Tips for answering Amazon "Are Right, A Lot" leadership principle interview questions

The fourth Amazon leadership principle is “Are Right, A Lot.” If you’re preparing for an interview there, you should practice answering questions based on this principle.

If you don’t know about the Amazon leadership principles, you should read this article about interviewing at Amazon first.

How Amazon describes the “Are Right, A Lot” principle

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

What does “Are Right, A Lot” mean exactly?

I usually get questions from my clients about what this principle means because it’s a hard one to understand.

Here’s an excerpt of The Amazon Way by John Rossman, a book you should read if you want to know more about Amazon. He can explain the thinking behind this principle better than I can. This should help you understand what the principle means:

Leaders at Amazon are right—not always, but a lot. They have strong business judgment, and they spread that strong judgment to others through the clarity with which they define their goals and the metrics they use to measure success.

There is a high degree of tolerance for failure at Amazon. But Jeff Bezos cannot tolerate someone making the same mistake over and over. Therefore, leaders at Amazon are expected to be right far more often than they are wrong. And when they are wrong—which of course will happen when a company continually pushes the envelope—they are expected to learn from their mistakes, develop specific insights into the reasons for those mistakes, and share those insights with the rest of the company.

Three common interview questions for “Are Right, A Lot” and tips for answering them

This principle has several different components so there is no single typical question for this principle. (Just another reason people have trouble with it.)

Let’s look at some ways in which an interviewer might ask about this principle:

Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

The interviewer might use different words, such as “failure” or “error in judgement” or “bad decision” or “regret.” You can use the same example as your answer no matter how the question was asked.

How to answer

Yes, it’s okay to admit you made a mistake. Everyone makes them. Don’t say that you’ve never made a mistake. That shows you don’t tell the truth or don’t realize when you make mistakes.

But don’t talk about making a mistake with something that’s absolutely crucial to your job. If the job you’re trying to get is Manager of X and, in your example, you talk about how you did a bad job with X yesterday… this is not a good way to answer the question. You should try another approach so that you don’t throw doubt on your skills – you can see how saying you’re not good at or weren’t good at X is a bad idea if you’ll need that in the job. Ideally, you want to choose a story that talks about a skill a bit more removed from your potential duties at Amazon, or something that happened a long time ago.

Try to end on a positive note, by showing what you learned from the mistake. The interviewer will be looking for this. If you have a good statement about what you learned it’s okay if you say you made a mistake with a skill crucial for the job.

Tell me about a time you disagreed with a colleague (or a boss). What is the process you used to work it out?

How to answer

In answering this question you want to show you’re (1) a nice person but (2) you can be firm if your opinions are challenged and you can get your program/idea implemented if it’s the best choice. A good answer will show both (1) and (2). Unfortunately, a lot of people focus only on (2), showing how they met their goal, but not showing how they were easy to work with. In fact people frequently show that they were actually difficult to work with (they usually don’t know they’re doing this).

Is being nice really necessary? Do interpersonal relationships really matter? Isn’t being good at your job more important than being likable? Well, Amazon fosters a culture of assertiveness (some call it “sharp elbows”). In a culture like this it can be hard to meet your goals while also maintaining good relationships, but if you destroy your relationships you will probably ultimately not be able to achieve your goals because your goals often involve working with other people. This is really the reason you need to show you can “get along with” others, because someone who can’t maintain relationships will ultimately not be successful at Amazon because no one will want to help them. There are exceptions, of course, but for most people being good at interpersonal relationships is a real plus at work.

A good way to show that you’re nice is to show that you can be calm and have rational discussions if you’re challenged. Talk about how you had a discussion with the person you disagreed with and showed them data (calmly) about your idea. Say something that shows you respected the person you were talking to.

Besides showing you’re nice, you also have to show that you’re capable of achieving your goal. You don’t want to be so nice that you agree with the other person just to be nice. If you have an opinion on something but someone doesn’t agree, do you agree with them to end the conflict? Some people (many people) do. Or do you discuss the issue until you can convince them you are right (if you are)?

There are ways to convince people that your idea is correct that are also respectful. For instance, you can show that you can use data to prove that your opinion is the right one. Showing data is not hostile or confrontational and is always a good way to make your point.

Give me an example of making an important decision in the absence of good data. What was the situation and how did you arrive at your decision? Did the decision turn out to be the correct one?

How to answer

They want to know if you have good intuition, and how you put that intuition to work.

You need to be able to describe the process you used to do something. Explain it step by step. You probably looked for as much data as you could, then used your past experiences to guide you as well (this is where intuition comes from). Talk about the exact ways you collected data and also the past experiences you used as a guide. They are looking for details.

Remember the first leadership principle, “Customer Obsession”? One way to approach this question is to describe how you were seeking a solution that would benefit customers. Maybe you didn’t have all the data, but if you’ve ever developed an intuition for what works for customers and you’ve relied on that intuition for a solution, shape that experience into a story.

These are three questions that can be used to ask about this principle, but there are also others.

Other possible interview questions for “Are Right, A Lot”

  • Describe a situation where you thought you were right, but your peers or supervisor didn’t agree with you. How did you convince them you were right? How did you react? What was the outcome?

  • Tell me about a time when you observed two business opportunities to improve ROI, and how you determined they were connected.

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

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