across organizational boundaries with the goal of improving accessibility.

A few of the many events that took place this past month include:

  • An accessibility bug hunt, where all employees were challenged to find and report accessibility bugs
  • A session reviewing research on shopping for people with vision impairment. This presentation included key take-aways from shop-along exercises plus videos and sound bytes from customers.
  • Training on accessible design best practices
  • An empathy lab where employees could learn how our web pages are experienced by customers with vision impairments, or what it feels like to navigate Amazon.com (or a particular page or feature) when you can’t grip a mouse
  • A session with Twitch on making gaming more accessible and inclusive
  • Podcasts with business leaders discussing accessible design and accessibility for Amazon employees

In-person events took place in Seattle as well as a host of other Amazon office locations including Sunnyvale, Boston and London. Most also offered livestreaming and on-demand access for our colleagues around the globe.

What’s been particularly interesting for me to see this past month is the intersection of accessibility and customer obsession. Many companies focus on accessibility because it’s the right thing to do, as they should and as does Amazon. But there is a certain diligence and structure that surrounds it when you are such a customer-obsessed company. It’s not an extra thing you do; it’s an important part of your job. And there is great interest in it internally when you hire so many people that are really passionate about doing the right thing for customers; all customers.


Jeanne Skinner: Recruiters at Amazon are advocates for your candidacy

Jeanne SkinnerEditors note: I'm excited to welcome another blogger to the Amazonian Blog. Jeanne Skinner is a leadership recruiter for Amazon and she is a straight talker when it comes to job search advice. So she will be sharing all kinds of interesting information on finding and getting your dream job. Here's Jeanne...

When you are considering a career change,  you may think of a recruiter as just a person you have to speak with in order for your resume to be seen by the hiring manager (the person with whom you really want to engage).  What you may not realize is that your recruiter is actually the person who has to make the first judgement call on your candidacy, evaluating your fit with Amazon’s culture and Leadership Principles, and deciding if you are someone we might want to be part of our company. In fact, this assessment is equally (if not more) important than skills evaluation.  If you are adaptable, intelligent and interested in learning, we can teach you a lot of what you will need to know to be successful at Amazon. Every time we decide whether to present a candidate to our leaders, we are deciding whether we as recruiters are willing to attach to our own professional reputation to your candidacy.  It’s my job to know the difference between someone who has a very specific set of skills and someone who will be successful at Amazon long term.  Recruiters take that responsibility seriously.

As a job seeker, we want you to show us recruiters why we should invest our own internal reputation capital on marketing you, your background and your capabilities to our leadership team. No recruiter wants to advocate for a candidate that demonstrates a dismissive attitude toward them, though we encounter this attitude from candidates from time to time.  Doing so causes us to damage internal relationships and lose credibility with our very smart and demanding hiring teams. Everything I do as just your recruiter has a direct reflection of my own hiring legacy - the mark I make on the success of our business.  The opportunity cost of hiring the wrong person has a huge impact on our company and the productivity of the organization that hire was made into.  We are not just recruiters.  We are brokers of talent and opportunity.  How you present yourself to our hiring teams during the recruiting process is a direct reflection of us. 

What can you do to get off on the right foot with your recruiter? Before you get on the phone with us, take the time to look at your recruiter’s LinkedIn profile.  You may find that we are highly educated, have held VP level roles in large, publicly held companies and many of us have been business owners.  We are hired for our ability to understand human dynamics, to detect critical business skills and personality traits that are a cultural fit for our team (like a passion for building).  Provide concrete examples of how you have groomed your teams in the past for promotion.  Illustrate your obsession over customers and why they are the purpose of your work.  Show me your data driven and entrepreneurial DNA.  That will get me excited about sharing your background with the businesses I support.

When we speak on the phone, answer our questions as you would to a hiring manager, with the same level of respect and detail.  Please don’t take my call while on your walk to Starbucks; it’s impolite and it’s not likely that your resume will go very far if you do.  Treat our initial dialogue the way you would any other important business meeting.