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The Amazon Interview Process – What to Expect

The Amazon interview process can be grueling. However, the good news is that it’s fairly consistent. Because we know the structure of the interview beforehand, it makes it much easier to prepare and minimizes surprises. It doesn’t mean the interview is easy (not by a long shot!), but it does mean that you will not be going in blind. If you’re preparing for an interview with Amazon, check out our Amazon Coaching Program and speak to a real coach with experience hiring for Amazon.

Here’s the basic process:

Step #1: Screening call with HR or internal recruiter

This lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour. HR or the recruiter will spend most of the time asking questions about your career. They will usually start in chronological order from your first job to your most recent position. You’re expected to answer questions in the STAR format (click here for a detailed guide).

It’s unlikely you’ll get too much feedback during that conversation, and it might seem more “informational” or casual — but it hardly ever is. Job-seekers tend to come out of the conversation feeling good, which is strange because you have no indication of whether or not you made it to the next round! I believe the reason for this is because the recruiter/HR will let people talk most of the time without interrupting them. People love to talk but don’t realize whether or not they’re saying the right things. Here’s the best way to approach this initial call and to make sure you are saying right things:

1) Practice talking about your career from start to finish. There will inevitably be pieces you’ve forgotten, including the reasons you’ve left certain jobs and so forth. The reasons for our decisions often get lost in the fog of time, so you might need to review and brainstorm. Typically, the past five years of your career are considered the most relevant.

2) Go deep. You will likely be asked about your biggest failure and biggest achievement in your career. Choose your examples wisely. It’s better to have one or two very detailed and pertinent examples (in the past five years), rather than ten shallow answers.

3) Don’t talk too much. We have a tendency to be overly descriptive with our answers, but it’s usually best to keep concise. I recommend keeping each answer to one minute or less. If the interviewer wants more details, they will probe.

Step #2: Interview with hiring manager

This portion is either in person or via a phone call with the hiring manager, who would be your direct manager. The hiring manager is on your side. They have the biggest pain point, meaning that they really need to hire someone. It’s in their best interest to be nice to you, and they usually are. That doesn’t mean you won’t get tough questions. However, I find that this first meeting with the hiring manager is going to be one of the main chances where you get to ask specific questions about the position.

For this interview, you should be ready to sell yourself. Prepare fewer questions about the company culture, and more questions about what kind of goals the manager has, what projects you would work on immediately, and their expectations for the position.

The hiring manager will usually be the “easiest” interviewer you come in contact with. Your conversation will likely be about the position itself and your career goals, along with what relevant experience you have for the job. You should use this meeting as a chance to learn as much as possible about the job. You want to figure out: What would I be doing on a daily basis and what will it be like working with this manager?

Here are some good questions to ask them in the first meeting:

  1. What are the three most important leadership principles for this job?
  2. How do you define success for this position? What metrics are you using to measure my
  3. What specific tools will I be using on the job?
  4. What is a typical day like?
  5. What are the opportunities for advancement and growth in this position?
  6. Do you have any hesitations about my skills or experience for this job?

Step #3: Writing Test

For certain positions, you will be required to submit a writing test, which will be roughly two pages and given to you to complete on your own so that you can do it at home. The best way to write this is using the STAR format, which I will explain in the section below. My recommendations are to:

1) Keep the length to two or three pages – no more than that.

2) Revise your writing sample to be as logical and concise as possible.

3) Always include the reasoning behind decisions you made in the story.

4) Include numbers/data where you can.

This writing sample is taken seriously as part of the interview process because as an Amazon employee you will not be using PowerPoint presentations. In fact, PowerPoint presentations are not allowed at Amazon. Instead, you have to write reports frequently and explain your thoughts in a detailed written format.

This is a two-page essay to be written at home about a topic of the hiring manager’s choice. You are typically given a week to complete it. Depending on the level and position, this step may not be required.

Step #4: Final “Loop” Interview

This is anywhere from two to nine interviews you will have, usually in succession. The number of interviewers correlates with the level of the position. So, a Level 7 (L7) position would have seven total interviewers; an L5 would have five, and so on. (Click here to check out salary ranges for Amazon)

The remainder of the loop interviewers will be a grab bag. Some interviewers will be related to your position and others will be from a completely different department. In fact, it is likely you will not even work with most of them in your actual job, or they might not know what job you are interviewing for. They are simply involved in the hiring process to test your culture fit.

The loop interview process also includes someone called a “bar raiser” who tends to be a more senior interviewer. They are there to literally raise the hiring bar. You will not be informed who they are, but they are not in your department and tend to have at least 3+ years at the Company with a strong track record of hiring and retaining employees. There is nothing extra you can do to prepare for this meeting. However, this interviewer will typically be more difficult, because they have more interview experience. Knowing this, I recommend that you are mentally prepared to focus for a 1-hour conversation that could be intense. If you are feeling tired, then it is probably best to reschedule the interview for a time when you are feeling 100% alert and focused.

All of the loop interviewers are there to provide a more objective assessment, and at the end of the day they are looking one thing: your fit with the leadership principles. Or in other words, your fit within Amazon culture.

Step #5: Hiring Meeting

After you finish meeting with all of the interviewers, the people you met with will convene in one room together to debate whether they should hire you or not. Usually, you will know the result within one week of finishing final interviews. There’s not much you can do at this stage, but if you haven’t already, definitely send a thank you note to the people you have met. Sit tight!

Step #6: Offer Meeting

If all is positive, HR will ask for your current and expected salary. Based on this information and the level of the job, they will send you a written offer. Sometimes, HR will invite the interviewee to their office to explain this in person in an “offer meeting” instead of a phone call. This meeting isn’t a place where you will negotiate. Any negotiation should come before the offer meeting.

Step #7: Reference Check

If your position is above L5, Amazon usually requires one or two reference checks, sometimes more for senior roles. These are conducted by the HR manager or hiring manager over the phone and last about 15-20 minutes. Typically they will request at least one former boss and one former peer, or if you are in a management role, they will want to speak one of your former direct reports.

How long does the process take?

I have seen this entire process, beginning with sending an application to getting an offer, take anywhere from three weeks to three months. Usually the more senior the position, the longer the process takes, due to the number of interviews to schedule. After the loop interview, everyone that you met in the process has to convene in one room and debate your candidacy. This is referred to as the hiring meeting. Once they decide, they will be able to give you either a verbal offer or give you feedback on why it didn’t work out.

Depending on everyone’s schedule this can take a while to book. Typically the hiring meeting is scheduled within a week, however for more senior positions, it takes longer, since it is challenging to get VPs and directors in the same room at the same time. Also, there are situations where interviewers can’t come to an agreement in the hiring meeting and the vote is split. In that case, they may have to meet again, or they may invite you in for another interview, a “final, final” interview.

You can reach out to the internal or external recruiter and simply ask them, “When is the date of the hiring meeting?” Once you receive the date and time they will be having the hiring meeting, 99% of the time if you don’t hear back from them on that day it means you didn’t get the job. Unfortunately, it can take them a while to give you the negative feedback. If the feedback is positive, however, they’ll be eager to contact you on that day to tell you the good news.

The process can vary depending on a host of factors, such as the level of the position. For example, if the hiring manager is too busy all week for an interview, then sometimes HR will schedule the interview with a different stakeholder. I have even seen hiring managers meet people twice as part of the loop.

If your position requires lots of data analysis or use of Excel, then you can expect to have a 20-30 minute test included somewhere in the interview process. This test is not communicated ahead of time, but it typically comes in the beginning stages of your interviews, before the loop.

Engineering and Technical Interviews

The leadership principles and your culture fit are critical to getting hired, but the greater your technical expertise, the more flexibility Amazon will have on the ‘culture’ piece.

Amazon will give you either a surprise test during the interview or an actual engineering/ coding test (with advance notice). If you are applying for any position that requires the use of Excel (it will say on the job description), they’ll probably test your pivot table skills for 20-30 minutes as part of the interview process. Be prepared.

If you are applying for a business analyst position, for example, they probably won’t tell you if there is a test, but depending on how technical it is you can at least expect they will test your SQL skills in the interview. This may not necessarily require you to use any database management system, but will come in the form of a question like, “If you have two SQL database tables that are not joined together, how would you create another table to join them?”

For any positions that require programming skills, you can expect the coding test to come at the start of the process. This means it will either be your first or second interview, right after speaking to an HR person/recruiter. This is not going to be an extremely complex test that will require hours of your time. It covers the fundamentals of the language so you should brush up on the basics. You can use a service like Gainlo to work through mock interviews.

Keep in mind there is no rush to get through all of the interviews. If you feel you need 2-3 weeks to brush up on certain skills, or can’t answer some of the questions above, then make sure you practice ahead of time before applying for the job. If you have already applied and feel overwhelmed, and not ready to answer, then request to postpone the meetings.

With that in mind, here are some tips for the technical interviews.

1. Always bring a pen, a backup pen, and paper even though it’s a ‘programming interview’.

2. Don’t be afraid to restate the question/problem. You might have some time limit (an hour), but it makes sense to make sure you fully understand the question, then figure out the best method to solve, and lastly spend a fraction of the time actually executing.

3. Understand the properties of data structures and how to use them.

4. Understand how your language uses internal structures to manage the codes/objects you write.

5. Like all Amazon interviews, being concise is key. This means not talking too much, but not leaving out key points. The interview should never be a monologue.

Your technical skills are an important part of the hiring equation, but it’s also important for interviewers to know what you did, how you did it, and in what context. Using the STAR Method is the best way to to do this (See Chapter 7). Specifically, Amazon hiring managers want to know a few things about your technical expertise. Be ready to address these two big questions.

1. How you work on a team. Are you a strong communicator? Have you worked cross-functionally? What examples do you have of this?

2. Achievements + impact. You might have created some great system, but how was this used? What impact did it have in the business? Can you speak in terms of speed, efficiency, ROI, sales, revenue, marketing, etc.?

Furthermore, there are hundreds of questions that have already been posted online for you to practice: Amazon Interview questions for Engineers. I recommend reading the book Cracking the Coding Interview which will give you a more thorough list of questions to study!

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