How to answer Amazon "Learn and be curious" interview questions

The fifth Amazon leadership principle is “Learn and be Curious.” 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 explains the “Learn and be curious” leadership principle

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

What does “Learn and be curious” mean exactly?

I think this is an easy principle to understand, right? It’s asking you if you are the kind of person who is always learning and improving. How do you keep up with the trends and new developments in your field? Do you try to do things a new way even if there’s no “need” for it? Are you open to learning new things?

Some typical interview questions for the “Learn and Be Curious” principle

  • How do you stay inspired, acquire new knowledge, or innovate in your work?

  • What can you teach me in 5 minutes that I don’t already know?

  • Tell me about a time when you influenced change by only asking questions.

  • Tell me about a time when you solved a problem through just superior knowledge or observation.

  • Tell me about a time you hired someone smarter than you.

  • Tell me something interesting you've learned recently.

Good answers for two “Learn and be curious” interview questions

Question: “How do you stay inspired, acquire new knowledge, or innovate in your work?”

Answer: “For my job, I need to understand business trends, and I’m also personally interested in what’s going on in the world. I read many newspapers every day, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. I also read magazines, including the Economist and the New Yorker. In addition, I spend quite a bit of time reading news on Twitter and other places online. As a VP of Product for an EdTech company, I oversee a team that produces videos and courses on tech subjects, so I absorb a lot of the newest information there too.”

Why is this answer good? This answer is good because it demonstrates that the interviewee prioritizes learning in his daily habits, and he ties the learning directly back to his job. Ultimately, the interview is about knowing whether you can do the job, so your answers should relate to the job duties.

Answer this question by being honest about how you keep up with new technology and new trends in your field. What do you do? You probably read blogs, newspapers, and/or books, or maybe you listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos. There are probably other things you do too – do you take classes at a local school or online, somewhere like Coursera or EdX? Are you enrolled in some kind of certification program? Did you just finish a degree? I’ve also had clients successfully answer questions about this principle by describing a lecture series that they attended at lunch in their offices or a conference where they met industry leaders.

Show your interest or passion when you talk about whatever it is you do.

Don’t tell the interviewer you don’t have the time to do any of these things because you have a family and a job — I hear this answer a lot from clients, and I warn them that it’s a mistake. The interviewer will think you’re a bad candidate if you don’t have a list of ways you’re keeping up with new developments.

When clients can’t think of anything at all that they do to keep learning — and you’d be surprised at how often I hear it — I know they’re never going to get a job at Amazon.

Question: “What can you teach me in 5 minutes that I don’t already know?”

Answer: “I’m going to teach you how to make tea the right way. The most important part is the water. What kind should you use? Purified and spring are the best, because they’re free from pollutants and other harmful substances. Start with cold water and then boil gently. Don’t boil for very long, because this can remove flavor from the water….”

(No, I’m not going to write the whole answer. Hopefully, you get the point.)

What does this question have to do with learning? Actually, it’s a test of your communication skills — can you explain something simple in a clear way using good English? It’s also a test of your speed of processing — you probably weren’t prepared for this, so can you think quickly enough to find a good topic? It’s a personality test — do you get nervous and act uncomfortable or do you handle the situation calmly? It’s also an intelligence test — do you choose something simple like how to open a bag of cookies or something more complicated and relevant to your job like how to write a good SQL query? Not that my tea example was bad. If you explain how to make tea and you do it well, the answer will be good enough.

But this isn’t a trick question. Don’t obsess about picking the perfect example. Just pick something interesting and start talking.

General advice for these answers

If you’re a driven Type A person you aren’t going to struggle with these answers. However, you may not be able to come up with an example of influencing change or solving a problem in a particular way if you haven’t prepped for it.

Don’t worry if you’ve never hired someone, because you probably won’t get that question if so, and if you do you can be honest and say you’ve never hired anyone.

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 I’m happy to say that after working with me, my clients, who range from entry level to executive level, have done well in their interviews and gotten the job they wanted at Amazon.

If you’d like to work with me to prepare for your interview, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a free 15 minute consultation or a full interview prep session.

Interview Genie is an American interview prep company specializing in interviews at American companies.