Many Amazon job applicants reach out to me for coaching after getting rejected multiple times. They don’t understand what went wrong—they prepared for common interview questions, memorized Amazon leadership principles and talked to current Amazon employees to get insider tips. But they still did not get offers.
Almost without exception, they fall into one or several patterns. This post highlights five common pitfalls to avoid if you’re trying to get hired at Amazon.
1. You’re trying to land an Amazon offer while making a career transition
Here are two typical scenarios:
- You’re a project manager at your current company, and you have few technical skills. You applied for a technical program manager (TPM) position at Amazon. Amazon requires TPMs to pass Software Development Engineer 1 (SDE 1) bar. You need to be able to answer college-level data structure and algorithm questions. Project management is part of what a TPM does, but the TPM role is broader than classic project management. It’s difficult for project managers to move into TPM roles at Amazon unless they have a strong technical background.
- You’re a software developer or QA engineer at your company. You’re tired of coding and want out of engineering. You applied for TPM position at Amazon, but there’s one problem—you’ve never done any TPM. You do have strong technical skills, but the TPM role also requires project management, requirement writing, and interpersonal skills. If you want to move from software development to TPM, you should first make the transition inside your current company. It’s difficult to switch companies and roles at the same time.
Key takeaway: Amazon doesn’t have time to train people. It operates in a highly competitive, fast-moving environment. If you need to make a career transition from one type of role to another, make the transition at your current company. Then apply for a similar role at Amazon.
2. You didn’t answer the Amazon leadership principle questions well
You memorized Amazon leadership principles. When asked a behavioral question, you immediately tried to figure out which leadership principle was relevant to the question. You even mentioned the principles several times.
The problem is likely that your approach was mechanical and blatant. The key to answering leadership principle questions is to tell a compelling story that demonstrates your character, leadership qualities, and communication skills. If you possess the leadership principles, they will be demonstrated as you tell the story. Don’t blatantly announce that you have all of these qualities; it doesn’t mean anything anyway, unless you can provide specific and compelling examples.
Key takeaway: Follow the five-key framework in my book, How to Get a Job at Amazon, to prepare for the Amazon leadership questions. Tell compelling, specific stories that demonstrate your character and skills. Don’t sound mechanical and blatant in your answers.
3. You have little or no technical and/or domain experience
Let’s say you come from a completely different industry. You have few technical skills and no relevant domain knowledge. Maybe you’re a city planner with 30 years of experience who wants to become a TPM, or a power plant consultant who wants to join the Amazon Marketplace team.
I like to encourage folks to dream big and try new things. However, if you’re serious about getting a job at Amazon, stay within your core competency. Unlike Google, which focuses more on general cognitive abilities, Amazon likes to hire people with tons of relevant experience. In fact, the more relevant your experience is to the Amazon role you’re applying for, the easier it will be to receive an offer.
Amazon’s business is moving at breakneck speed. It needs people who are ready to contribute on day one. There’s no patience for people to develop and mature. If your goal is do something different from your current role but you still want to work for Amazon, I suggest you take a role inside Amazon that is similar to your current role. You can switch to a different role later. It’s much easier to switch once you’re inside Amazon.
Key takeaway: Find your sweet spot and know your strength. Leverage your relevant technical and domain experience. Target Amazon openings where you can start adding value on day one—this makes it easier to land an offer.
4. You didn’t communicate well
Amazon interviewers are busy people. They need you to get to the point. Unfortunately, many job applicants have a stream-of-consciousness communication style; it’s like a massive download of what’s on their mind. Or, they keep talking without pausing to read the other person’s reaction.
Adopt a more structured communication style. State your key points upfront and then provide examples. Use such words and phrases as “first, second, third, in conclusion, what I learned,” etc., to structure your answer. If you’re not used to talking in a structured way, consider writing down your answers, and then ask a friend to conduct a mock interview with you. Your communication style can make or break your interview.
Key takeaway: Structure, clarity, and brevity—focus on improving your communication in these three areas. Write down your answers and practice. Communication is a learned skill. You can make meaningful improvement in a short time if you work at it.
5. You don’t understand Amazon from an end-user perspective
“What is your favorite Amazon feature?” “How would you improve Amazon?” Most applicants expect these questions, but they don’t do enough homework to answer them thoroughly.
Customer obsession is a critical part of Amazon culture. You must demonstrate your customer focus. To answer these questions, think through your own experience of using various Amazon products and services. Which one is your favorite? Why do you like it so much? What makes it different from competing products or services? Come up with unique insights that demonstrate your blend of skills, critical thinking, and customer focus. An answer such as, “I like Amazon search, because I can find all the products I want” is not a very good answer. It’s too generic and offers no insight into your thought process.
Key takeaway: Prepare thorough answers to such questions beforehand. Choose answers that offer unique insights and help the interviewers understand who you are.
An Amazon job interview is intense and unique. To get hired, you must be both flexible and prepared. By avoiding these five common pitfalls, you’ll be much better-positioned to land an offer. Use my best-selling Kindle book, How to Get a Job at Amazon, to help you prepare.
Career advisor and author