How to answer Amazon "Insist on the Highest Standards" interview questions

The seventh Amazon Leadership Principle is “Insist on the Highest Standards.” If you’re preparing for an interview at Amazon, you should ask yourself what Amazon means by “highest standards” and how this principle applies to your role at the company.

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

How Amazon explains the “Highest Standards” principle

The seventh leadership principle is “Insist on the Highest Standards” - this is how Amazon explains the principle:

Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

What does the “Highest Standards” principle mean?

Having high standards means you make exceptionally high demands of yourself and the products and services you work on. At Amazon, standards are set through service level agreements (SLAs). An SLA is a set of agreed upon standards at which any service or product will perform. In an Amazon SLA, even the worst outcome will outpace industry standards.

Nearly everything at Amazon has an SLA, and as such, nearly everything is measured to ensure the SLA standards are met. In your current job, have you taken the time to instrument your processes and services? Have you set clear expectations of success that you can measure via that instrumentation? If so, in your interview, be ready to tell your story.

If you want to show your interviewer that you insist on the highest standards, you should demonstrate that you:

  • Set SLAs for everything, and don’t take shortcuts on instrumentation.

  • Continually self-critique your work to make sure the quality is the best it can be.

  • Accept and seek coaching and feedback from your manager and others about improving the quality of your work.

  • Demand that your team delivers high-quality products, services, and solutions.

  • Coach employees about setting their own high standards and exceeding customer expectations.

Interview questions related to “Highest Standards”

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

  • Tell me about a time when you’ve been unsatisfied with the status quo. What did you do to change it? Were you successful?

  • Tell me about a time you wouldn’t compromise on achieving a great outcome when others felt something was already good enough. What was the situation?

  • What measures have you personally put in place to ensure performance improvement targets and standards are achieved?

  • Describe the most significant, continuous improvement project that you’ve led. What was the catalyst for this change and how did you go about it?

  • Give me an example of a goal you’ve had where you wish you had done better. What was the goal and how could you have improved on it?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked to improve the quality of a product / service / solution that was already getting good customer feedback? Why did you think it needed more improvement?

  • Give an example where you refused to compromise your standards around quality/customer service, etc. Why did you feel so strongly about the situation? What were the consequences? The result?

    How to answer interview questions related to the “Highest Standards” leadership principle

    Sample Answers for this principle

    Answer given by an E-Commerce Manager

    Tell me about a time when you worked to improve the quality of a product / service / solution that was already getting good customer feedback? Why did you think it needed more improvement?

    When I took over the e-commerce part of the website I learned that the experience related to returning merchandise was one of the worst experiences on the site. It was difficult to navigate, and when I asked why it was so bad the answer I got from senior management alarmed me. They didn’t want the experience to be easy because they didn’t want people to return things. This felt intuitively wrong to me but I knew I needed the numbers to prove it. I began collecting data relating to return customers and how the return had an impact on how how likely they were to return. After a lot of digging we learned that if a customer had a good return experience they were more likely to buy from us in the future. We set off to create the most frictionless return experience possible and then we measured the impact of the customer to return and what they were likely to purchase. As we made changes to the return experience, we carefully measured the impact.

Note that, in this answer, the candidate could have simply followed along with the established protocol, but he sought to hold himself and his company to a higher standard, demonstrating real leadership and delivering results.

Answer given by a Solutions Architect

What measures have you personally put in place to ensure performance improvement targets and standards are achieved?

In my last job, when I joined the solutions architect team, my main goal was to ensure that our enterprise clients integrated seamlessly with the solutions we were providing. I became obsessed with the onboarding with these customers, and one metric in particular, which was the time the client signed contract to the time they first used the services. To me this was the metric that mattered the most, but we weren’t paying much attention to it. I knew that if we showed the value that our service provided sooner, they would be more likely to stay with us over the long term. We measured and then optimized processes based on what we found. For a good while in that role, nearly every measurement of success I created for myself and my team rolled up onto the larger onboarding metric. We had a set of metrics that we aspired to improve that ultimately rolled up to the onboarding one. As a result of these efforts over the course of a year, and ruthlessly optimizing our processes, we cut the average time of onboarding down by 50%.

As in the previous answer, this candidate demonstrates that she absolutely will not settle for the status quo, and so she sets a higher standard for her and her team. Leaders don’t need someone else to set the bar high, because they set it high for themselves.

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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 with American companies.