A Day One Careers Community member has recently received multiple L7 offers from Amazon (he went through a split-loop, received an “inclined” result, and will need to decide which team to join). However, he was kind and generous to offer his Amazon interview tips to anyone preparing for their Amazon interviews and learning how to answer interview questions based on Leadership Principles. We hope you will find it as valuable and inspiring as we did.
In early February, I applied to 2 Principal Product Manager positions through friends at Amazon/AWS. (Referrals always get looked at). Within two days, I got an email from both recruiters for an initial conversation.
One of them took over as the lead so that he could streamline the process. A week later, I had my first phone screen (“PS1”, oh the jargon) 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. 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 two 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, who were heads down, taking furious notes as I spoke. I had also prepared 4-5 questions to ask each screener about the product, role, and success factors. With 2 LP questions, though, there isn’t much time for follow-ups. (I wonder if I needed to pass both screens to move on to the loop, not sure.)
Three 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 two days, and I took it (I think it’s easier for recruiters to plan this way as well).
I spent much 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 regarding LPs (although not saying them out loud!). I also read Bezos’ shareholder letters, which are powerfully inspiring. I was concerned about not detecting which LP was being tested, but the verified examples by category (see DayOne blog) were beneficial. Almost always, the keywords are straightforward. Like 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 judgment calls sans analysis). But, of course, essay and whitepaper are entirely different things, so I could only hope writing in first-person was OK. You submit this at least two days before the loop; earlier is better; it gives loopers time to read (I’ve also heard only one looper; usually, HM is responsible for evaluating the writing sample).
I took a few days off work to prepare and the two loop days, mainly to keep my head clear. I booked a room at a co-working space to avoid the distractions of being at home, even behind a closed door. I also lugged a proper monitor over to have my cheat sheet on the screen and an external camera to offer an eye-level view. I used the center’s WiFi, but I also had set up 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 the interviewers covered on the screens were left out of the loop. Apart from the bar raiser, each looper tests you on functional competencies (product management, think prioritization, trade-offs, managing demanding stakeholders). But they are not all cleanly separated into sections.
The questions and follow-ups can take you well away from any script. For instance, as I described the situation, most interviewers jumped in with follow-ups (sincere ones, not wanton disruption). Depending on the follow-up q, I described Actions before explaining 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 two interviews like this, I decided to take a more proactive approach. So after I completed “S”, I said something like “, so that’s the background next; I want to talk about my vision, but any questions so far?” Even with follow-ups, it allowed 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 thoroughly 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 several career examples and not recycle the same one (my recruiter said don’t do it more than twice, so three times in all?). But sometimes, even if you have predetermined the story to use for a given LP, how the question is phrased will lead your brain to the most natural pick, which may not be on your cheat sheet. So don’t worry about diversifying explicitly. Instead, 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 and prepare (specific) questions 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; they want you to succeed. Take 5-7 minutes to know the looper; use that LinkedId research. Even mid-way through, look at the camera and occasionally interact with a quick question (“oh, it’s 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 to answer Amazon interview questions, it is tempting to look for shortcuts. If you think 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 are one great resource that is entirely free). Please do yourself a favor and put the hours in to understand Amazon, and it will do wonders for your interview confidence and performance.
2. Amazon Referrals Are Looked At
That is true. However, these days, the volume of referrals is enormous. Referrals form a separate queue of profiles to review, so we suggest asking 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?
This option has 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 situation.
4. Expect Amazon Interviews to Deviate From Your Script
Amazon interviewers are free to follow up and drill down any time during your interview. This can seemingly de-rail the interview flow, but only if you’re unprepared for it. Treat your initial STAR story as a conversation starter. 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 them to the front of your mind. It is not a substitute for thinking on your feet and offering details you did not initially plan for.
5. Keep Your Amazon Interviews Conversational
Candidates comfortable navigating their Amazon interviews in a conversational style will always come across as confident. While confidence is not a Leadership Principle that Amazon expressly tests for in interviews, it is a winning characteristic to demonstrate.