Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles: Everything You Need to Know to Ace Your Interview
“The principles are embodied in the natural way of thought and the common language spoken on a day-to- day basis by Amazonians regardless of function, domain, role, level, business model or target market.”
— Arun Prasath, Principal Engineer at Amazon
After speaking to dozens of hiring managers at all levels, including VPs and directors, the number one piece of advice for interviewing at Amazon was consistent across the board: know the leadership principles like the back of your hand.
You should be living and breathing the Amazon leadership principles before interviewing at Amazon.
The leadership principles are a list of 14 values that define and shape the Company culture. Amazonians use them daily in all levels of decision making. These principles are not just some inspirational wall-hanging that you see at some companies. Being familiar with these principles is the most important part of the interview process.
But it is not enough to know the leadership principles; you also have to understand them conceptually along with specific examples from your background. Preparing for this will likely make up the bulk of your preparation. You should have one example ready for each principle. Successful interviewees usually spend 10-15 hours preparing and at least 3-4 hours practicing mock interviews. I will explain each principle in detail before sharing real Amazon leadership principle interview questions.
#1: Customer Obsession
“Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”
Amazon has been described as the world’s most customer-centric business, and this principle is testament to that. Most companies are competition-focused and want to make sure they do not fall behind. Amazon, on the other hand, looks at their entire business through the eyes of the customer.
Here are a few examples of customer obsession that happen internally:
1. Amazon runs usability tests on all their categories online to make sure the platform is consistent with the customer’s needs.
2. When faced with a difficult product or engineering decision, Amazonians ask the question, “how would the customer respond?”
3. The best customer service means the customer does not need to call Amazon. In other words, issues are solved before they arise and if they do arise, they are resolved quickly. Jeff Bezos frequently brings an empty chair to executive meetings as a reminder that there is always someone else in the room – the customer.
Real questions asked in the interview:
- What is the difference between customer focus and customer obsession?
- How do you pursue real customer feedback, not just solicit for compliments?
- How have you WOW’d your customers in the past?
- Share an example where you use customer feedback to drive an improvement in your previous business.
- When do you think it’s reasonable and appropriate to push back on a very difficult customer?
- How have you used data to better understand your customers/clients?
“Leaders are owners. They think long term and do not sacrifice long-term value for short term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond their own team. They never say ‘that’s not my job.’ Drive the business like your own car, not some cheap weekend rental.”
Working at Amazon often requires you to go beyond the scope of your job description to get the job done. This means acting quickly, gathering resources, and wearing many different hats. That could be anything from simply mean picking up a piece of trash on the floor, to performing sales activities even though you are in a marketing job. Not every day, but you have to be willing to stretch outside the box.
Similarly, when you fail in a project, taking full responsibility and ownership for that failure is expected. Ownership is synonymous with accountability.
- When did you go outside of the boundaries of your defined role to fix a problem?
- Describe a time when you have taken ownership in your job.
- How do you balance focusing on your day to day tasks without losing track of the long term vision?
#3: Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.”
As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Scaling a business that can be used not by just a few thousand people, but by millions of consumers is always a consideration. Amazonians are always thinking about how to make things smoother, faster, cheaper and better for the customer. Often times this takes the form of “kaizen” or continuous process improvement and automation.
- What is the most innovative or inventive thing you’ve achieved (process improvement, product idea)?
- When was the last time you tried something new?
#4: Are Right, A Lot
Leaders have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
Ultimately, your interview comes down to results. Be prepared to discuss the impact you have had in your previous job (in tangible terms) and the business knowledge you have gained over the years. After all, they are expecting you to succeed.
That said, showing humility is expected. If you speak only of your achievements and no mistakes or failures, this is a big red flag for Amazon. They want to know you have experienced a range of failures and successes, which have shaped you as a person and as a leader.
What is your biggest achievement?
What tangible impact did your achievement have?
#5: Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
They want to know your management style and how you have developed people in the past – did they get promoted and what did they achieve? What did you learn from the experiences? Even if you have no management experience or are not interviewing for a management role, you could discuss how you help others around you, how you have trained people, or how you helped new starters in your previous company.
Who was your best hire and why?
What was your biggest hiring mistake? What did you learn from it? How do you earn trust from new employees?
What is your management philosophy?
#6: Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed, so they stay fixed.
This principle relates to everything from your attention to detail to the small things (what a customer thinks about the color of a button), all the way to hiring the right people. Never compromise on this.
How have you raised the bar to increase quality of your work?
#7: Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
This brings up the dichotomy of strategy vs. tactics. Strategy means a longer-term planning of a goal, like a yearly revenue target. The tactics mean the tasks and methods you use to achieve the goal, like the specific clients you will approach and sales techniques you will use. “Think big” means that you come up with the strategy and vision.
You do not have to be a manager of people to apply this principle. I find there are usually two skills that are mentioned together: dive deep vs. think big. People who have been in a deeply analytical position might not always see the bigger picture. On the other hand, people that are always looking months or years ahead may not focus on the detail. You need to be able to strike a balance between the two, at least in the eyes of the interviewer.
Sometimes we can get buried in the details and lose sight of the big picture. How do you ensure this doesn’t happen?
#8: Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
Often, people get caught up in “analysis paralysis,” meaning that they spend too much time planning and do not take action quickly enough. Amazon believes you do not always need to be 100% sure to make a decision. When you are 80% certain and have a strong business judgment, it is better to decide now with limited information rather than wait another nine months.
Describe a time where you made a judgment call with limited information.
- How do you overcome analysis paralysis?
- What is your level of risk tolerance? Why?
- How does this manifest itself in your work?
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention.
There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expenses. Amazon does not have a “country club” culture. They operate like a big startup. Money goes towards improving the customer experience and not throwing money around on non- essentials. Rather, analyzing the best options and spending the money wisely.
Amazon employees notoriously do not get cell phones or generous expense accounts. The Company saves a lot of money on unnecessary perks.
Describe a time when you improved a process with limited budget.
#10: Learn and Be Curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Curiosity leads to creativity. This leads to new ideas, innovation, and frugality. Amazon wants to know how you come up with these ideas – whether that’s staying up to date with trends or blending other disciplines to create something.
How do you find the time to stay inspired, acquire new knowledge, and innovate in your work?
#11 Earn Trust
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume.
They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best. Amazon wants to see how you have been proactive in revealing problems and mistakes. The first step in fixing a problem is admitting it exists. Then open your kimono, figuratively speaking, and take responsibility for your action. This is where humility comes in and remembering not to boast about your achievements.
- Share an example of a failure in your career.
- How do you earn trust from a team that you inherited?
#12: Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ. No task is beneath them.
People struggle with this principle the most. Interviewers will ask you “why, why, why” as a follow up to your answers to get more details. You have to be ready to talk about what YOU did specifically in the situation, and how that affected the business. They do not want to know what others did; rather, they are more interested in your specific accomplishments. Use the pronoun “I” instead of “we” and it will make a big difference to the interviewer.
They are expecting a granular level of detail — i.e., how big the marketing budget was, what your analysis was, WHY you chose that train of thought, how you allocated the budget, what marketing methods YOU used, the metrics and financial impact of that.
- Describe a problem you solved recently. Why did it happen, what was the root cause of the problem?
- Why did you change your last job?
- Walk me through your biggest failure. What could you have done differently?
- If you have a team, can you describe what their daily activities are? How do you measure them?
#13: Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Disagreement is encouraged as long as you have data and a logical point to your disagreement. Think of examples of when you have challenged the status quo.
Give an example when you had to push back to HQ or challenged a decision in your organization.
#14: Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
At the end of the day, it is all about performance and results. Whether that is a financial impact, improving something within the business, or launching a product, you have to show how you made an impact.
- What is your biggest accomplishment?
- What impact did you make in your previous company?
- How do you balance humility with strong leadership?
* * * * *
Bringing it all together
As you have probably noticed, a lot of the leadership principles have significant overlap. “Deliver results” and “are right a lot” are similar. “Invent and simplify” and “frugality” are connected. The principle of “dive deep” can be shown by the way you answer your questions. In other words, you can “dive deep” by being very detailed in your storytelling when describing your past achievements. This is good news because it means that you can find one example that will encompass several principles.
For example, if you are asked to “Describe a problem you solved recently,” you could share a story about a new customer that you acquired. The story could include details of how you had to “earn trust” from your client, brainstorm new ideas in a different industry (“learn and be curious”), and ultimately how you “delivered results.”
This means that you only need to prepare four or five detailed examples of your previous achievements. You can use these examples to answer most questions that Amazon will throw at you. As long as they are related to the leadership principles, you can rest assured that they will be seen as relevant.
Get Matched with an Amazon coach today!