How to answer behavioral interview questions at your Amazon job interview

Interviewers at most American companies rely on behavioral interview questions to find the right candidates.

This includes Amazon – behavioral questions are a big part of Amazon job interviews.

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Do you know what behavioral interview questions are?

They're the type of questions that start with something like, "Give me an example of..." or "Tell me about a time...." 

Tips for answering behavioral interview questions in Amazon interviews

Behavioral questions aren't easy because you need to remember an example from your past. Here are some guidelines to help you:

Look at the job description for clues about probable behavioral question topics

Each interview will be different so I can't tell you exactly what questions you'll be asked, but the job description will give you a good idea of the possibilities.

If you're applying for a managerial job at Amazon, the questions will ask things like, "Tell me about a time when you had to give someone feedback on their performance" or "Give me an example of when you used leadership skills," because using leadership skills and giving performance feedback are two things that managers need to do. 

If you're applying for a product manager job at Amazon, the questions will ask you things like "Give me an example of a time when you had to give direction to the engineering team" or "When was the last time you used a product you loved?" because these are either tasks that a product manager does or ideas that a product manager thinks about.

If you look at the job description for the job you're applying for, you should be able to predict the themes of the questions you'll be asked.

Use stories to answer behavioral questions

These aren't yes or no questions. If you're asked to "Describe a time you failed at something," you can't just say, "Yes." 

To answer behavioral questions, use a story.

The story should be about something that happened to you at work (unless you don't have much or any work experience) that shows the skills you've been asked a question about. 

Use the STAR technique to structure your stories

So you have a good story to tell. Now how exactly do you tell it so that it's clear?

Use the STAR technique. 

The STAR technique is a 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. 

These are the 4 steps:

S – Situation - background info

T – Task - what you had to do 

A – Activity - what you did - this should be the longest part of the answer

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

If you get asked a behavioral question, 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/task in this situation) .Then A (show what you did). Last, give the R (outcome).

This is the basic STAR method but you can read this post for more about STAR, including sample answers to some possible questions. 

Prepare for behavioral interview questions even if you're applying for a technical role

Don't assume that you'll only get asked behavioral questions if you're applying for a role with managerial responsibilities. 

I just heard from a client who was applying for a Network Engineering job at Amazon, and he told me that they only asked him technical questions (so he was happy). But I've also heard the opposite. I had a client who was also applying for a technical job there, and he said that his second phone interview (after the first short one with HR) was 1.5 hours of detailed behavioral questions, where they asked him the question and then asked for further details after he'd given his answer.  

It pays to prepare for behavioral questions even if your job is technical.

But they'll ask you different types of behavioral questions. If you write code all day they probably won't ask you about your leadership abilities but they may ask you about your ability to meet deadlines and take ownership of problems.

Behavioral interview questions popular at Amazon

I've coached a lot of people interviewing at Amazon. Here's a sample of behavioral questions they've been asked in their interviews:

1. Tell me a challenge you had where the best way forward was not clear cut. How did you decide what to do?

2. Give me an example of something you tried to accomplish but failed.

3. Give me an example of a time when you showed initiative.

4. Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.

5. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.

6. Tell me about a time when you coached someone.

7. When have you used your fact finding skills to solve a problem?

You can see that each of these questions is targeting a specific skill. You should know from the job description what skills are important for the job you want so you can practice questions targeted to those skills.

In other words, you probably aren't going to be asked if you've ever motivated people if you're a Systems Architect (because they don't work with people as much as they work with computers), but you might be asked if you've used your fact finding skills (because research is part of this role). 

Amazon behavioral interview questions = typical behavioral questions + Amazon leadership principles

Remember the Amazon leadership principles? If you don't know what they are and you're about to interview at Amazon, you need to study them before your interview.

Amazon interviewers take the leadership principles seriously. One goal of the interview is to see if you're a good fit with the principles. How do they do this?

In an Amazon interview, the interviewer will ask a behavioral question. It may or may not be in the exact words of the principles. The question might be "How have you shown customer obsession?" (customer obsession is one of the principles) or it might be "Tell me about a time you had to work hard to please a client." Both of these questions are asking the same question about your focus on client needs.

A good answer will use a story from one of your jobs, be told clearly using the STAR technique, and show you understand the ideas behind the principles and agree with them. 

I've written an article about how to answer the leadership principle questions in case you want more information.

A good sample answer for a common behavioral question

This is a common behavioral interview question that you might be asked in an interview. I've marked it with the STAR sections so you can see the structure of the answer.

Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it. 
S - Last year at my quarterly review my boss explained to me that I needed to improve my public speaking skills, since I'm in marketing and give presentations to my colleagues and clients frequently. He said that I speak too softly and too quickly and don't explain my ideas clearly.

T/A - I didn't know how to get better at this, so I hired an executive coach. I worked with her for a month, and then joined a group of her former clients who meet once a week to give speeches in front of each other. With her help and all of their comments and support, I learned to see what my weaknesses were.

R - After working on my skills for several months, I could see that my presentations were better. At my next review, my boss agreed. Now I'm continuing to meet with the group so that my skills keep improving. I want to be even better than I am now so that I give excellent presentations.

Why is this answer good?

  • It talks about a skill that will be relevant in the job she is applying for
  • It follows the STAR structure
  • It keeps to the details that are needed but doesn't add more
  • It references the Amazon principle "insist on the highest standards" although you'll notice she doesn't use those words 

Try to do the same things when answering your questions.

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

How to answer leadership principle 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 question "Why do you want to work at Amazon?"

I hope this post helps you interview at Amazon. If you need help preparing for your interview, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

I've been working with a lot of Amazon candidates lately, so I can share what I've learned with you.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company that specializes in coaching non-native English speakers. We'll work together on answers to questions you'll be asked in your interview. I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.