This is an ongoing effort to openly document my AWS interview experience. I will try to cover everything I find relevant, but I’m open to suggestions on what to include. Let me know via Twitter!
DISCLAIMER: I am sharing my personal experience, and my views don’t necessarily represent Amazon’s. For more information, please consult Amazon’s official documentation and websites.
If you wish to see a list of all the posts for this series, click here.
The most crucial factor in the quality of Amazon hires is their leadership skills. Amazon wants to hire not only people who are already smart, but also people who go above and beyond for their own professional development, strong, charismatic people who can push teams forward, and laser-focused individuals that put the customer first and foremost.
When we hire someone, they have to be at least 50% better at their job than the current employees.
Amazon has 14 leadership principles that are evident throughout everything we do. It is no secret, and there are hundreds of thousands of posts breaking down every single leadership principle in great detail, with specific examples and possible questions, but in reality, it all boils down to how you express those leadership principles in your professional life. This is not an exam, and there are no right or wrong answers. What recruiters really want to see is how you’re able to apply these key leadership principles and integrate them into everything you do. As important as it may be to have them memorised, it’s even more important to be able to give very specific examples for each principle with as much detail as possible.
How to prepare the interview
A smart way to prepare those leadership principles is to write down at least two or three examples from your professional career for each principle. In my case, because I didn’t have enough professional experience, I also included examples from my academic career, university in particular, but try to keep this at a minimum. There are tons of questions a recruiter can ask for each principle, and many examples readily available online. Just searching the name of the principle on your favourite search engine will probably yield tens or hundreds of sample questions to use, but it can even be more insightful to write your own questions. Even thinking backwards can work: Think about an example that uses the leadership principle, and then ask yourself for what kind of question would your answer would make sense.
Some leadership principle question samples:
- Customer obsession - “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a customer that was angry because they disliked a previous conversation with one of your coworkers”
- Deliver results - “Have you ever faced difficulties finishing a project? Where did those difficulties stem from? How did you resolve the situation?”
- Invent and simplify - “Think about a complex process in your previous roles that had opportunity for improvement. Were you able to make it better? If yes, what did you do? If not, why not, what would have you done?”
These are just a few example questions I made up. I invite you to write your own questions and let me know via Twitter.
In general, you will be told in advance the kind of leadership principles you’d be asked during the interview. But it is usually close to the actual interview day, so you won’t have a lot of time to prepare them. In my case, I had a little more than a week, but this is probably not enough time for you to prepare them if you are working full-time, so a good idea is to have at least one scenario for each principle ready one week ahead of your scheduled interviews. You will not usually be asked all of the 14 leadership principles. For example, I was asked only about ten of them, but this can change if you are interviewing for management or senior roles that require more experience.
Interviewers do not expect you to give perfect answers 100% of the time, and even if you aren’t able to give successful examples in all scenarios, it is important you understand the leadership principle in question, and that you are able to explain why your example wasn’t successful and what you could have done in a different situation. For example, in my case, one of the principles I was explaining was not a success story because, even though I had the intention of applying the principle, my manager did not let me go forward, and I had no competence to reverse his decision. This is sometimes common: you want to do something that you think is the correct way forward but, either because of management incompetence or a communication issue, the person you report to won’t let you proceed.
Even if you managed to present all stories for the 14 leadership principles as successful, these principles can be framed in a multitude of ways, which means that not all examples you write may be useful during your interview, so you must be ready to improvise. Hopefully, after spending about two weeks preparing them, you should have a good overview of your professional career and can provide examples on-the-fly without much thought. Important: Instead of rambling, if you get stuck at some point during the interview, be honest with your interviewer and tell them you need a little more time to think about the question. This will look much better on you than using filler words or “ehhh…”, “uhhh…” and similar. For example, you can say “Please give me a minute to think about this” or you can even ask them to rephrase the question, which will buy you some time while they speak. Lastly, interviewers will want to know about your stories with varying degrees of detail. Some will want less detail, and others more. You can always ask them, after you’ve been talking for a while, if you should continue describing the situation or if they have enough information to start asking you questions.
Structuring your storytelling
In order to answer these questions, you should use the STAR technique in order to give well-structured responses. This will also signal the instructor you have invested effort into preparing the interview, which is always welcome. The STAR technique is as follows:
- Situation: Describe the problematic situation and the context that leads to the trouble. Don’t go into more detail than necessary, as you can give further context on the steps you took and the difficulties you faced in later steps.
- Task: Describe your responsibility in the context explained previously. Explain how you prepared a plan and what steps you wanted to take to correct the situation.
- Action: Here, you can go into the details and specifics of how you carried out your duties. Did you face challenges or difficulties? Did you make last-minute arrangements?
- Result: What was the outcome? Were you able to solve the initial situation? If not, and if you weren’t able to explain it previously, why not? And most importantly, what did you learn from the experience?
- Read up on the leadership principles and write a few short stories for each.
- Be honest. Not all examples have to result in positive outcomes, as the most important takeaway from the questions in the interview is what you learned, and that you tried to apply the leadership principles, even if unsuccessfully in the end due to external circumstances.
- If you reuse scenarios for multiple LPs, let your interviewer know, as the different interviews will talk with each other and it may look dishonest on you if you talked about the same situation twice.
- You are in full control, as you’re the one who knows the most about the situations you describe.
- It’s reasonable to present academic examples if you lack professional experience, but try to keep it at a minimum.
In the future, I may release comprehensive blog posts on each specific leadership principle. Let me know if there’s a specific principle you’d like to see first. See you on part 3!