How to interview at Amazon using the Amazon leadership principles

You're interviewing at Amazon soon, and you know you need to do well in your interview to get the job. 

You've practiced answers to common interview questions and read the job description and everything you can find about the company. You think you're ready. Are you?

You might be ready for the interview IF you've practiced answering questions with the Amazon leadership principles.

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Amazon's Leadership Principles in Interviews

What are Amazon’s leadership principles? They are a set of 14 concepts that Amazon uses as a mission statement.

Why are the leadership principles important for interviews?

After all, most companies have mission statements.

Because the leadership principles are used to ask questions in every interview at Amazon 

What do you mean the principles "are used" to ask questions in an interview?

In a typical Amazon interview:

You may be asked a question like this,"Tell me about a time when you demonstrated customer obsession?" (Customer obsession is one of the 14 principles.)

Easy question?

Now, maybe this seems like an easy question. Okay, good. Actually this one seems pretty easy to me too.

Not so easy questions

But what if they ask you this, "Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer."

This one is the same question from a different angle, and it doesn't use the words "customer obsession" so you might not realize it's one of the principle questions.

Or what if they ask you, "How do you resonate with the principle, 'Are right, a lot'?" 

If you haven't thought about this principle (yes, this is one of them) will you be able to answer this? I couldn't. I didn't even know what it meant before I thought about it. 

How to answer interview questions with Amazon leadership principles

1. Take them seriously

A few of these principles sound silly to me (dive deep!). And they may sound silly to you too. Too bad. Your interviewer doesn't think they're silly. Amazon employees accept these as part of their culture. If you want the job, you need to take them seriously.

I just helped a client prepare for an Amazon interview and we both laughed at some of the principles, but then we stopped laughing and prepared answers.

Yes, he got the job (after a 1.5 hour interview where the interviewer asked him ONLY questions with the principles — he said she asked him an for an incredible level of detail in each answer). 

2. Read them carefully

Some of these are not easy to understand ("Are right, a lot" is one that confuses people). 

I advise you to spend some time thinking about them. If you don't read them and think about them before you go into the interview, you may have trouble. 

3. Memorize them

What? Why? 

A popular interview question:

"Which Amazon leadership principle do you resonate most with?" 

Trust me, they're not going to write them on the whiteboard for you to choose from.

4. Understand how interviews are evaluated

You must incorporate the principles into your responses because your responses are evaluated and you are rated based on how well you performed according to the leadership principles. 

I don't understand. Is every question going to be about the principles?

You will probably get a mix of technical questions, if applicable, general questions, like "Why do you want to work at Amazon?," questions about your resume, and principle questions (called behavioral or competency based questions). 

Most people think that the behavioral questions are the ones that are the "principle questions" but even the general questions require you to understand what kind of person they're looking for so you can give an answer that shows you are that person (the kind who lives by the principles). 

In other words, you don't just show you have a bias for action by stating that outright when directly asked, you show it by answering all the questions, even the ones about customer obsession or ownership, with answers that highlight your quick responses (among other things).

For instance, if you get asked, "How did you solve a recent business problem?" and you talk about how you researched the problem for six months and brought in a team of consultants to do more research, this is not demonstrating a bias for action. This is showing you move slowly and think about things for a long time before you act.

You may not have been asked directly if you have a "bias for action," at least they may not have used those words, but that is partly what they were asking. You have shown by your answer to the question that you are not a risk taker. Therefore you will get evaluated badly on that principle. 

Also, I said "partly" because this question also relates to ownership and deliver results and dive deep — you should be demonstrating your skills in all of these areas in your answer.

5. Plan your answers using STAR

You should plan to answer all questions using the STAR technique. What is that?

The STAR technique is a very common system used to answer behavioral interview questions. It provides a structure for you to remember so that you include the correct data in your answers. 

Amazon actually asks its interviewees to use the technique in these type of questions, so take that as a hint and use it.

These are the 4 steps of the technique:

S - Situation - context, background

T - Task - what you had to do (not the team - you)

A - Activity - what you did - use as much detail as possible - this should be the longest part of the answer

R - Result - positive; quantifiable; what you learned; what you would do differently next time

Which questions can you answer using STAR? Ones that sound like this, "Tell me about a time when..."  So the question might be, "Tell me about a time when you showed customer obsession" or "Describe for me how you've showed customer obsession" or "Give an example of your customer obsession." These are what's called "behavioral" interview questions. They are very common in American companies, including Amazon.

If you get asked one of these questions, answer by going through the letters in order.

First give the S part - explain the basic situation. Then give the T - what was your job in this situation? Then A - show what you did. Last, give the R - what was the outcome?

6. Do I have to use their words in the answers?

What do I mean by this? If you get asked, "Tell me about a time you showed customer obsession" should your answer use "customer obsession"? 

Not necessarily. You can say you "value customers" or "pay attention to customers" or "are customer oriented." Or if you want to use their words you can say you are "obsessed" with customers. 

7. Keep your answers short 

Answers should be between 1 and 2 minutes long. 2 is on the long side and may be too long unless you are giving an example that requires a lot of detail.

I realize 2 minutes doesn't sound like a long time, but it's hard to listen to someone for 2 minutes. The listener gets bored.

If you're the kind of person who talks a lot, pay attention to this rule and try to keep your answers to around 1 minute each. 

If you feel like your answers are too long, time them. I often time my clients when I'm working with them. Timing yourself can give you a clear idea of whether your answers are too long.

If you're thinking that you know you don't talk too much, are you absolutely sure? I've noticed that the people who do talk too much usually are not aware of it. 

8. Prepare two stories for each principle

Why two?

They may ask you one question about a principle and then ask if you have another example. If you've only prepared one example that shows how you're customer obsessed, you'll be in trouble. 

I realize I just told you to prepare 28 stories. Does anyone actually do that? Honestly, not very many people have that many stories. Prepare as many good stories as you can. If you have 7 interviewers at your on-site interview, you can't use the same stories with each of them. You need to mix it up a little.

I do recommend that you have two for customer obsession, two for ownership, and then two for principles that relate to the job you want.

9. Don't worry about your English too much

Your English doesn't have to be perfect to succeed at an Amazon interview. Don't spend your time reviewing your present perfect tense homework from high school — spend your time practicing your responses to questions using STAR and the leadership principles.

However, interviews ARE about communication.

Even if you're a very technical person who's applying for a very technical role you still need to be able to talk to your interviewers in English. If you can't do this  you'll have trouble, so try to practice as much as you can before you go.

But if you want a reason to relax a bit, remember that Amazon is an international company now (in terms of who works there) so it may be that your interviewers won't be native speakers themselves. You'll have a better idea of this before each interview.

If you'd like more ideas about how to prepare for your Amazon interview, read these:

How to answer behavioral questions in an Amazon interview

How to answer the interview question "Tell me about yourself"

How to answer behavioral questions using the STAR technique

How to answer the interview question, "Why do you want to work at Amazon?"

From senior VP to entry-level programmer candidates, my clients have nailed the interview and landed the job at Amazon. Let's work together preparing for your interview and take your career to the next level. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.