How to answer Amazon "Think Big" interview questions

The eighth Amazon Leadership Principle is “Think Big.” If you’re preparing for an interview at Amazon, you should ask yourself what Amazon means by “think big” 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 “Think Big” principle

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

What does the “Think Big” principle mean?  

The term “to think big” means to be ambitious or to set no limits on your thinking and goals. Other expressions you might have heard that mean the same thing are “to go large” or “to reach for the stars.”

If you think big you will:

  • See problems as challenges and opportunities

  • Be positive

  • Think of things you can do, not things you can’t

  • Plan what is possible, not worry about what is impossible

  • Be fearless

  • Be creative

  • Be able to dream and visualize what you want

Thinking big means:

  • Taking a radical approach and risks when necessary, always questioning traditional assumptions in pursuit of the best idea.

  • Creating a gutsy mission that employees can be inspired by and get behind. Providing direction for how to get there and explaining how everything fits into the long-term plan.

  • Continually communicating the big picture and mission to the team in a manner that gets employees excited.

  • Actively exploring new ideas from team members, encouraging risk taking when appropriate.

Interview Questions Related to the Think Big Leadership Principle

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

  • Tell me about a time you took a calculated risk in order to achieve a professional goal. What were the tradeoffs? What was the outcome?

  • Tell me about a time you took a big risk and it failed. What did you learn? What would you do differently?

  • Tell me about a time you went way beyond the scope of the project and delivered.

  • Tell me about your proudest professional achievement.

  • Give me an example of a radical approach to a problem you proposed. What was the problem and why did you feel it required a completely different way of thinking about it? Was your approach successful?

  • How do you drive adoption for your vision/ideas? How do you know how well your idea or vision has been adopted by other teams or partners? Give a specific example highlighting one of your ideas.

  • Tell me about time you were working on an initiative or goal and saw an opportunity to do something much bigger than the initial focus.

  • Tell me about a time you looked at a key process that was working well and questioned whether it was still the right one. What assumptions were you questioning and why? Did you end up making a change to the process?

How to Answer Questions Related to the Think Big Principle

Question: Give an example of a time you took a calculated risk.

Answer given by a Data Architect who specializes in building and maintaining disaster recovery systems.

On a yearly basis, Huawei works together with its customers to perform disaster recovery drills. In this drill, we switch over all our services from one data center to another in a controlled fashion. A few months ago, while we were preparing for the drill, we met an issue that could have blocked the whole activity. A colleague was performing a regular check on hardware resources when we found that the number of CPUs on a database machine disaster recovery site was not matching the number of CPUs on the production site.

He requested a change window, brought the machine down, and changed the number of CPUs to match the production site, but then the machine was not able to start up. After a few calls with KVM experts at HQ, we understood that the HQ experts couldn’t find the root cause and the solution was to rebuild the disaster recovery machine. To our surprise, we weren’t able to reuse resources allocated to that dead virtual machine to a new virtual machine. Fortunately, we had another environment hosted in VMware, and we had resources available to host a new machine. I suggested that we host the failed disaster recovery database in this new platform, which was considered risky because none of the other disaster recovery machines were running in VMware.

The customer was worried that hosting the failed machine in the VMware environment would mean a machine on production and the disaster recovery databases would be hosted in a different hypervisor environment. Their apprehension was understandable, since no customer/vendor would host machines in such a way. However, I explained to them that Oracle is agnostic about which hypervisor it is running on. As long as the OS version, OS type, and DB version are the same, Oracle would work without a problem.

Therefore, going against the normal way of doing things, I rebuilt the 6.5TB database in a VMware environment in 20 hours. A day later we successfully performed disaster recovery switchover and switchback operation.

This candidate used his technical expertise for “thinking big,” i.e., a willingness to solve a problem in an unconventional way. His confidence in his own expertise mitigated what others would have perceived as a “risky” technical maneuver.   

Question: Give an example of how you set goals.

Answer given by a VP of Digital Product Development at Merrill Lynch.

I tend to set very ambitious goals for my team and also myself professionally. An example of this is that, as soon as I joined my current company, I knew I wanted to lead an organization. I set small goals to achieve that ultimate goal.

I needed to be the best individual contributor on my team, and I did that by delivering the Merrill Lynch mobile application platform for financial analysts.  I was recognized for this and was promoted within a year and a half of joining. I then set my sights on the next milestone, which was to lead multiple teams and manage multiple apps on multiple platforms. This is when I hired someone really strong to delegate some of the mobile platform work under me, so that I could oversee the creation of the desktop platform for financial analysts.

I led the design and implementation of the Client 360 app, which was our internal flagship app. The work required that I coordinate across seven different teams, each one building components in isolation before eventually integrating them into one single-page app.

I was recognized for my leadership quality during this effort and was promoted again in two years. Since that time, I have managed to deliver multiple applications, such as Client Profile, Relationship Tree, and Sub house holding on the desktop platform, while continuing to grow the mobile app customer base.

I am the youngest of all my peers, and they all had a VP title before me. But because of my hard work, dedication, and relentless pursuit of perfection, I am being considered for my next promotion this year before all my peers.

The candidate’s ambition really shines through in this answer. Note how she “thinks big” and tackles the most ambitious projects, but is always looking ahead to the next challenge.

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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.

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 interview prep company.