Answers for the top 5 Amazon "Ownership" principle interview questions

If you're about to interview at Amazon you should learn the 14 Leadership Principles because their interview questions are based on them. 

I've talked about interview questions based on the first principle, Customer Obsession, here

The second Amazon leadership principle is "Ownership."

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Amazon Leadership Principle #2: Ownership

This is how Amazon explains the principle:

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job." 

If you're not clear on what this definition of ownership means exactly, here are some other ways of understanding it. If you show ownership, you will:

  • Ignore boundaries between jobs and departments if necessary to get your project done. If you see a problem and it’s not in your department, you will try to fix it.

  • Along the same lines, you will manage every dependency and won’t make excuses if something goes wrong. You won't say, "That wasn't my job to take care of."

  • Think about the impact of your decisions on other teams, sites and the customer over time.

  • Consider future outcomes (scalable, long-term value, etc.)

  • Coach and mentor your team to understand the big picture, how their role supports the overall objectives of Amazon, and how it ties to others.

There are different ways your interviewer can ask you about your ownership skills. Here are the top 5 questions, based on my experience with clients.

Top 5 Amazon interview questions asking about ownership

1. Provide an example of when you personally demonstrated ownership.

2. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond.

3. Tell me about a time when you took on something significant outside your area of responsibility. Why was it important? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?

5. Give an example of when you saw a peer struggling and decided to step in and help. What was the situation and what actions did you take? What was the outcome?

Answer the interview questions by telling a story

All five questions need to be answered with a story about a time in your past work experience.

How do you tell your story so that it's clear and the right length? Use the STAR technique. 

The STAR technique is a common structure used to answer interview questions. 

These are the 4 steps of STAR:

S – Situation - background info

T – Task - what you had to do 

A – Activity - what you did - this should be the longest part of the answer

R – Result - positive; quantifiable; what you learned; what you would do differently next time

If you get asked a behavioral question, answer by going through the letters in order.

This is the basic STAR method. You can read this post for more about STAR, including sample answers to some possible questions, if you feel like you need more information before you start using it. 

Sample answers for the top 5 ownership questions

1. Provide an example of when you personally demonstrated ownership

Senior Product Manager's answer:

"When we were trying to penetrate the academic markets, it required a new way of interacting with the customer. No one was clear on what this method was. It wasn't my job to create the marketing plan but I could see that no one was having success with it so I did research and figured it out myself. At our next meeting I presented my method and we implemented it. As a result of this initiative, we've made millions of dollars in this  market."

This answer is good but it would be better if he said what product they were trying to introduce into the academic market, why it required a new way of interacting with the customer, and his approach to entering the market. Specific details make the story more interesting.

2. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond

Going "above and beyond" is an idiom that means you do more than you’re required to do.

Here is one software developer's answer:

"While working on my most recent project, our customer asked to add a new feature to the product. While it was a reasonable request, it went beyond the scope of the project we had worked out and there was no time built in to the schedule for it. My manager decided that we couldn't refuse and insisted that we rework the schedule. This change increased my workload about 25% in the same timeframe. I did my best to complete the extra work in the time given by working later at night and also working some of the weekends. Although it wasn't an ideal situation, we managed to pull it off and the customer was satisfied with our work."

This is a good answer but adding details about the type of product and feature and the exact work the developer was doing would make the answer stronger. Like I said before, details help make the story more interesting. Of course you don't want to get too far into details if the interviewer doesn't understand the technical stuff, but you should try to paint a picture for your interviewer.

3. Tell me about a time when you took on something significant outside your area of responsibility. Why was it important? What was the outcome?

This is an Operations Manager's answer:

"We were moving our site from the old domain to the new domain. The old site generated trials worth $4.50 each and we were getting 1000 per day. The key was to migrate the content pages and have Google reindex the site quickly enough so that organic search results didn't fall. I didn't see anyone treating this project with the sense of urgency or risk mitigation that I thought it deserved, so I took over coordinating it, although it should have been the marketing team leading this effort. We completed the migration in the first quarter, and as a result we made our B2C budget numbers."

4. Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?

Digital Marketing Manager's answer:

"Last year we weren't getting high enough conversion rates on some of our pages for our newest product. They were well below our goal. I was managing the team whose goal was to fix this. I coordinated our landing page optimization efforts and we updated the UI on10+ landing pages in less than three months. We saw conversion lifts between 25% and 45%."

This is a good answer but it's too short. This person could add details about how she did this task. In preparing for your interview, be sure to review the job description, note the key duties it lists, and try to speak to these duties in your stories. For example, let’s say the job description emphasizes team management. In that case, you’d want to tell this same story while also including details related to managing the team. Let’s say instead that the job description emphasizes technical skills. In that case, you’d want to break "updating the UI" into smaller tasks and list them. Or spell out what kind of "conversion lifts" you got.

5. Give an example of when you saw a peer struggling and decided to step in and help. What was the situation and what actions did you take? What was the outcome?

Senior Business Development Manager's answer:

"At my current job, there was an opportunity to enter into a new marketplace. I had a colleague who was preparing the plan to do this. I saw that he was missing some of the key players in the space and so probably wouldn't be successful. I knew the right people to talk to from my work at a past job. Even though this wasn't my project, I wanted to help him because ultimately his deal would help us all, so I made some introductions to the right people. It worked out and he was able to close the deal."

This answer is strong. Note how the interviewee demonstrates ownership by speaking up and helping the person on his team. He didn’t have to do that. Also, note his reason for helping his teammate was about helping the business as a whole.

How to answer Amazon customer obsession questions

I’m happy to say that my clients, who range from senior VP level to entry level, have done well in their interviews and gotten the job they wanted at Amazon. If you’d like to work together on your interview prep, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a free consultation or an interview prep session.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.