Amazon Interview Questions and Leadership Principles

Amazon interviews – though well documented online – are evaluated in a complex and somewhat unconventional way.  We get candidates for coaching who have already been turned down by Amazon. These candidates are all well qualified and intelligent.  They’ve spent time preparing the standard questions types (algorithms, data structures for devs, product design, market sizing for PM, etc.) and it shows. “What am I doing wrong?”  I get this question a lot.  Not surprisingly, they’ve missed out on a key piece of the puzzle which they are being evaluated on. Let me tell you what.

Amazon’s leadership principles are critical components of every (full time and internship) interview that Amazon conducts.  Give them a good read.  Think about your answers, and how you tackle your questions. Then read them again.

Regardless of role or seniority, you must incorporate these principles into your responses.  The reason is simple: when folks at Amazon meet to debrief and discuss your interview feedback, these principles are used as a framework.  Your responses are evaluated and you are rated based on how well you performed according to the leadership principles.  As such, often candidates who are otherwise competent and would do very well, may get rejected simply because they did not demonstrate these skills.

Following are 3 key strategies you can employ to ensure this isn’t the reason you are rejected:

1) Read and internalize the principles:  The first half of this is obvious. The second – not so much.  Reading the principles is easy, however if you want to work at Amazon you need to understand that these aren’t just fancy words or a mission statement that many other companies like to put out in a nice press release.  Amazonians live and breath this stuff and they appear in every aspect of the culture.  From hiring, to document discussions even to annual reviews, the principles hold a critical place. As such, after reading these, take the time to understand them, to reflect and to think about how you embody (or need to work on) some of these areas.  This reflection will help significantly when trying to tailor your responses to include them.

2) Focus on customer: While all of the leadership principles are important, some are more important than others.  None however are more important than Customer obsession.  I’ve seen more candidates rejected because of lack of customer focus than any other reason. What’s more, whenever you answer a behavioral question, starting with the customer is a sure fire way to make the interviewer happy (by giving them something to write) and also and also give you a structured way to start your response.  In general this is a good thing, but for Amazon interviews it is critical.

3) Understand this is poker – look for the tell: Every interviewer on the loop has at least one leadership principle they are in charge of evaluating. As such, you should be able to tell pretty quickly (from the kinds of questions you’re being asked) which principle they are evaluating you on.  Be alert and once you figure it out, make sure in each and every one of your answers you tie in that principle. Make it clear that you excel in the area.  This will result in this interviewer positioning themselves as an advocate for you in the debrief session simply because you nailed their principle (assuming you don’t bomb the rest of the loop).

Obviously there are a number of other things involved in a loop, but at Amazon in particular you want to make sure that whenever your interviewer is asking you questions, you keep the leadership principles in mind.  Weaving them into your answers and making sure your responses sound tailored and natural is a bit more of a challenge. Something that comes with practice, preparation and repetition.

Good luck!