Amazon Interview Preparation: Ultimate Guide

updated on 27 July 2021
Amazon Interview Preparation: The Ultimate Guide
Amazon Interview Preparation: The Ultimate Guide

A few years ago, I successfully cleared my on-site loop at Amazon and secured an offer to join the business as a senior leader in London. My Amazon interview preparation did not entail watching a single YouTube video or investing in any prep resources. If you had asked me if I knew what I was doing, my honest answer would have been "probably".

Amazon interview process fascinated me deeply. I've encountered structured and competency-based interviewing before, but I've never seen a business trying to hard to stay objective and fight bias during the process. So as soon as I passed my 6-month mark in the company, I qualified as an Amazon interviewer.

I started participating in grad recruitment, and soon after I began doing my fair share to hire for my team as well as helping partner teams fill open roles. While at Amazon, I interviewed recent grads, folks with MBAs, experienced candidates as well as current Amazonians looking to switch teams.

When I left for another FAANG opportunity, I started Amazon Interview Coaching professionally, and to great results. With the insights from both in-house interviewing and helping others smash through the Amazon bar, I created an Amazon Interview Bootcamp training and the Amazon Interview Deep-Dives experience.

This experience made me re-assess my journey into Amazon. I realised that the reason why my Amazon interview preparation did not require any help was that my previous 12 years in Fortune 500 businesses did it for me.

I started my career at Procter & Gamble, the largest FMCG business on the planet. It ended up shaping my approach to leadership within a corporate setting (I still hold that James Lafferty's Swimmers vs Waterwalkers note is one of the best pieces of corporate leadership training in existence). What P&G expected of us ended up being very similar to the 14 Leadership Principles of Amazon.

P&G also practised structured interviewing where they would assess candidates against the same cultural bar while using back-to-back interview panels. Later, when I interviewed with McKinsey (unsuccessfully, I have to admit), I met with competency-based interviewing again.

Throughout my 12 years in the industry pre-dating my start with Amazon, I've accumulated fascinating work experiences that could get me talking about work for hours. Since I knew how to squeeze them into 8-minute STAR narratives, I kept pulling them out naturally during my Amazon interview rounds.

Why am I offering you this long intro (other than to advertise my expertise shamelessly)? Because if you don't see yourself, or at least a version of yourself in my experience, you do need an Amazon Interview Preparation plan.

I wrote this guide to give you a preparation strategy. I did this because I was hoping you could do yourself a huge favour and avoid mistakes that countless candidates are doing daily while waiting for their Amazon interview.

Lastly, if you are new to Amazon interview literature, I highly recommend that you read this article to the end. It should give you a brief overview of the process and the format.

Don't Try to Wing Your Amazon Interview Preparation

I could usually tell if a candidate was trying to wing it, which is a more charitable way of saying that the candidate was trying their luck. Some folks rocked into phone screens with confidence and panache but with little anticipation of what is expected of them, and almost no understanding of Amazon.

I'll break an uncomfortable truth to you. Unless you've been lining up competency interviews with other companies before Amazon, the chances of winging it are slim. There are way too many qualified, driven, and well-prepared candidates in the pipeline at any given time for this approach to stand out.

I often get questions from candidates who discover my resources late in the process and ask me what to do if their Amazon interview is scheduled the next day. My advice is always to move the interview by a week and give yourself ample time to prepare, even if this means passing on this particular opportunity. If you were invited to interview for one role, chances are there are other positions out there that you can compete for at Amazon. But it would be best if you did yourself a favour and not risk getting a "recycle" straight from your first interview.

Don't Obsess Over Amazon Interview Questions and Answers

Most candidates start their Amazon interview preparation journey by hitting Google and looking for "Amazon Interview Questions and Answers". They hope to come across a treasure chest of winning answers. While there is merit in trying to understand, roughly, what question format Amazon Interview follows and what are some of the typical questions are, this path is full of pitfalls (if you are desperate, check out my list of Amazon Interview Questions).

First, what you might have realised by now is that Amazon Interview questions are looking to assess your performance against Amazon's 14 Leadership Principles (covered in detail in this article). Multiple questions can test every LP. Yes, there is an Amazon interview bank, but every interviewer is free to improvise. For example, I started getting creative a lot when I packed the first six months in as an Amazon interviewer. You won't prepare for every eventuality and every possible question by obsessing over them.

Lastly, and this pains me a lot to write, but a lot of the most popular resources list Amazon interview questions that you'd rarely get in an actual Interview. For example, "If one of your close work colleagues stole a $1 item, what would you do?" If you know what Amazon interview questions are looking for, you'll know that this question cannot be part of an on-site loop. Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation out there, often published by folks who have never worked in the business.

The bottom line is, tread this territory with caution.

Do Include 14 Leadership Principles in Your Amazon Interview Preparation

Amazon has a distinct and peculiar culture that the company has forged over the last 20+ years. While 20 years is not old for a huge multinational business, Amazon managed to get incredibly set in its ways. They believe that their culture is the ultimate secret sauce that drives all other elements of business success. Therefore, an Amazon Interview is a vehicle to establish your cultural fit to the business. For non-technical roles, this is the most critical part of your application process.

Here is a particular caution to those interviewing for technical roles. I've seen enough questions on social media from SW and BI candidates wondering how critical non-technical (LP-based) assessment compared to Coding and System Design rounds. My guidance is to treat non-technical evaluation with the same amount of focus and preparation because it is equally as important. In the same Social Media channels, I've seen way too many posts from candidates who were unsuccessful in an Amazon Interview suggesting that they did not do a great job on LPs. If you're interviewing for a tech role, try to avoid finding yourself in this situation.

Where do you find information about Amazon's 14 Leadership Principles? First, study Amazon Jobs, Amazon's own recruitment website. Go through this resource with a fine-tooth comb and soak in every bit of information that it contains.

Second, dive one level deeper and get The Everything Store by Brad Stone. This book is a golden collection of insights about the early days of Amazon. It will give you unparalleled insights into why 14 Leadership Principles are what they are and how they link to Amazon's success.

Third, watch YouTube videos of Amazon's Executive Leadership Team (or S-Team) discussing Leadership Principles. Look for videos featuring Jeff Bezos, Jeff Wilkie (former Consumer SVP) and the new CEO Andy Jassy. The beauty of Amazon's Leadership Principles is that they are so revered inside the organisation that even those public videos tend to represent the culture well, and are a legitimate source of Amazon Interview preparation.

Do Understand Amazon's Quirks and Peculiarities

Stemming from its 14 Leadership Principles, Amazon has accumulated a myriad of cultural quirks and peculiarities. The company is aware of this, which is why during your first six months in the business, you are told repeatedly that "Amazon is peculiar".

For example, you won't find it surprising to learn that Amazon loves its talent to be exceptional problem-solvers. One its Leadership Principles, Dive Deep, explicitly expects Amazonian Leaders to be able to roll up their sleeves and cut through the sea of details to find solutions to complex problems. However, what would constitute the right solution in many other businesses won't fly in Amazon.

Why?

Amazon has an engineering ethos, which treats problems as defects. In an engineering or manufacturing environment, defects that are not eliminated at source end up being passed down the production line. They scale with every unit that leaves the conveyer belt - a horror story for a business that obsesses over customers.

Hence, Amazonians have a culture of root-causing problems and asking themselves "Why did this problem occur?" several times before they land on the fundamental defect. This way, they ensure that issues are fixed not by patching up symptoms but by repairing root-causes at the source.

Why is it important to understand Amazon's quirks and peculiarities like its approach to problem-solving? Because you will be able to interpret all drill-downs and follow-ups that happen during Amazon Interview correctly. You will know where your interviewers are coming from, and you will be able to frame your answers appropriately (as opposed to being confused and short of words).

The best place to soak in Amazon's quirks and peculiarities is a collection of Jeff Bezos' letters to shareholders. He includes these messages in every quarterly earnings report, and there is a cultural nugget in each letter. Here is where you can find a decent collection, all pulled together. For the more recent ones, you'll have to dig through the earnings statements (trust me, it's worth it).

Do Understand Amazon Interview Format

Amazon follows a competency-based interview format. While the structure itself has been around for ages, what is peculiar about Amazon is the extent to which the business relies on competency-based interview to make hiring decisions.

Understanding what competency-based interviews are and how they are meant to work for the employer will allow you to be comfortable in an Amazon Interview. It will also allow you to quickly discard hundreds of fake Amazon Interview questions that are posted on the Internet (you will know in an instant if they fit the format or not).

Do Practice STAR Responses

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Actions and Results. It is the format of an Amazon Interview response that is highly recommended in a competency interview setting.

Despite the STAR interview response format being around for a while, candidates still struggle with it. A good half of my Amazon Interview Coaching sessions focus on helping folks master this interviewing skill.

Why do candidates find STAR difficult? Because it asks an interviewee to frame an actual life situation into a 5-minute Shakespearean play because it makes a job of an interviewer easier. Candidates find it hard because real situations are messy, often with multiple action threads. When we find ourselves in the middle of a business problem, solutions are usually iterative and call on both intuition and structure. At the same time, a STAR response expects you to distil your real life only to the bare essentials while discarding second-grade details.

Mastering the art of compressing real life in 5-minute STAR openers is essential to do well in an Amazon Interview. Here is how I recommend preparing. First, watch real-life interviews on my YouTube channel to get a feel for interview answers that don't necessarily go well. Second, find interview partners (you can join our Membership platform for this), and get plenty of feedback on your responses.

Amazon Interview Preparation: Bringing It All Together

I've created a collection of resources to help you prepare for your Amazon Interview. While you don't need to use any of them to do well, they are here for you to make your life easier. It's a series of shortcuts if you will. I am confident that you will find them of high quality. I poured my heart, my soul and all my experience interviewing candidates for Amazon (while I was in the business) and coaching candidates when I left.

First, check out the rest of the articles in this blog. This article tries to give you a whistle-stop overview of the Amazon Interview process and should be an excellent place to start your preparation routine.

Second, I've created a YouTube channel where I post free interview prep content. Check out the FAQ and some of the interview coaching videos to get a feel for how the interviews typically work and what mistakes other candidates make. The same videos are also available as a podcast, which you can subscribe to using your favourite podcasting app.

Third, I've used my own experience and research to create two signature pieces of training - Amazon Interview Bootcamp (focused on competencies) and STAR Method Bootcamp (focused on STAR interview techniques). This all-inclusive training set leaves no stone unturned. You will come up with a deep understanding of all 14 Leadership Principles, quirks and peculiarities, master STAR format and loads more. Don't take my word for it and join our Membership platform to find reviews of my training and coaching.

Fourth, you can book time with me for a 1:1 coaching session. My YouTube channel should give you a flavour of how these sessions run. You can expect to walk out with meaty feedback outlining where you need to improve — all personalised to you and your level of preparation.

Do take advantage of our Membership Community to find Amazon Interview partners. The community is incredible, and everyone is looking for interview partners all the time.

I have summarised all the steps in the handy Amazon Interview Preparation Game Plan.

As ever, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me via our Community.

Good luck.

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