Former Amazon and Apple hiring manager, interviewer, senior Marketing and Sales leader. Co-founder of Day One Careers, mentor, interview and leadership coach.
Our founders, GG and Evgeny, spent years at Amazon as senior leaders, interviewers and, in GG’s case, a Bar Raiser. While at Amazon, we interviewed extensively for our own teams and partner teams.
At some point, we both realised that candidates who received additional help and coaching were well-prepared and tended to do better in interviews. Evgeny even ran an experiment: rather than rejecting unsuccessful candidates at the first Phone Screen, he would offer them essential coaching and progress them to another Phone Screen to see how they perform with better prep. Sure enough, they performed a lot better in their Amazon interviews.
So we decided to pull together our top tips and advice about answering Amazon interview questions based on the 16 Leadership Principles. We wrote this article from the perspective of experienced ex-Amazon interviewers and a Bar Raiser (in GG’s case). Our intention is not to help you pass the interview no matter what. We won’t be posting canned answers to Amazon interview questions. Instead, we’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 we no longer work for Amazon, we are passionate believers in Amazon’s hiring process.
Amazon Competency-based (Behavioural) Interviews
You’ll have to pass competency-based interviews for whichever role you are interviewing for at Amazon (tech, non-tech, semi-tech – e.g. AWS Solutions Architect). 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 common sense and is recommended by Amazon recruiters. Just study Amazon’s Career website and pay close attention.
What does the Amazon 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 way to assess whether a candidate will succeed 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.
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 a candidate’s success in the business. So every business picks its dojo – some do it intuitively, and some look for evidence. Amazon decided to stick to competency interviewing, and this format is not going away soon.
What behaviours should you demonstrate in an Amazon interview?
Amazon looks for behaviours that correspond to Amazon’s business management mantra and cultural DNA – the 16 Leadership Principles (or LPs).
What are the 16 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 ask your partner to “Disagree and Commit” with you on picking the style for a new couch. You’ll encourage 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, YouTube, 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 (more often two), 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. We’ve also pulled together a vetted list of Amazon interview questions to give you a sense of some of the most frequently asked themes. Use this list exercise to get a flavour of what the questions may sound like but do not make this the central part of your Amazon interview preparation.
How should I respond to Amazon interview questions?
You should respond with an introductory story that lasts around 10 minutes. The response should be structured in a STAR (or SOAR) format: Situation, Task (or Obstacle), Actions, and 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 qualitative – regardless, you should be able to explain how you knew you succeeded or failed.
Note that some interviewers will allow you to tell your opening story and ask questions afterwards. Other interviewers will follow a more conversational style and interrupt your storytelling early during the interview. You should prepare for both Amazon interview styles.
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 role level. An interviewer would vote to hire you if you managed to convince them that your behaviours 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 Amazonian interviewers assess you against LPs, it’s helpful when you are: calm, composed and relaxed, 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. 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 our vetted list). Do not overdo this. Use it to better understand 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, are your treasure chest. Lean into that part of your academics for stories and situations (Amazonian interviewers would have seen your resume, transcripts and grades – whatever you shared with them).
Aim for around 10 minutes for an opening story, then invite drill-downs. If your interviewer prefers a more conversational style, be ready for drill-downs to start early on during the interview. If you join Amazon, you must be comfortable 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. We’ve interviewed seasoned pros and recent grads, and trust us – if you have what Amazon is looking for, you can 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 authentic. If you don’t have results 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 you shared was a success. Amazon believes that there are lessons learned in EVERY case (we also think 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.
Be sure to look after seniority in your responses. Amazon has a very particular idea of what they expect from senior hires. Miss this bar, and you may end up with a down-levelled offer (or a rejection).
We’ve created comprehensive training that should give you everything you need to know to prepare for Amazon’s competency-based interviews and learn how to answer Amazon interview questions. We call it Amazon Interview Whizz, and this course has over 15 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. We even give you 16 fully deconstructed mock interviews – one for every Leadership Principle.
If you think you know Amazon’s Leadership Principles by heart, we have created Behavioural Interview Whizz – a course focused 100% on Behavioural Interviewing. This course aims to help you become a pro at answering behavioural interview questions, no matter what company you are interviewing with.
All courses are based on our insights from literally 1000s of hours of interviewing and coaching candidates and making hiring decisions at Amazon.
Here is our 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 us. 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.
If you don’t know anyone interviewing with Amazon, practice with your friends and loved ones. If you know someone 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 with hours of valuable Amazon interview preparation content. Feel free to check it out and subscribe.
We’ve set up a community where current candidates are finding interview partners, discussing preparation strategies and helping each other out with study resources. We highly recommend that you join and find interview partners. Your access to the basic community is FREE, and you will get it together with the FREE Taster Course focused on Customer Obsession.
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. Note – these sessions are in high demand, and you can book a session only if you have purchased one of our full courses (Amazon Interview Whizz or Behavioural Interview Whizz)
We hope this gives you a decent start with your prep.
Evgeny and GG