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Interviewing @ Amazon

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? 

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?   

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 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 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 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 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.


  • 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 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. 

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. 


Understanding Amazon’s flywheel

Anyone who has worked at Amazon for more than a couple weeks has heard the term “flywheel”. In fact, I suspect that many, if not most, people who interview here discuss the flywheel as part of their onsite interviews. So getting your head around Amazon’s concept of the “virtuous cycle” prior to interviews here is a good idea; I recommend researching it as part of your preparation process, not only to understand the idea of the flywheel but also to be able to articulate how your potential work at Amazon (and/or the work of the group you are interviewing with would contribute to spinning it.

The concept says a lot about how Amazon thinks about investment opportunities and why we are growing so quickly. Along with the Leadership Principles, I think it makes very clear how Amazon operates day-to-day. So I thought I would help explain the flywheel a little bit here to introduce the concept.

A flywheel is a system where each of the components is an accelerator. Invest in any one of the components and, as the flywheel spins, it benefits all components. And the flywheel spinning is how the system grows. Jim Collins popularized the flywheel concept in Good to Great. I’ll drop a link to his writing on flywheels at the bottom of this post.

Here’s Amazon’s flywheel:
Amazon Flywheel

I think seeing the image helps put Amazon’s customer obsession in context too. Because you can understand the different levers that ultimately lead to great experiences for customers and how all of us Amazonians are all part of it. If we do work that brings more traffic to, we’ll attract more sellers wanting to reach this larger number of potential customers. Attracting more sellers increases our selection, which improves the customer experience. This brings more traffic to You can see how focusing attention on any of these components – traffic, sellers, selection or customer experience – distributes more energy to all of them. The whole system grows.

Then, as a result of the spinning, we are able to lower our cost structure which allows us to lower prices, also enhancing the customer experience. So the flywheel spins even faster as it grows; the growth itself is an accelerator. This is how Amazon went from a garage to the company you know today in a relatively short period of time.

Here are some links to additional content that will help you learn more about flywheels in general and how the concept applies to Amazon’s business in particular.

Inc. Magazine does a good job of explaining the flywheel concept

Steve Rosenbaum on how Jeff Bezos leads from behind

Jim Collins’ articles on the flywheel

Joe Lawson: My Path to Becoming an Amazonian

Joe Lawson

Editor's note: I’m excited to introduce our first addition to the blogging team here at the Amazonian Blog. Joe Lawson is a Quality Assurance Engineer in our Marketplace organization; they are the folks who find, work with and build tools for third party-sellers on Joe will be sharing his experiences working here and I think you’ll enjoy learning about him and his perspective on what it’s like being an Amazonian. Take it away, Joe…

When faced with the prospect of working for one of the Big Tech companies, the initial reaction of most people is one of self-doubt and disbelief that they have the skills needed to even get an interview, much less make it through the entire process and become a full-time employee at Amazon or Facebook or Google.  It’s very easy for me to empathize with that mindset; after all, I used to think and feel the same way.  My path to becoming an Amazonian was one that I never anticipated going down and to be completely honest, I’m still kind of surprised that I made it in.  What I want to get across in this blog post is that you DON’T necessarily need to have a deep tech background, or a plethora of tech experience, or to already work at a big tech company, in order to have the chance to work here.  I hope that my story will inspire people to apply here at Amazon, even if they don’t believe they have what it takes, because confidence plays a big role (okay, and having the basic skills and a little experience certainly helps for sure) to believe that you’re good enough to pull it off.

I grew up in a country town in Georgia by the name of LaGrange.  It’s right on the border with Alabama and has been an important supplier of manufacturing and textiles for the state for most of its existence.  There are no high-paying jobs in LaGrange, and it offers little in the way of long-term stability and growth for one’s career.  Most people never manage to leave Troup County due to economic issues, earning it the nickname “Trap County”.  Growing up and living in LaGrange for the first 18 years of my life, I felt sure that I would be one of the people that ended up staying in that town for the rest of my life, though the thought of it left me immensely dissatisfied and desirous enough to vow that I’d break that cycle however I could.

Continue reading "Joe Lawson: My Path to Becoming an Amazonian" »

Ayesha Harper leads the organization developing your favorite AmazonBasics

Ayesha HarperIn a recent blog interview, I gave you a glimpse into product management here at Amazon. Most people think of Amazon as a place where you can buy just about anything. But we also make a lot of products. So today I am posting an interview with Ayesha Harper, Director and General Manager of Private Label in our Hardlines division. In this interview, we talk about the Product Manager role, her path at Amazon and career mobility. We also geeked out a little over cool customer experiences.

Hi Ayesha. You’re the leader of Private Label for Hardlines. I imagine that most of the people reading this don’t know what that is.

Private label products are those we develop and sell on our website; they are Amazon-owned brands, manufactured exclusively for Amazon. In Hardlines, our private label brands are AmazonBasics, which spans a number of different product categories, and Pinzon, a bath and bedding brand.

Hardlines at Amazon is a broad and diversified business. It includes Consumer Electronics and product categories within the home like Kitchen, Home Improvement, Tools, Sports, Toys and more. Another way to think about it is that it’s not physical media (Books and DVDs, for example), not Fashion products and not Grocery items. It’s the rest...

It must be really challenging and fun to create new products from scratch. But you didn’t start out in product development at Amazon.

I’ve had five different roles in my nine years here. Amazon very much values movement in your career. Because of the number of businesses here, you are able to see businesses in different phases of growth or with completely different cycles. For example, a group like Toys has a heavy holiday season where working in Amazon Business might not.

In my career path at Amazon within Retail, I’ve been able to experience different categories. I’ve worked in Fashion, Media and now Hardlines. Each of those businesses have different challenges and growth trajectories.

When I joined, I had no idea how diversified Amazon would become over time and all the opportunities that would be available. The company has done such amazing things. Nine years later, we are developing award-winning original content, we have a huge business with Amazon Web Services, and we’re making first-party devices such as Kindle and Echo. So Amazon just continues to get more and more diversified.

And that movement between teams or these broader organizations like AWS and Kindle is available at all levels. You don’t have to be a business leader to experience that kind of variety at Amazon.

Right. From year-to-year, there’s quite a bit of movement within an organization. What we are doing in Retail and across the company is building great businesses and general management leaders. Our feeling is that folks who are able to experience and lead different organizations will be better employees and business managers.

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[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: the values and principles you need to display in the interview

MotivatesOur blog series has focused on what to do after you get the recruiter call letting you know that the company you want to work for will not be extending an offer. After doing whatever your first instinct is - calling your best friend or S.O., having a glass of wine, whatever - there are steps you can take to understand where you can improve and hopefully increase the potential for a different interview outcome in the future. So far, we have talked about asking the recruiter for feedback, reviewing interviewer cues, analyzing the interview questions and researching the background of people who were hired into the job. Today's post focuses on some of the factors companies may consider in their hiring, that aren't specifically about skills, but more about how you work.

Values and culture can be areas that are tricky to interview for and be interviewed for, because companies want to encourage and reward the right behaviors, but they also want diversity of thought and style.  So as important as it is to think about how you present yourself in the interview, I wholeheartedly believe that you will do best in an interview when you are uniquely you and don't try to put on a persona that matches a company's principles and values if you don’t share them. In fact, I believe the most important part of selecting your next company, team, manager and job should be evaluating how well *their* values match *yours*. So my recommendation today assumes you have already done that work and feel that there is a good match and you simply want to do better at communicating that match.

Most companies publish some kind of content that explains what they value. For Amazon, it's our Leadership Principles. You can also look beyond explicit explanations of values and missions to what the company talks about online and how they describe their culture. Prior to an interview, it’s a good exercise to jot down their values or principles and some words to describe their culture and think through how you have exhibited those values in past work experiences.  After the interview, consider whether you demonstrated fidelity to those values in your responses. You might end up feeling that you didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate your work values, but if you want that job, it’s really important to find ways to work your common values into the conversation, especially in areas that are particularly aligned with the role.

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[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: using free research to understand potential experience gaps

LinkedInIn our blog series on what to do after you interviewed and were declined for a job, we’ve looked at the best way to ask the recruiter for feedback, understanding interviewer cues and extracting job competencies from the questions you were asked. By this point, you may have identified a few things you can work on. But another source of information to consider is the backgrounds of people who actually got the job, assuming the position you interviewed for is not brand new or completely unique. It’s easy to jump on LinkedIn and search for people who work at the company in the role you interviewed for (BTW, if you don’t want people to know you are looking at their profiles, you can adjust your “profile viewing options” here). Unless you designate otherwise, your search will pull up people who have the company listed as a current or past employer, which is what you want.  Just don't overlook the people who aren't currently working at the company or in the role when they appear in your search. Their info is valuable as well (maybe more so if their subsequent job is on your desired career path as well).

So the obvious thing to look at is the past companies and education of these people, prior to them working at the company you are interested in. When you do this, don't necessarily take those things at face value. If you see a lot of people who worked at large companies, or who graduated from top-ranked schools, instead of saying "well, they only seem to hire people with this particular background", think about what this suggests about what skills and qualities they value. They might just be looking for people who have worked on large-scale software deployments or who are intellectually rigorous and both of those can be achieved with or without working at a massive company or going to an Ivy. So when you start to notice patterns, dig deeper and ask yourself what is meaningful and actionable.

Some of the patterns to look for are related to previous employers like industry and size of company. Also, look at peoples' career progression - did they start in another industry or functional area and could that experience be valuable in the role you are focused on? Also, look at how these people talk about their skills. Are they highlighting specific competencies in their summary, position descriptions or skills tags? Chances are the ones they chose to highlight are the ones they have been recognized for at work.

Once you have done this, you should have a pretty good idea of the hiring profile for the position and can compare your background. Don't get discouraged if the people who hold the position don't look like you "on paper". I'm reminded of a frequent conversation I would have with hiring managers back when I was recruiting for marketing folks. Many of them would include an MBA on their list of requirements for their open position. So when I met with them I would say "I just want to make sure we are on the same page. If I find a candidate who is doing this same job at our biggest competitor but doesn't have an MBA, you don't want to talk to them, right?" Every single time (every.single.time.), this made the hiring manager think differently about what skills are required and what are preferred or nice-to-have. And if they brought you in for the interview the first time, they are open to people with your background.

So for you, I would just recommend focusing on how to get the skills and experience for the job (or deepening your existing experience) and don't assume that the company requires a certain "pedigree". For every position I ever recruited for, I could name an experience outlier - someone who was really awesome at their job but whose background was different from their peers. The goal with this exercise is to understand the underlying skills and competencies that will help you get the job.

I hope as you are completing this process, you are starting to see clear areas for you to focus on, not only for your future interview performance but for your own career growth.

The next post will be on evaluating some of the less tangible factors that come into play, like values.