One of Day One Careers Community members has recently received multiple L7 offers from Amazon (he went through a split-loop, received an "inclined" result and will now need to decide which team to join). He was kind and generous to offer his Amazon interview tips to anyone who is preparing for their Amazon interviews and learning how to answer interview questions based on Leadership Principles. I hope you will find it as useful and inspiring as I did.
In early Feb I applied to 2 Principal Product Manager positions, both through friends currently at Amazon/AWS. (Referrals apparently always get looked at). Within 2 days, I got an email from both recruiters for an initial conversation. One of them took over as the lead, so the process could be streamlined. A week later I had my first phone screen ("PS1", oh the lingo) with the first hiring manager. I had scheduled an hour with DayOneCoach before this, and glad I did, as the screen was also LP questions, and it helped to know to respond in STARspeak (Eugene's note: read our blog post about key STAR Method Pitfalls). Just shy of 2 weeks after that was my second phone screen (PS2), which involved 2 LP questions. (These intervening weeks of waiting can be long but Amazon promises you will know the results of a screen within 2 business days, and the results of a loop within 5. Amazon exceeded this consistently.)
PS1 was phone only, although I am told both ought to have been video. In both cases, the interviewers were the hiring managers, and they were heads down taking furious notes as I was speaking. I had also prepared 4-5 questions to ask each screener about the product, role, success factors. With 2 LP questions though there isn't that much time for follow-ups. (I wonder if I needed to pass both screens to move on to the loop, not sure.)
3 weeks later was my virtual loop. The loopers were from both teams I had applied to (a "split-loop") plus a bar-raiser from a completely different team. I had the option to request that it be scheduled across 2 days, and I took it (I think it's easier for recruiters to schedule this way as well).
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time listening to DayOneCoach, getting an intuitive feel for the LPs rather than just the words. During my day job, I mentally started evaluating decisions in terms of LPs (although not saying them out loud!). I also read all of Bezos' shareholder letters, it's powerfully inspiring stuff. I was quite concerned about not being able to detect which LP was being tested, but the verified examples by category (see DayOne blog) were very helpful. Almost always, the keywords are straightforward. As with many others, I created a spreadsheet for each LP, with multiple career stories that fit each LP (some repetition), laid out in S-T-A-R-L (Lessons learned) columns.
Now on to the loop itself (btw I noticed I am composing this in STAR :-))
Pre-loop, I was required to complete a writing assignment, picking one of two prompts. I chose "What is the most inventive or innovative thing you've done?, respond as in an essay or business whitepaper" (the other was about judgement calls sans analysis). Essay and whitepaper are entirely different things, so I could only hope writing in first-person was OK. You submit this at least 2 days before the loop, earlier is better, gives loopers time to read (I've also heard only 1 looper, usually HM is responsible for evaluating the writing sample).
I took a couple of days off from work to prepare, as well as the 2 loop days mostly to keep my head clear. I booked a room at a co-work space, to avoid the distractions of being at home, even behind a closed door. I also lugged a proper monitor over, so I could have my cheat sheet up on the screen, and a external camera to offer an eye-level view. I used the center's' WiFi but I had also setup a hotspot on my phone for emergencies (and needed it for a portion of one interview due to WiFi issues!).
Most loopers tested on 2 LPs, the bar raiser had 3 (I think), and one of the HMs had only 1 (possibly because he was also reviewing the writing assignment). I thought the LPs that were covered in the screens were left out of the loop. Apart from the bar raiser each looper also tests you on functional competencies (for product management, think prioritization, trade-offs, managing tough stakeholders). But they are not all cleanly separated out into sections.
The questions and follow-ups can take you well away from any script. For instance, most interviewers jumped in with follow-ups (sincere ones, not wanton disruption) right as I was describing the Situation. Depending on the follow-up q I found myself describing Actions before having explained Goals etc. In 2 of my interviews the loopers were so curious about the technology/product they had numerous follow-ups, and I wasn't sure if I had hit the points I wanted to.
After 2 interviews like this, I had decided to take a more proactive approach. After I completed "S", I said something like "so thats the background, next I want to talk about my vision, but any questions so far?" Even with follow-ups it allowed both of us to remember where we had left off. I was also writing down every question, so at the end I would look at the question to confirm I had answered it completely, and also check with the interviewer ("wow that was an in-depth discussion, before wrapping let me quickly check I covered your question fully").
It's best to have a number of career examples and not recycle the same one (my recruiter said don't do it more than twice, so 3 times in all?). But sometimes even if you have predetermined the story to use for a given LP, the way the question is phrased will lead your brain to the most natural pick which may not be the one on your cheatsheet. So don't worry about diversifying explicitly. Prepare a pool, and then respond naturally.
Towards the end, you'll have a few minutes to ask questions. You'll know who the loopers are in advance, so look them up on LinkedIn etc. and prepare (specific) questions in advance relevant to them. (I pulled out my notes so they likely knew the q.s were prepared)
Finally--and this might be most important--don't be a robot, it will make it tiring for you and tiresome for the looper. This is a lot of work for them as well, and they want you to succeed. Take the first 5-7 minutes to know the looper, use that LinkedId research. Even mid-way through look at the camera, interact occasionally with a quick question ("oh its interesting you know XYZ tech, have you worked in this area?") but don't lose your place in the flow.
Epilogue: 1.5 months after I applied I heard both teams are interested (an "inclined loop"), and now they get to "sell" their teams to me.
Amazon Interview Insights That We Picked up
1. Study Amazon Leadership Principles in detail
If you are learning how to answer Amazon interview questions, it is tempting to look for short-cuts. If you think that you can magically pass an Amazon loop by reciting canned answers to Amazon interview questions that you find online, please think again. Amazon's Leadership Principles are the core competencies of Amazon, and they are in place for a good reason. The best way to learn how to answer Amazon interview questions is to understand the competencies in detail. You have plenty of free and paid resources at your disposal (shareholder letters is one great resource that is completely free). Please do yourself a favour and put the hours in to understand Amazon, and it will do wonders to your interview confidence and performance.
2. Amazon Referrals Are Looked At
That is true. However, these days the volume of referrals is huge. Referrals form a separate queue of profiles to review, which is why our suggestion is to ask your referrers to send a follow-up email to both the hiring manager and the recruiter. This will help your profile stand out in the referrals queue and won't cost your friends more than 2-3 minutes of their time. Do avoid being referred by strangers who won't be able to support you with a follow-up email.
3. Should You Split Your Amazon Interviews Across Two Days?
We've seen this option become popular with our students, especially given the challenges of working from home. That said, it is still up to you. Do manage for your comfort and your individual situation.
4. Expect Amazon Interviews to Deviate From Your Script
Amazon interviewers are free to follow-up and drill-down at any point in time during your interview. This can seemingly de-rail the flow of the interview, but only if you're not prepared for it. Treat your initial STAR story as a conversation starter and be prepared to deviate from the narrative if the interviewer is interested in details that are not part of the story. Feel free to return the conversation to the original flow by using the trick from this post (the proactive approach) - e.g. "I was going to tell you how I brought my vision to life, unless you have any further questions". Remember - preparing your situations in advance is a mechanism to rustle up memories about your career experience and bring it to the front of your mind. It is not a substitute for being able to think on your feet and offer details that you did not originally plan for.
5. Keep Your Amazon Interviews Conversational
Candidates who are comfortable at navigating their Amazon interviews in a conversational style will always come across confident. While confidence is not a Leadership Principle that Amazon expressly tests for in interviews, it is a winning characteristic to demonstrate.