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February 2017

[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: understanding interviewer cues

Body languageThis post continues our “So you didn’t get the job” series (1, 2), but I also think that visual or verbal cues that we receive from interviewers can be really help during the interview, to help us redirect our focus on the fly.

I have a confession to make: I am an over-thinker and when I am put in a situation that makes me nervous, I tend to ramble. Like crazy. Fortunately, I’m not frequently nervous but one scenario that would definitely get me there is an interview. I know this. So I watch for cues from the other person, that I am talking too much or belaboring a point. I can confirm from my experience that that these cues are both physical and verbal and even the nicest of people provide them.

So tuning into these cues during an interview, or recalling and evaluating them as part of your interview post-mortem can be helpful.

Some visual cues to look for are the other person appearing to disengage or shift in their seat while you answer or even subtle facial expressions. The conclusion to draw might be that your answer is too long or that you are getting off-track. If you are evaluating your interview performance after the fact, you might make note of any trends, like indications that you lose people when you go into detail about a plan or process.

Verbal cues to look for include the interviewer interrupting, maybe to guide your answer a bit or provide additional information for a case question. Also, areas that the interviewer probes on may indicate that you didn’t cover those topics sufficiently or that the company is especially interested in a competency they want to dig into deeper.

One thing to keep in mind is that cues can actually be part of an interview – for example, if the position involves managing interpersonal dynamics like disagreement or disengagement, interviewers might disagree or disengage to see how you react. But otherwise, a really skilled interviewer is going to try not to provide any cues at all. As humans, though, they are unavoidable.

So going into an interview, be aware of any subtle messages the interviewer might be sending you, and after the interview use these messages to understand where you did well or areas for improvement in your skill set or interview style.

[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.

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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).