My first job interview at Amazon was for a role on the Marketplace team, where millions of small- and medium-size businesses sell their products to customers around the world. I wanted the job, but my approach to interviewing for it led me to landing a different one–roughly a year later–that hadn’t existed at the time.
Many candidates typically go into job interviews with the same strategy: show your strengths, prove your worth, exude confidence, and tie your experience to the needs and qualifications spelled out in the job description. This is usually all it takes to make it to the second round of interviews but may not be different or unexpected enough to seal the deal.
I used my Amazon interview not just to pitch myself as a great hire but to pitch an idea as well–the notion that the company should create a store where innovators and inventors could sell their products directly to customers exclusively through Amazon, something that Marketplace wasn’t set up to do. I got the job at Marketplace, and a year later–with the help of great managers and an incredible team–Amazon Exclusives was born, along with a new position for me to help steer it.
Here’s how I prepared for that interview–and what it takes to position yourself not just for the job you’re gunning for but for a future one as well.
Ask Your Own Questions, Not Someone Else’s
Hiring managers and recruiters screen thousands of candidates a year, and they’ve heard every question under the sun. So use your chance to ask questions to show that you think critically. One of Amazon’s “leadership principles” is “Learn and be curious,” which I think should apply to every employee everywhere. After all, curiosity is an in-demand job skill no matter where you work.
So show it off! For example, if the team you’re interviewing with manages a specific product, is there a customer pain point that you’re curious to know how they’re navigating? If the business is new, do you want to know what bumps they’ve hit during launch? Do your homework and show you can add value before you even get in the door–simply by asking smart questions. As a hiring manager, I find I get as much insight about candidates from the questions they ask as I do from their responses to questions I ask them.
Be Self-Aware (And Humble)
We talk a lot at Amazon about being “vocally self-critical,” which simply means acknowledging that no one’s perfect. The most entrepreneurial job candidates–those who succeed at positioning themselves for roles that don’t yet exist–understand their own weaknesses and use that self-knowledge to push themselves to learn more and fill in their knowledge gaps. Once hired, they proactively surround themselves with people who are experts in areas they themselves don’t excel at.
So yes, you need to show confidence and sell yourself a bit, but you should also use your interview to explain how you’re constantly learning and developing–and plan to continue to do that in any new role you assume.
Make Sure Your Personal Brand Is Customer-Centric
You’ve probably heard Amazonians talk about this a lot. Starting from the customer and working backward has generated of all our biggest innovations. To me, this is the ultimate entrepreneurial mind-set, and it can get you far at companies well beyond just Amazon.
Approach your job interview through this framework. Think about what you want the hiring manager or recruiter to take away from your conversation: What’s the core of your personal brand? Then make sure you can explain how the answer to that question helps you deliver what the company’s customers need–why what you uniquely can do helps them.
Show Your Appetite For Failure
When I’m looking to grow my team, I want to hire people who bring new ideas to the table and push the status quo. Anytime a team or company tries something new, they’ll either succeed or learn something valuable; both those outcomes are important. For job candidates who are really thinking ahead–not just about the job they’re interviewing for–this attitude toward failure is indispensable. It’s your job to show hiring managers you can embrace screw-ups as long as you’ll learn from them.
This encourages healthy risk-taking. Removing the fear of failure from the equation and replacing it with a lesson frees you up to take chances–which every employer should want you to do. So tell the hiring manager about a time you failed, why you failed, and what you learned from it.
I joke often that I have my dream job because I created it, but I didn’t do it alone. I surfaced an idea, had great mentors and leaders to support and influence that idea, and then I kept the momentum going in order to ultimately launch that idea. Obviously, there’s no way I could’ve accomplished all of that over the course of a job interview. But that was the crucial first step nonetheless.
Before going into your next interview, ask yourself what it would take to turn any role at the company into your dream job. Then take that and work backward. If you can see the steps that will get you from here to there, the hiring manager will see them, too.
Kyle Walker is Head of New Business Strategy at Amazon.