The most daunting part about a job application process is arguably the interview portion. Sure you can draft several resumes before coming up with the perfect document to highlight your best qualities, but for interviews, you need to be able to think on your feet and answer in such a way the interviewer doesn’t think you aren’t a waste of time.
Some companies like Amazon, however, are known for their curveball interview questions. Expect questions like “Why Amazon?” and “What is the angle between the hour hand and minute hand in an analog clock?” and not the usual “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” question asked by almost every HR hiring manager in existence.
Here’s everything you can expect from applying for a job in Amazon. From the job process, to what you need to know about interviews, to some of the questions that may pop up – assuming you ever reach that far.
The Job Application Process at Amazon
Despite being a multinational company, Amazon and its job application process are fairly uniform. So, if you’re applying for one of its offices outside of the United States, this process may still apply to you, regardless of location or whether you’re applying for an entry-level or managerial position. Based on job coaches online, Amazon’s hiring process has five main steps.
Application and Interview Schedule
After submitting your resume and job application to Amazon’s career website or through any recruitment website like Glassdoor or LinkedIn, if an Amazon recruiter is interested in hiring you, they’ll reach out to you via email or LinkedIn to ask for a phone interview. Job coaches recommend scheduling the call as soon as possible and not to extend the waiting time in an attempt to get ready.
First Phone Interview
The recruiter will call during your agreed upon time. This will last around 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how well it goes. During this phase, the recruiter will go over your resume, assess your interest level, and see if you have the skills and attitude they’re looking for to fit the job position. They may also ask your salary expectations, location, and other matters that could make you say no to the job – the sooner they know your expectations don’t fit, the less time they’ll waste on you.
Additional Phone Interviews
If your interview with the recruiter goes well, you will have to take more phone interviews with higher management. This can include the hiring manager, your potential future team leader, or anyone you’ll be working under should you get the job. Their questions will range from questions about your behavior, how well you work in a team, and if you’re competent in certain skills that the recruiter may not be equipped to understand (e.g. technical software questions).
If you can perform well in all phone interviews, you will be asked to visit the office for an onsite interview. Amazon doesn’t do interviews the traditional way (meaning there’s a chance you won’t be in a room facing a table of one or more people), so expect that you’ll be talking to four or more people who may even take you out to lunch.
Another unique thing about Amazon’s interview process is that they supposedly have an assigned “bar raiser.” This person may look like an ordinary supervisor who will ask you a few questions, but this person is actually a trained expert who memorizes Amazon’s leadership principles. They are there to see not only if you’re a good fit for Amazon, but whether you are likely to raise the performance of the office. Out of all the interviewers, their say has the biggest weight in your application.
The Job Offer (Or Not)
Within a week, you should receive a call on whether or not you passed the interviews. If you didn’t make it, they will still call, but the conversation will only last a few minutes because they generally do not give interview feedback. If you’re still interested in applying, you can wait for about six months before re-applying.
In case one of the interviewers rejects you but the recruiter feels like you’d still be a good fit in the company, they may offer to forward your resume to other departments to see if other managers would be interested in hiring you.
And in case you get an offer, you will receive feedback, salary negotiations, and everything else in that call. When you agree on your compensation (which traditionally consists of a base salary, salary bonus, and restricted stock units from Amazon), they’ll send you the paperwork you need to complete.
What You Need to Know About Job Interviews
Generally speaking, job interviews may be the most nerve-wracking part of a job application process because it requires you to think on your feet. However, it’s still a necessary part of all job applications because recruiters want to see how well you can think on your feet in a pressured situation. Will you be calm and collected and provide a smart answer, or will you crash, burn, and panic for every simple question?
One important thing I learned from guidance counselors, speech trainers, and interview coaches over the years about job interviews is that the purpose of every job interview question is not the question at face value, but the underlying meaning of every question. Take, for example, this scene from the 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada.
If you’re reading between the lines and looking at this scene from a recruiter or a hiring manager’s perspective, you can see how Andy is unfit for the job position.
Andy, a fresh graduate who has never written anything professionally, tells Miranda, the most influential person in the fashion industry, that she wanted to be a journalist but is settling to be her assistant because she’d rather be her assistant than write for a vehicle magazine, the only writing job available to her at the time. Andy then proceeds to show how little interest she has in fashion or Runway magazine – the very magazine she’s applying for. Andy makes it clear that she has no interest in working there, didn’t do her research, and doesn’t even know who Miranda Priestly is.
To a recruiter, that would have been clear signs that this person wouldn’t show remote interest in the job and would have been rejected almost immediately. It’s no wonder Miranda dismissed Andy after a minute of asking simple questions, only rehiring her when Andy shows she is willing to work hard for the job.
Now, look at the questions Miranda is asking: Who are you? What are you doing here? So, you don’t read Runway? And before today, you had never heard of me? Simple enough questions, but if you look at the underlying message, you’ll understand why Miranda asked these questions.
“Who are you?” = Introduce yourself and explain why I should spare some time out of my busy schedule to interview you when I can be working or interviewing someone else.
“What are you doing here?” = You failed to explain why I should care, so tell me why you’re here and why you belong.
“So, you don’t read Runway?” = I’m guessing you’re not interested in the fashion industry, something I am passionate about, and don’t really want to be here.
“And before today, you had never heard of me?” = Yup, you’re not interested or even remotely aware of the fashion industry. But I want to see if you even know just a little bit about the fashion industry by knowing who you’re working for.
So, when looking at interview questions, you shouldn’t take them at face value. Instead, you should be looking at their underlying meaning in context to your interview. For example, here are a few of Amazon’s trickiest questions and what they mean.
It’s obvious why a lot of people look for work: for the money. But when Amazon interviewers ask “Why Amazon?” it’s because they want to see if there’s anything else compelling you to join other than a paycheck. Because if you’re only entering Amazon for the salary, what’s to keep you from leaving Amazon if another company offers you a higher one?
With this question, it’s a lot better to answer emotionally rather than rationally. Because if we’re talking rational, you’ll have to be honest and talk about pay because there’s no other rational answer other than “you guys were hiring, and I need money.”
But with an emotional answer, you get to highlight your values and goals and align them with Amazon’s goals. This not only shows them that you did your research on the company, but that you’re willing to stay in the long run because it’s not just about money. And based on Amazon’s slogan for recruitment – Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History. – which Jeff Bezos supposedly made himself, it’s important for people to do more than just go in and out of Amazon’s office for a paycheck.
If you saw a co-worker steal a quarter, would you report it?
This is a question that gets you thinking critically because there is no right answer to this question. If you say you wouldn’t report your co-worker, you’ll appear dishonest and uncaring about the consequences even for the smallest mistakes and infractions. But if you said you would, it would show that you are petty and unwilling to see the bigger picture to understand why a co-worker would steal an insignificant amount.
This may look like a yes or no question, but it’s not. Because a yes or no answer will lead to the two results above, you have to come up with a third out-of-the-box answer that highlights your best qualities. You could say that a quarter is too small of an amount for a co-worker to steal, so you take a moment and try to clarify with your co-worker about what they were doing. After all, you only saw them, but there could have been a reason you did not see.
If they really weren’t stealing and misunderstood, you avoided humiliating your co-worker and yourself over a quarter. If they were stealing, you find out why they’d steal just a quarter and, because it’s a small amount, see if you can do anything to help them before escalating the situation to HR. Either way, by privately confronting your co-worker, you act accordingly that doesn’t condone thievery or seem petty over a small situation.
Tell me about a project that went beyond the scope of your work.
You might have noticed that this is a leading question which assumes you did do a project that needed you to go above and beyond. The thing about Amazon is that their interview process is so rigorous because, when its CEO Jeff Bezos first started to grow Amazon, he’d join the interview of each employee (even the entry-level ones) because he wanted to see if they were a good fit for his company in the long run.
So, the fact that you made it this far in the application process means that they assume you are the type of person to go above and beyond their job description for the interests of the company. If you answer that question with something like “I never go above or beyond the scope of my job description,” don’t be surprised if the interview ends shortly after. They’re not interested in what that project really is – they just want to know that you are willing and capable to excel.
How do you handle missing a deadline?
The cookie-cutter question most interviewers ask is, “How do you handle deadlines?” and most would say something about being very precise, not missing their deadlines, or getting the work done long before the deadline is due. However, this question spins it around and assumes you have missed the deadline, so don’t answer this with, “oh, that’s not possible – I never miss deadlines!” because this question already establishes that you have.
Unlike the “How do you handle deadlines?” question that looks into your ability to manage a time-pressured project, this question is looking for your ability to handle mistakes and how to fix them. Will you look back and see what you did wrong, or will you apologize and move forward to getting the job done in such a way that it doesn’t inconvenience everyone involved and waiting for you to finish your task? How you handle your mistakes says a lot more than your ability to avoid them.
Do you know our CEO? How do you pronounce his name?
This is similar to Miranda Priestly’s own “Have you heard of me?” question. Amazon may be a household name like Facebook and McDonald’s, but compared to CEOs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, you don’t really hear Jeff Bezos’ name outside of business articles. So, for you to know Jeff Bezos’ name and how it’s pronounced, you have to be actively reading articles about him and Amazon on the news and watching news reports about him.
If you answer this question sounding like you read his profile on Wikipedia or Biography.com, you’ll come off looking like a fresh graduate who couldn’t be bothered to learn more about him, Amazon, and its current news in the market. Make sure you do your research on current news articles about him and the company if you want to look prepared.
Tell the story of the last time you had to apologize to someone.
The problem with the cookie-cutter question about strengths and weaknesses is that some people don’t know how to properly answer this question and says things like “I’m too nice” and “I’m a hard worker” as their weakness. So, this question sets the stage where you and your shortcomings and weaknesses, whatever they may be, have negatively affected someone. This question explores how you handled the effects of that weakness.
Start by telling them a story that establishes the scenario. A person wouldn’t get mad at you for being too nice or being too hardworking, so you’re going to have to tell them a mistake you did. You have to show not only you apologizing but how you fixed the mistake and made it better for the person that was affected.
Job interviews keep you thinking and on your feet, and Amazon knows this very well. When entering your job interview, be ready to handle any question that may come your way. But since their questions were designed to catch you off-guard, the best thing you can do is to try to stay calm, try to quickly understand the purpose of each question, and answer as best as you can.