How to answer Amazon "Frugality" interview questions

The tenth Amazon Leadership Principle is “Frugality.” If you’re preparing for an interview at Amazon, you should ask yourself what Amazon means by frugality and how this principle applies to your past roles and your future role at the company.

I’ve heard from interviewees that this principle isn’t common for interviewers to ask about, but since it is one of the leadership principles I think preparing some stories that highlight your frugality is wise.

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

How Amazon explains the “Frugality” principle

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

What does the “Frugality” principle mean?

If you’re frugal, you try to save money. You’ll want to show you can do the job without spending more and that having not enough time or resources is fine. Resource constraints are not a huge problem that will stop you from succeeding; it’s something you can deal with.

However, you can be “frugal” with more things than money. You can also save time or other resources, including person hours.

It’s not that Amazon is cheap. In fact, the “Frugality” principle is not necessarily about saving money at all. The logic behind this principle is that Amazon uses frugality as a forcing function – meaning that the company believes that constraints can help drive creativity and innovation. After all, if you don’t have money to spend, you’ll have to find ways to do things more cheaply or efficiently.

Interview Questions Related to the “Frugality” 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 where you thought of a new way to save money for the company.

  • Describe a time when you had to manage a budget (or manage time/money/resources/etc.). Were you able to get more out of less?

  • Here at Amazon we are frugal – how will you manage projects with no budget and no resources?

  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with limited time or resources.

How to Answer Interview Questions Related to the Frugality Leadership Principle

Answer given by a Category Marketing Manager

Question: Tell me about a time when you had to work with limited time or resources.

Note: this person managed a mileage program at a major gas company.

After I presented the scope of our new rewards program to my supervisors, they approved the strategy. However, we did not have the budget to afford all of the components of it. Therefore, I would have to modify my plan. I began to explore other ideas.

At this point, I had a partnership contract with a Brazilian company for the prizes of our giveaways. I decided to try and negotiate with them a sponsorship for the first year of the program by showing that my business plan was forecasting an increase in traffic to their marketplace, which would result in many new customers and sales. Besides that, I could communicate their program to millions of people in our gas stations and in our app.

Fortunately, they ended up sponsoring the first year of the program, and I was able to launch it in that same quarter. This program turned out to be very good for the partnership because 70 percent of our customers were redeeming their points for miles (not discounts), which was the goal of the project. Additionally, every month, we sent thousands of new customers to Smiles’ Marketplace, as was forecast in the business plan. My plan increased the number of transactions on their website from 100,000 to 330,00 per month.

In this answer, the Marketing Manager describes how she found a creative way to resource against an approved strategy by leveraging an existing partnership. Note in her answer that she accepts but is undeterred by the business constrains of a limited budget. Her resourcefulness and creative problem-solving skills demonstrate a “Frugality” mindset.

Answer given by a DevOps Engineer

Question: Tell me about a time where you thought of a new way to save money for the company.

My company wanted to speed up and have improved monitoring for software deployments to our production environment. The management team was convinced that we should use a third-party tool, and we started to explore options. I attended a number of demos with the team, and we all agreed on the best third-party tool. I thought that the tool was good, but it was costly, and even though it was a management decision, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we should explore the option of building the tooling in-house for long-term cost savings.

I analyzed the level of effort it would take me and the team to build the same core functionality of the third-party tools, and I included maintenance cost over time. I compared that cost to the cost of the third-party license, and added the additional cost that we would incur integrating these third-party tools into our systems. I presented my findings to the management team. Based on my analysis, we changed course, and saved significant costs, especially over the long-term.

In this answer, the DevOps Engineer demonstrates a “Frugality” mindset around a decision that wasn’t even his to make. The easier way forward for the engineer would have been to just go along with the plan and be done with it, but leaders know that waste hurts the team and the company. If you have a “Frugality” mindset, the financial health of the company is always factored into your decision making.

 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 interview prep company.