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Job Search

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!    

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. 


Choosing (or taking) the right photo for your LinkedIn profile

Mark cubanHow Mark Cuban gets away with that profile photo but you can’t.

There is no doubt that LinkedIn has become an important component in the personal branding toolkit, especially for anyone exploring the possibility of a new job. And while we can all acknowledge that the written profile is vitally important – it’s how people find you after all – it’s the profile photo that I find causes the most angst for anyone looking to manage their brand, but who hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down with a photographer. In my career, I’ve worked with a number of extremely successful people who have zero profile photo game. They need advice and help to get a photo that is appropriately matched to the personal brand persona they want to communicate. For some, they need help just getting a profile photo that is appropriate.

The challenge for most people, I think, is that they want a photo that is professional, but also one that feels personal; one that shows some personality. This instinct is 100% on track, in my opinion. Anyone with a couple hundred bucks can have a sterile, polished headshot; blue shirt, hair sprayed in place, light colored solid background. Problem is, this kind of a headshot doesn’t necessarily scream “I am a unique talent!” It doesn’t help people understand what it would be like to know you and to work with you. It’s the personal branding equivalent of stock photography; a sometimes “necessary evil” you avoid if you can.

Another challenge is that not many people want to invest the time or effort into a photo they will use for one application. I get that.  But you’d spend a couple hours updating your resume, right? Or interviewing for a job? Do you take the time to look well-groomed when you are meeting someone new? Do I really need to continue on with these questions? LinkedIn is often the first impression someone has of you; possibly a second impression if it’s being used for social proof. Either way, it’s worth investing the effort in the photo.

The truth is, you don’t even need to hire a professional photographer to shoot your LinkedIn (or other social media) profile photo. You just need to be intentional and go do it, because that photo from Coachella isn’t going to work no matter how much you crop it. The cameras in today’s mobile phones are good enough to produce great profile photos. No special equipment necessary. Here are some tips for taking a good profile photo:

  • Wear something similar to what you would be wearing in professional interactions. You can go a wee bit more dressy (a button-up shirt if you are a developer for example), but if you don’t wear a suit to work, don’t wear one in your profile photo. Also, stay away from sunglasses, branded attire or anything else that is distracting.
  • Outdoor shots are… really hard to pull off. You’re dealing with sun (I swear, sometimes the sun happens in Seattle, like right now as I write this), wind, backgrounds that move, birds (they scare me). A naturally lit interior environment works great. I love atriums and overcast days for photo shoots.
  • What should you be doing in the photo? Mostly, just sitting there and smiling. Don’t be jumping, making finger guns at the camera, resting your chin on your hand or touching your hair. There are exceptions, of course. I mean if you are a professional stand-up comedian, maybe the finger guns are acceptable, I don’t know. The point is that if you’re going to do something in your photo, which I don’t necessarily encourage, it should relate to your area of expertise and your personal brand and not feel too staged and awkward.
  • The best way to get a shot where you look natural is have a conversation with the person taking the picture while you are shooting. Have them tell you some jokes or describe their most embarrassing moment or worst date. You won’t be able to use all your photos but I bet you end up with a few really good, natural looking ones. Because you won’t be over-thinking your pose. It will take your mind off of being awkward and give you the opportunity to produce a genuine smile.
  • Keep background neutral. People should be looking at you when they view your photo, not the foliage, signage or other festival-goers. Just you.

And having spent more than my fair share of time on LinkedIn, here are some don’ts:

  • Don’t use company images or logos as your profile photo. People want professional relationships with people. Many folks on LinkedIn, myself included, do not accept connection request from people lacking an actual photo. It’s very hard to remember if you’ve met someone if there is no photo of them to jog the memory.
  • Don’t use a photo in which you are hugging someone who was later cropped out of the photo. It doesn’t matter that you look well-rested and are in great shape in this photo. Just don’t. And no cocktails, pets, family members or props. And especially no fish. I’m not sure what it is with the fish and profile photos, but none of those. Again, there are exceptions, if you are actually a professional fisher-person, or a photographer holding a camera in your profile photo, then fine. Do a little bit of your professional thing.
  • Don’t go low res. Your photo should be as high res as possible. If you have to blow it up too much to use it, it won’t work. Similarly, if it’s too dark, it will look grainy.
  • No glamour shots, no body parts (like shoulders), no early 90s photos. Your photo needs to represent a great version of who you are today.
  • No cartoon characters. Unless you are a cartoon artist. Even then, maybe not the best idea.
  • No obvious selfies unless your goal is to work at Instagram and only Instagram. If you can pull off a great shot without the obvious arm extension and nobody is any the wiser, that’s great.
  • No copping out. You need a profile photo.

As I mentioned, there are some exceptions and most of these relate to the industry you are in. If you are in a creative role or have a very visible public persona, you can get away with a little more creativity. So if you are in marketing or design you might apply a little (just a little) of your artistry to your image (you can see what I did with mine here).  If you work in fashion, be fashionable. If you are well-known in your space, and the people who will likely be engaging you already have a perception of you, your personality and what you offer, you can get away with a Mark Cuban. Just remember that only Mark Cuban is Mark Cuban.

So, if you are feeling motivated to add or update your LinkedIn profile photo, I’d recommend doing some searches of other people in your industry on LinkedIn, for a little inspiration, and then setting up some time with a S.O., friend or co-worker to take some profile photos of each other. And do this every few years, if needed, to keep things current.

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" »

[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.

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

[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.

[Blog series] So you didn’t get the job: understanding what you were actually interviewed for

QuestionAs part of the “So you didn’t get the job” interview series, I’m reviewing some of the things you can do after an interview to understand why things didn’t go as you had hoped. Being declined for a job you really wanted is not fun. But it’s an opportunity to learn where you might continue to build skills so that the interview outcome is better the next time you interview. Otherwise, you could be repeating the same mistakes or failing to build the critical skills required for your ideal job. We’ve already talked about how to ask the recruiter for feedback and evaluate any cues you were given in the interview. Now, we will focus on understanding what each of your interviewers was assessing for.

This step is another one you want to do while the interview is fresh in your mind. The first step is to write down as many of the questions you were asked in the interview as you can remember. Keep in mind that, especially at larger companies more experienced at hiring, they assign areas for each interviewer to probe on. So maybe track the questions you were asked by interviewer. For each question, jot down a few thoughts on what skills or competencies the interviewer might have been assessing for.

Once you have done this, you probably have a good idea of what each person was trying to assess for, so you might also cross reference the cues your interviewer provided to understand themes, like maybe that things started to go sideways whenever you were answering a question about projects with multiple stakeholders, or that you nailed the strategy case questions but when you had to explain how to operationalize your plan, you struggled. This will help you potentially uncover areas of development. It might also be a good idea to review the job description and document not only the competencies it explicitly lists as requirements but those that you can assume by the nature of the job itself. Likely, these will align with the competency areas you identified when listing the questions you were asked.

Now think through how you responded to the questions and consider whether you gave the interviewer what they were looking for with your answers; did you demonstrate the skills that each questions was designed to address? With some thought, you will almost certainly identify some questions that you could have answered better. It's always easier to do this kind of forensic review in the comfort of your home when the pressure is off. If you are anything like me, you play the "Why Did I Say That? Game" when you are trying to fall asleep at night anyway.  So perhaps you can just consider this the "Why Did I say That? Game - Interview Edition".

As I mentioned, this step works best when the interviews are still fresh in your mind. So even before you know the outcome of the interview, you might want to jot down notes on what you were asked. The bonus is, if you get the job, you will have a good understanding of what your new team will expect of you.

[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.