How to answer Amazon "Earn Trust" interview questions

The eleventh Amazon Leadership Principle is “Earn Trust.” If you’re preparing for an interview at Amazon, you should ask yourself what Amazon means by “Earn Trust” 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 “Earn Trust” principle

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

So let’s take a closer look at this principle.

What does the “Earn Trust” principle mean?

The first sentence of the principle is straightforward and expected in any professional environment. The interview is a great opportunity for you to “Earn Trust” by listening to your interviewer attentively and answering questions candidly.

 In the second sentence of the “Earn Trust” principle, things get more interesting. At Amazon, you’re expected to win over your colleagues (i.e., earn their trust) by being “vocally self-critical.” In other words, you’re not afraid to point out your own faults to others. To win trust, you must show that you understand best-in-class standards, and that you seek to meet or exceed them.  

How do you “Earn Trust” at Amazon?

Leaders at Amazon embody this principle by:

  • consistently making good decisions

  • keeping commitments

  • treating others and their ideas with respect

  • adhering to high ethical standards

  • admitting failures

  • listening, communicating, and delegating to help employees get the right things done

Leaders “Earn Trust” when they “take the hit.” When undesirable outcomes happen, we’re all quick to point the finger. If your team members see that you’re willing to take the blame for the good of the team, even if it’s not directly your fault, then they’ll start to let go and trust you. As leader of a team, you need to accept the responsibility for both the good and the bad.

True collaboration is only possible in an atmosphere of trust. And that atmosphere must be set by a leader who has earned his team members’ trust and who trusts them in return.

Interview Questions Related to the “Earn Trust” 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 had to earn trust quickly.

  • Building trust can be difficult to achieve at times. Tell me about how you’ve effectively built trusting working relationships with others on your team.

  • Describe a time when you significantly contributed to improving morale and productivity on your team. What were the underlying problems and their causes? How did you prevent them from negatively impacting the team in the future?

  • Give an example of a time where you were not able to meet a commitment to a team member. What was the commitment and what prevented you from meeting it? What was the outcome and what did you learn from it?

  • Describe a time when you needed the cooperation of a peer or peers who were resistant to what you were trying to do. What did you do? What was the outcome?

  • Tell me about a piece of direct feedback you recently gave to a colleague. How did he or she respond?

  • How do you like to receive feedback from coworkers or managers?

  • Tell me about a time when someone (peer, teammate, supervisor) criticized you about a piece of work/analysis that you delivered. How did you react? What was the outcome?

  • Tell me about a time when you had to tell someone a harsh truth.

  • Tell me about a time you had to communicate a big change in direction for which you anticipated people would have a lot of concerns. How did you handle questions and/or resistance? Were you able to get people comfortable with the change? 

  • How do you convince someone who is resistant to what you’re trying to do?

How to Answer Interview Questions Related to the “Earn Trust” Leadership Principle

Question: How did you quickly earn your client’s trust?

Answer given by a Solutions Architect

“One of the largest mass entertainment companies in North America purchased licenses for product X and signed a statement of work (SOW) for Professional Services for implementing the solution.

I was the architect and hands on technical resource for doing the migration. I created detailed standard operating procedures, end user training materials, and delivered end user trainings once the solution went live in production, even though these weren’t in the scope of the services SOW.

I was engaged in building the long-term deployment roadmap, working very closely with customer’s stakeholders. By demonstrating strong technical acumen and client-facing skills, I was able to earn trust in a short period of time. I quickly became part of the customer’s inner circle.

The solution was successfully deployed, and we went live with one of their key services in production. The initial SOW was for a three-month engagement, but we stayed with the customer for about two years delivering services. We were able to successfully expand the solution capabilities during that period, assisting the customer in further enhancing their security protocols.”

In this story, notice how the solutions architect credits her “technical acumen and client-facing skills” for winning the customer over. But earlier in the story, she described how she had already demonstrated that she was willing to go above and beyond the requirements of the SOW to make the project successful. In other words, she set a higher standard for both herself and the project. This type of behavior will help you “Earn Trust” at Amazon. 

Let’s look at another answer for the same question

Answer given by an Account Executive

“One of the large full-service banks in North America had already purchased our product licenses to manage the company system permissions and user identity. Due to organizational changes, the new leadership team had decided to shop for alternative solutions, and compare/contrast all the functional/technical capabilities before finalizing a single solution. My accounts team brought me in to talk about the solution, and why it would be a good fit for this client.

As a first step, I flew to L.A. and conducted an all-day workshop with the key stakeholders to carefully listen to their concerns and reasons for the vendor solution review exercise, as well as to understand their business and the technical requirements. We had good discussions during this workshop. I told them that I agreed to some of the areas of improvements in our product and made a note of them for an internal product management team review. At the same time, I was candid in my feedback regarding some of the requirements and suggested alternative options to minimize operational overhead in the long run.

By the end of the day, the client wanted me to work with them in conducting a proof of concept (POC) in their environment. I believe listening attentively to the customer, speaking candidly and demonstrating sound technical and communication skills helped me in gaining trust in a short period of time. I was able to deliver the POC successfully and in turn signed a professional services SOW contract of about eight hundred thousand dollars.”

After reading this story, return to the section above and read the “Earn Trust” principle again. I hope you can see that the story demonstrates the principle almost perfectly. Note in the story the emphasis on attentive listening. Note also how the person telling the story is will to admit that the product has faults. It’s easy to see why this person won the customer’s trust.

Question: Tell me about a time you coached someone and provided feedback

Answer given by an Engineering Manager

“One of the senior managers complained about one of the developers on my team regarding his tone being too harsh and frank in his emails and over the phone. My manager brought it to my attention, and I told him I would take care of it.

I immediately pulled this employee in for a one-on-one and brought this to his attention. I told him it was not what he said but how he said it that makes all the difference. There are more politically correct ways to provide feedback to other teams regarding their mistakes.

He agreed that he reacted out of frustration and promised me he would be more careful going forward. It has been a year now, and he has completely turned it around. He had numerous accolades from other managers regarding his integrity, and he is now one of the rising stars on my team.”

This story highlights a theme I see again and again in working with professionals across all walks of life. As hesitant as we sometimes are to give feedback, when we set aside our fears and give honest, candid feedback, people are often extremely appreciative and grow because of it. This story demonstrates another way to “Earn Trust.”

For more articles about interviewing at Amazon, go to the Amazon page on my blog

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.