How to answer Amazon "Hire and develop the best" interview questions

The sixth Amazon leadership principle is “Hire and Develop the Best.” If you’re preparing for an interview at Amazon, 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 “Hire and Develop” principle

The sixth Amazon Leadership Principle is “Hire and Develop the Best.” Let’s look at how Amazon explains the principle:

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. 

What does the “Hire and develop the best” leadership principle mean?

It means that hiring the right people, ones who can do the job exceptionally well but who’re also interested in growing, and then helping them learn, is a huge aspect of a managerial or leadership role at Amazon. 

Interview questions related to “Hire and develop”

If your interviewer asks about this leadership principle, he or she might ask one of the following questions:

  • What is your experience with hiring people?

  • How do you ensure you hire the best people?

  • Give me an example of one of the best hires of your career. How did this person grow throughout their career? What did you identify during the hiring process that drove her success?

  • How do you help your employees grow?

  • Tell me how you help your team members develop their careers. Can you give me two to three examples of a specific person in whom you invested and how you helped them develop their careers, including one who wasn’t being successful but in whom you saw potential and chose to invest?

  • Give me an example of a time you provided feedback to develop and leverage the strengths of someone on your team. Were you able to positively impact that person’s performance? What were your most effective methods?

  • How do you manage your top performers differently?

  • Give me an example of someone who was promoted one or two levels up in the organization, not just because they were a star who would naturally rise, but due to your coaching efforts.

  • What is the composition of your current team, and how is your team organized?

    How to answer interview questions related to the “Hire and develop” leadership principle

    The key to answering these questions is to demonstrate certain skills in your answers. You’ll want to show that:

    You know how to hire excellent people

    You take the interviewing process seriously. You understand the job and identify the right job description and candidate profile to attract the best candidates. You focus on hiring people who will raise the high performance bar.

    You recognize strong performers and mentor them

    At some companies, good performers are left alone – because they are already doing a good job – and bad performers get all the attention – in order to improve their performance. Amazon is what is called a “high-performance management culture,” which means that the company believes that top performers need attention and guidance to ensure that they have the opportunity to provide their best at Amazon.

    So if you currently work at a company where the attention goes to low performers, you should reorient yourself before you think of your answers to this. Since Amazon believes that spending time on top performers is one of the best uses of a leader’s time, don’t say that you spend an equal amount of time mentoring all of your employees, whether they’re top performers or not.

    You try to help your people grow. You make it a priority to coach and teach employees. You provide regular feedback.

    Of course you want to keep the best performers on your team, because you want good workers, but as a leader and manager, you need to care about their careers as well as your team performance. If you can help an employee learn, they will at least be likely to stay with the company as they grow, even if not on your team.

    Show that you know what each employee wants and that you are trying to help them achieve that goal. You help employees drive their own development and learning by regularly discussing career goals, strengths, and areas for development. Show that you identify development activities and moves for all employees.

    You value people who are not like you

    Diversity is a strength and will help you stand out.

    Do you hire people you feel comfortable with or do you hire the best person for the job?

    Tech has a diversity problem, and if you are a white man (which many of my clients are), you are probably not very aware of diversity. If you’ve created a team that isn’t all white men, consider it an accomplishment and be prepared to speak to it. How did you make diversity a priority? This is a strength you can talk about.

    Sample answers for the “Hire and develop” principle

    Question: What is your experience with hiring people?

    Answer by a VP of Sales: 

    “When I took over the sales team, the CEO told me that my number one priority needed to be hiring. We didn’t have enough people to meet our goals for the year. Focusing on hiring was hard for me because I knew there were a lot of processes that we needed to work on as a team besides hiring, but I agreed to focus my efforts there because I knew that the best thing I could do in the long term for the team was to make it more resilient.

    It was true that most members of the team had been around for a while and we really needed some new faces help execute against the new strategy. My approach first and foremost was to tap into my own network, which is pretty deep, to look for the people who were the best I’d ever worked with. I specifically went after people who I was a little intimated by because of their deep skills, because I knew it wasn’t about me but about making the team stronger. The second thing I did was to tap into my team’s network. I told a key number of them that hiring needed to be one of our top priorities, and we came up with a process for screening and interviewing candidates. This approach worked and became self-perpetuating because, as new people came on board, and became excited about what we were doing as a company they recruited from their own network.”

    Why is this answer good?

    This answer is good because it shows that this VP understands the idea of hiring excellent people, in particular how to focus on hiring people who will raise the performance bar. She doesn’t let her ego get in the way of hiring smart people, maybe people who are even smarter than she is.

    You can probably use a version of this answer yourself, no matter what job you’re in, because this is a common situation, although of course you’ll need to customize it to your own experience.

    Question: Tell me about the best hire of your career

    “The best hire I ever had was also my toughest hire. I knew the candidate was strong, but she continued to hold out and ask a lot of questions. She wanted to talk to other members of the team, and she wanted to know everything about the company. The process went on for so long I started to question whether it was worth it. I was pretty frustrated and wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but a colleague gave me some great advice, convincing me that the candidate who asks the best questions usually turns out to be the best person for the job. I decided to remain patient with her and when she (finally) came aboard, she hit the ground running and soon became one of the star performers in the company. I learned a lot about what talent really looks like from the experience.”

    Why is this answer good?

    This answer is good because it emphasizes the quality of the person being hired. The manager was willing to wait and put up with aggravation in order to get someone excellent.

    Question: Give me an example of a time you provided feedback to develop and leverage the strengths of someone on your team. Were you able to positively impact that person’s performance? What were your most effective methods?

    “As I got to be a more senior manager and started hiring managers, I was hiring people who were further into their career. I started to see that they didn’t need as much guidance as I had been used to giving. I realized that what they really needed was someone to help them clear the path so that they could succeed. I changed the way I dealt with those type of employees; now I make it a priority to meet with them one-on-one and let them set the agenda. I tell them that at our meeting we will have nothing to talk about unless they bring something to talk about. They tend to bring things up that are blocking them. We talk about that and either I intervene directly or I give them advice on how to clear the roadblocks.

    On the other hand, if I that someone is on the wrong path, I let them know right away. In the past, I would sometimes give my team the benefit of the doubt and not share my feedback. I learned that not helping them see what I see was really a disservice to them. Now I give feedback early and often, and if someone is on the wrong path, I help them see it. Feedback is ongoing and built into the culture of the team, not something that happens quarterly.”

    Why is this answer good?

    This answer is good because he’s focused on developing his strong performers, rather than spending his time on the weak ones. Note how he emphasizes that he’s learned from his past experience and how he’s capitalizing on that experience for the good of his team and the company. This is the type of person that Amazon wants to hire.

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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.