Amazon's former senior recruiter breaks down how to get a job at the e-commerce giant

  • Amazon is known for its rigorous application process and hours of interviews.
  • There are 14 rules —leadership principles— that Amazon uses to test candidates.
  • Business Insider spoke to two former employees about how applicants should prepare for the process.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Amazon is known as one of the most difficult companies to interview with, prioritizing candidates' behavioral traits over job qualifications by quizzing them on a set of 14 core leadership principles.

"I'd rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person," CEO Jeff Bezos once said.

Bezos used to interview every single applicant to ensure that, if hired, they would have raised Amazon's bar, and move his company forward.

That process is now crystallized in the "bar raiser", someone who takes part in the hiring process to aid the hiring manager and ensure every new recruit is of the right caliber.

Tom Lawrance, a former MBA recruiter, interviewer trainer, and bar raiser for Amazon in Europe, told Business Insider "Customer Obsession" and "Dive Deep" are the most important of the 14 principles on which candidates are tested. 

He now heads up the global industry careers team at Oxford University's Saïd Business School and coaches MBA students for roles at Amazon.

He said it takes an average of a month between your first contact with an Amazon recruiter and a job offer, but it can take longer depending on the seniority of the role.

Each candidate is screened by Amazon recruiters, their potential boss, and the wider team they will work within.

Business Insider spoke to Lawrance and Carina McLeod, a long-time head of vendor management at Amazon and now head of Amazon retail consulting agency Ecommerce Nurse Ltd, on getting hired and what to expect.

A referral will raise your chances

Tom Lawrance is Amazon's former MBA recruiter for Europe and now head of careers and MBA coach at Oxford University.Tom Lawrance

A referral will give applicants a leg up, while employees get a bonus for making a successful referral. 12% of reviewers on Glassdoor said that they got an interview at Amazon this way. 

"Networking is really, really key … It's something that I've seen to be very effective," said Lawrence.

If you don't know anyone working at Amazon, he suggests using LinkedIn to find former or current employees.

Even better if you connect with the hiring manager, which is "the top priority," Lawrance said.

But if they aren't accessible, go down the line to someone in the specific team where you're looking to apply.

"Someone with tenure is obviously going to be better placed to talk about Amazon rather than someone who's just joined," said Lawrance.

But make sure you've got something in common with that person, whether a previous employer or the business school you've both attended.

"I think if you can go in with a tailored ask to someone you've never met before, and you're specific about why you're coming to them, you've just got a much better chance of getting a response and being able to engage with that person and get their insights," he said. 

Amazon makes resources available online — read them

Carina McLeod was previously a former head of vendor management at Amazon UK and now the founder and CEO of E-commerce Nurse Limited, an Amazon retail consulting agency.VendorSociety

Before applying for a role, understand what Amazon looks for. On its website, Amazon provides tips on how to best prepare your CV and interviews, as well as a detailed description of its leadership principles, which include traits like maintaining high standards, being frequently right, and thinking big.

"Amazon is like no other. You could have an amazing CV and you could be awesome at that job, but if you can't demonstrate that you have the leadership principles which are embedded in the Amazon culture, then chances are you won't get hired," said Carina McLeod.

Understand the role, familiarize yourself with the job description, specifications, and tailor your CV accordingly, she added. Focus especially on which of the skills required for the job could be translated into one of the leadership principles, and write on your resume tangible evidence that proves the skills required.

Write a succinct, one-page CV

Amazon doesn't require a cover letter, which means your CV becomes the primary way to get in the door. Write a digestible one-page resume, using data or tangible evidence to prove what you have achieved in previous roles.

Work experience is more important than any degree. And while most roles at Amazon don't require basic qualifications, a knowledge of the programming language SQL is desirable, Lawrance said.

He told Business Insider to avoid mentioning hobbies and interests unless you have something unique to share that will make you stand out and remembered by the recruiter.

Practice with the STAR format

Amazon's recruitment process can be tough with interviews on your traits and domain expertise before you even reach the four standard interviews (six or seven for senior roles).

Look back at the leadership principles you have picked as the most important for the role while tailoring your CV, study them, and apply the commonly used STAR format, McLeod and Lawrance said. STAR stands for Situation, Research, Action, Result, and is a commonly used method to plan out strong responses to interview questions about, for example, how you handled a particular problem or situation at work.

Candidates are asked to describe a situation where they can demonstrate one of the leadership principles. They are asked to describe the problem and how they solved it. Recruiters will be looking for data-based or tangible answers, McLeod and Lawrance said.

Recruiters or hiring managers may also give specific Amazon scenarios and ask what the candidate would do in that situation. There aren't right or wrong answers, the interviewer will just be looking at how you would solve that problem.

While you can't prepare for all the potential scenarios that might come up, "just going into it [the interview] with an open mind ready for that two-way conversation is the mindset that can help you deal with questions that aren't perhaps the, 'give me an example of' type ones," Lawrance said. 

Both Lawrance and McLeod suggested practicing the interview with friends or family and not preparing a script but instead being ready for follow-up questions.

Be curious and ask questions

Interviews are "a great opportunity for the candidates to show genuine motivation," Lawrance said. "Go in ready to be curious and ready to learn more."

Ask questions such as what the interviewers' experiences are, why they like working for Amazon, and what they find most challenging. 

"These are questions that you can ask every single interviewer you see, and you will get different answers and really useful information to help you understand what it's like to work for that employer," he said.

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