I spent over three years at Amazon and have interviewed extensively. Over time, when interviewing for partner teams, I took a greater interest in Phone Screens, where I got to speak to candidates at the initial stages.
While most Phones Screens did not go well for very predictable reasons (Amazon's bar is relatively high), I saw candidates with outstanding resumes unable to answer Amazon interview questions because they did not prepare well. So, rather than rejecting them at the first Phone Screen, I decided to run a quick experiment: I'd offer them essential coaching and progress them to another Phone Screen to see how they perform with better prep.
While I did not run any surveys with my candidates, I would often follow up with recruiters to enquire about their fate. To my excitement, some made it into on-site loops and received offers. The reason why I found this exciting is because in 9 cases out of 10, interviewers would have rejected them at Phone Screen.
So I decided to pull together my top tips and advice about how to answer Amazon interview questions based on, then, the 16 Leadership Principles. I wrote this article from the perspective of an experienced ex-Amazon interviewer. My intention is not to help you pass the interview no matter what. I won't be posting questions and suggesting answers. Instead, I'd like to help you remove obstacles that stem from a lack of familiarity with the interview format, which may obscure your talent.
Even though I left Amazon in August 2020, I am a passionate believer in Amazon's hiring process. Yes, I also think that Amazon could probably do more to make candidates more comfortable with how it hires. So I'm trying to plug a gap here.
If you're looking for an overall Amazon interview preparation guide, here's an article that addresses this topic specifically.
Amazon Competency-based Interviews
Whichever role you are interviewing for at Amazon (tech, non-tech, semi-tech – e.g. AWS Solutions Architect), you'll have to pass competency-based interviews. This style of candidate assessment is not unique to Amazon (plenty of Fortune 500 companies and consulting firms use them). However, Amazon interviews rely on this format almost exclusively to establish your non-technical fit.
Another peculiarity is that Amazon is religious about the competency-based part of the assessment. The business will not compromise on a candidate who smashes a technical bar (if there is one for the role) but comes below the bar on the competency-based assessment.
Getting through Amazon competency-based interview rounds is essential. Investing time into preparing for them is not only common sense but is recommended by Amazon recruiters themselves. Just study Amazon's Career website and pay close attention.
What does the interview look like?
Rather than going through your CV, interviewers will ask you to tell them about a situation from your professional life that demonstrates behaviours, which Amazon is looking for in employees. The interview questions will sound like this: "Tell me about a time when you refused to accept things as they were". The interviewee tells the story and answers follow-up questions.
Why does Amazon use competency-based interviewing?
Amazon is a data-driven business by their admission. They saw evidence suggesting that this method of interviewing is the most effective to assess whether a candidate will be successful in the long term.
The general premise (and promise) of competency-based interviewing is that past behaviour predicts future performance. The story-telling format of a competency-based interview allows Amazon to establish whether the candidate has demonstrated the required behaviours in the past.
Note – technically speaking, the world of HR and Social Science do not agree on which type of interview is the most predictive of org fit and candidate's success in the business. So every business picks their dojo – some do it intuitively, some look for evidence. Amazon decided to stick to competency interviewing, and this format is not going away any time soon.
What behaviours should you demonstrate in an Amazon interview?
Amazon looks for behaviours that correspond to Amazon's business management mantra – the 16 Leadership Principles (or LPs).
What are the Amazon Leadership Principles?
16 Leadership Principles are the DNA of Amazon, the articles of faith, the constitution and, predictably, the frequent ornamentation on the wall. Once you join the business, you'll start speaking in LPs in 6 months. You'll be asking your partner to "Disagree and Commit" with you on picking the style for a new couch. You'll be encouraging your children to Dive Deep into their homework while admonishing them for lack of "Ownership". You get the idea.
You can find all the info you need about Amazon's 16 LPs online – on their career website, on YouTube, on Quora and everywhere in between.
How will an Amazon interview assess my performance against 16 Leadership Principles?
Every interview question will be "testing" at least one LP, which is why if you research the Internet well enough, you can collect the most frequently asked LP questions and map them against each LP. I've also pulled together a vetted list of Amazon interview questions to give you a sense of some of the most frequently asked themes. I don't recommend that you focus too much on mapping questions to LPs. Use this exercise to get a flavour of what the questions may sound like but do not make this the central part of your preparation.
How should I respond to Amazon interview questions?
You should respond with an introductory story that lasts no more than 4 minutes. The response should be structured in a STAR (or SOAR) format: Situation, Task (or Obstacle), Actions, Results (check out my signature STAR Interview Technique training). Then you should invite the interviewer to drill down for more details and be ready to provide them. You should also ensure that all situations end with measurable outcomes. These can be both quantitative and or qualitative – regardless, you should be able to explain how you knew that you succeeded or failed.
Be sure to avoid long monologues.
You know you are doing well when an Amazon interview feels like a conversation. Aim to be brief and to the point - concise enough to exclude unnecessary or unrelated details, but offer enough to the interviewer to demonstrate that the story is real and that you have an eye for detail.
Pay special attention to sharing stories about professional failures. Almost every Leadership Principle has a "reverse side", which may be tested by a question about a mishap. Read this article to learn how to answer Amazon interview questions about failures.
How will Amazon assess the quality of my responses?
Interviewers will evaluate your responses against the bar set for the level of the role. An interviewer would vote to hire you if you managed to convince them that the behaviours that you demonstrated during the interview put you above 50% of current Amazonians at that level and in the same job family. It's a high-judgment decision (I.e. no quantitative data), which is why you will have 5–6 people interviewing you.
What are the useful characteristics to demonstrate in an Amazon interview?
Even though we assess you against LPs, it's helpful when you are: calm, composed and relax, brief and not "loopy", confident but not arrogant, genuine, engaged and excited about meeting Amazonians, and equally as excited to share your achievements during the interview.
What are the top tips to help prepare for Amazon interviews (non-technical)?
Go beyond the surface and try to unearth information about Amazon's Leadership Principles that would give you an idea of why they are what they are. You can do this by reading The Everything Store by Brad Stone (get on Amazon, affiliate link). You can watch YouTube interviews and lectures of Amazon's S-team (Jeff Bezos and the former SVP Consumer Jeff Wilke are fantastic – I'd go as far as to say that Jeff Wilke is my favourite). The more you understand what drives the LPs, the more you will be comfortable in unexpected situations (e.g. when your interviewer decides to improvise and asks you a question that startles you).
Research the most frequently asked Amazon interview questions and map them against Leadership Principles (here is my vetted list). Do not overdo this. Use it to get a better feel for what behaviours Amazon expects candidates to demonstrate against each LP. Note that there is no way to tell if the questions from the Internet are authentic.
Prepare 2–3 stories about situations from your professional life that best demonstrate behaviours mentioned in each question. Prepare a cheat sheet with a table listing all LPs and situation prompts against each LP. Be sure to have a column with Key Results and another for Lessons Learned – you'll need them later.
Note – you can re-use stories if you think that they can work for more than one LP, but avoid doing it more than twice.
For recent grads – your extracurricular activities, not your classwork, is your treasure chest. Lean into that part of your academics for stories and situations (we've seen your resume, your transcripts and your grades – whatever you shared with us).
Aim for 4–8 minutes for an opening story, then invite drill-downs. If you join Amazon, you will need to be comfortable with being under constant scrutiny. Demonstrating this quality in an interview is helpful.
You don't have to be Jeff Bezos to answer Amazon interview questions well. I've interviewed seasoned pros as well as recent grads, and trust me – if you have what Amazon is looking for, you will be able to produce situations that bring the behaviours to life. No need to save the world and fly to Mars (not yet, at least!).
Always make sure that you have outcomes and results for every situation. These have to be real. If you don't have results that you can measure, how would you know if you were successful?
Be ready to tell the interviewer what you'd do differently if you were in a similar situation again, even if the story that you shared was a success. Amazon believes that there are lessons learned in EVERY case (I also think that this is true). Knowing these lessons demonstrates that you are reasonably self-critical, down-to-earth and realistic (according to Amazon's beliefs, of course).
Be ready for improv questions. In 9 cases out of 10, Amazon interview questions will come from the same interview bank. But we can always improvise if we want to. There is only one way to be ready for curveballs: research and understand Amazon.
Generally, with more seniority, we expect to see higher complexity and ambiguity of problems that you solve. We also expect a bigger impact on the business and customers. Be prepared for situations where, based on your answers, you will receiver an offer at a level below the one for which you interviewed. This is a good outcome, but it means that the situations that you provided hit the bar for the lower level.
I’ve created comprehensive training that should give you everything you need to know in order to prepare for Amazon’s competency-based interviews and learn how to answer Amazon interview questions. I call it Amazon Interview Bootcamp, and this course has over 9 hours of video content. It covers everything from Amazon’s quirks and peculiarities to every single Leadership Principle, learning about the STAR Method and arranging interview logistics. I even give you real examples from my professional career and indicate if they would hit the bar or miss the bar on every Leadership Principle. Feel free to check it out below.
To complement the training set, I've also created a training that is 100% focused on STAR techniques of answering behavioural interview questions. In this course, which I called STAR Method Bootcamp I share my insights from over 15 years interviewing candidates across Fortune 500 businesses in the EU in a competency interview style. The training is shorter than Amazon Interview Bootcamp, and it has a live demo of me showing how to apply STAR theory to practice.
My final and probably the most important tip:
The more you can de-sensitize yourself to the interview format, the more in the zone you will feel during the actual interview. You don't have to take it from me. Just consider the Navy SEALs who spend most of their time preparing for ops. Interviewing is the same – the more you practice, the better you will perform.
When I was a candidate, I spent 3 months interviewing around before I found myself in an Amazon loop. I was fortunate that I was very familiar with the competency interview format and had a chance to practice it in multiple interview panels before I interviewed with Amazon. This, coupled with in-depth research about the business, helped me be at my best during the loop and land the job.
Suppose you don't know anyone interviewing with Amazon, then practice with your friends and loved ones. If you know someone who is interviewing with Amazon, link up with them and interview each other. Then give each other feedback on how well you did.
We have a YouTube channel where we started posting Amazon Interview Coaching videos and have plans for more useful content. Feel free to check it out and subscribe.
We've set up a Membership community where current candidates are finding interview partners, discussing preparation strategies and are helping each other out with study resources. Feel free to join.
If you have other interviews lined up with companies outside of your target list that use a competency-based interview style, you can go through "training" interviews the same way as I did.
Lastly, if you would like a full interview simulation with someone who has been an interviewer at Amazon, you can schedule an Amazon Interview Coaching session.
I hope this gives you a decent start with your prep. If you have any questions, feel free to post them here or reach out through our Membership Portal.
Eugene AkA Day One Coach