Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world. His financial success is the subject of innumerable articles. But what is less talked about is one key to that success: Amazon’s hiring practices.
As he explains in a Letter to Shareholders just after the company went public: “Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”
Anyone applying for a job at Amazon should realize that expectations are high. Bezos himself acknowledges, “It’s not easy to work here.” As Amazon prepares to hire over 100,000 employees across the United States and Canada in the coming months, job seekers should be aware of the qualities the company examines.
Bezos and his hiring team still consider candidates in terms of three broad questions he set forth in his original 1998 Letter to Shareholders:
1. Is this a person we will admire?
Bezos has said he seeks people who are more than simply competent. “I’ve always tried hard to work only with people I admire,” Bezos observes. “If you think about people you’ve admired in your life, they are probably people you’ve been able to learn from or take an example from.”
Admirable individuals he notes in interviews, are “right a lot,” but they’re also good listeners and willing to change their minds. As he puts it: “The smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.”
Interview questions tests this quality. They include, “Tell me about a time you were given feedback that made you change your strategy.” Candidates applying for job at Amazon need to show they’re open to new ideas, that they’ve responded to the ideas of their colleagues, and that the solutions they’ve put in place are a result of collaborative thinking.
2. Will this person increase the effectiveness of the group?
Bezos looks for candidates who will strengthen the organization. “We want to fight entropy,” he explains. “The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company five years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, ‘The standards are so high now—boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!'”
When interviewing candidates, Amazon brings in employee referees (called “bar raisers”) who assess how the candidate will enhance the corporate culture. They look at how that individual measures up to Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles. Anyone who is preparing for an interview, should master these principles and have anecdotes that show how their qualifications fit with this philosophy.
Recruiters will ask candidates how they drive change in their group. One question they often ask is: “What metrics do you use to drive change?” Or “describe a situation where you had to make a decision without data.”
3. Is this person a superstar?
A third quality that Amazon looks for in job candidates is the capacity to be a “superstar.”
Bezos explains in that same letter to shareholders, “Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It’s often something that’s not even related to their jobs.” He notes, for example, his excitement about having hired a National Spelling Bee champion.
Superstars, for Bezos, can be “mavericks,” “a little bit radical, a bit of a rebel,” as he explained in a 2018 speech. One of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles is that “Leaders think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.” Mavericks see things “with a fresh lens“—a key to innovating.
The company’s recruiters may ask candidates: “Amazon is a peculiar company. What is peculiar about you?” Or they might throw this at a job seeker: “Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?” The best candidates will show they’re different—stars in some way.