How to answer interview questions about the Amazon leadership principle “Learn and be curious” — Interview Genie

What Are the Amazon Leadership Principles?

Taking a step back, as a founder develops a company, one of the most critical decisions is defining the company’s principles. This decision is essential as it will help shape the company’s focus areas and give company employees a “guidebook” on how to build the product, how to make decisions, how to treat customers, etc. Amazon’s leadership principles have been developed over the last 20+ years with Jeff Bezos stating Amazon’s mission was “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company” in his first shareholder letter in 1997.

Ultimately, Amazon considers its leadership principles as “an integral part of the fabric of Amazon’s culture”; as you can see in the graphic below, the principles really make up the company’s DNA. Per Amazon, “Amazon’s Leadership Principles are great tools that help us foster autonomous decision making as the company scales, and helps leaders lead beyond their immediate line of sight.”

Learn and be curious: Amazon Leadership Principles Explained

Amazon screens for the principles during the candidate’s interview (see Management Consulted’s guide to the Amazon interview here). To succeed in the interview, it is important to first understand what it means to live by the principles. Then, it is equally important to understand if you want to work at a company with these principles. For example, some of the principles including “insist on the highest standards”; “bias for action”; “dive deep”, speak to how Amazon is one of the world’s most innovative and successful companies.

On the other hand, these principles may imply that Amazon has a worse work life balance than other companies. In addition, the principle around “have backbone; disagree and commit” is great for candidates who love sharing their point of view and being contrarian at times but may be difficult for candidates who like to always drive towards consensus.

Keep reading for more details around each leadership principle. In addition, click here for an overview around how Amazon integrates the leadership principles into employees’ daily lives.

  1. Customer Obsession

Leaders are customer centric, so much so that customer preferences and needs become an obsession. This means they always endeavor to work backwards from what the customer might think or want in deciding what to do with the product or service. Deep insight into what drives customer loyalty and trust should be even more important than a deep understanding of competitive strengths and weaknesses, market trends, or technology. Examples of Amazon’s customer obsession include its fast delivery times (e.g., same day delivery on some qualifying orders) and in Amazon’s holistic offerings to serve the whole consumer (e.g., shopping for food or other goods; watching TV; listening to music). For more about Amazon’s customer obsession, see here.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:

    • Tell me about a time you knew you couldn’t do everything the client wanted. How did you prioritize, and what was the outcome?
    • Give me an example of a time things went very poorly in a customer interaction or when delivering a service or product. How did you try to make things right?
    • In your experience, what makes some customers especially difficult to manage while others are easier?
    • Tell me about a time you chose to apologize for doing something wrong, even though you weren’t 100% sure it was your fault.
    • Have you ever obsessed over giving high quality service to a customer?
  1. Ownership

Leaders adopt an ownership mindset. They don’t view themselves as simply employees, they think of themselves as owners. This causes them to think long term, imagining how each action will play out in terms of results today, tomorrow, and far into the future. They do what’s best for the company, keeping in mind value creation for customers, shareholders, employees, and stakeholders. For example, AWS keeps teams small so that each team member is empowered to act as an owner and take accountability for each decision. Increasing the ownership and accountability of each employee not only reduces bureaucracy but also enables other leadership principles (e.g., bias for action).

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:

    • Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult short term decision to make long term gains.
    • Tell me about a time when you took on a task that went beyond your normal responsibilities.
    • Tell me about a time when you took it upon yourself to work on a challenging initiative.
  1. Invent and Simplify

Again, Amazon is one of history’s most successful companies and its ability to be so innovative despite its size is truly remarkable. Amazon spurs innovation by empowering its employees to quickly invent / iterate on solutions. Per Andrew Jassy (current CEO of Amazon; prior CEO of Amazon Web Services), “Speed disproportionately matters at every stage of your business, and in every sized company…Speed is not preordained. Speed is a choice. You can make this choice. And you’ve got to set up a culture that has urgency.” (Link here).

To succeed at Amazon, it is imperative that you are okay with failing fast and learning from that failure to try something new.

Further, to achieve rapid timelines, it is important to have a product that is intuitive and may not have all the bells and whistles (at least in the first iteration). Albert Einstein is even often quoted as having said “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Focusing on simplicity can also help consumer adoption of the product / solution.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:

    • Tell me about a time when you failed to simplify a process and what you would have done differently.
    • Tell me about a time when you innovated on something and it went wrong.
    • Tell me about a time when you changed a process at work through either an innovative new way or simplification.
    • Have you ever invented a service, product, or process that could truly be described as unique?
    • Give me an example of a time that you were faced with a complex problem, but the solution you designed could be described as simple.

The interviewer wants to know if the candidate knows how to use technical knowledge to their advantage and contribute to their job. While it is important to know, it is more important to know how to use what one knows. Therefore, a candidate should mention any past work experience when they picked something up at their job and how that helped them later. A detailed answer would be impressive, as it would show that the candidate remembers what they have learned and has an eye for detail. For example, if the candidate has worked at a tech company as a consultant before, they can talk about what part of being a consultant interested them and why, and how they made some effort to learn more about it, such as taking classes. They can then say how they used the knowledge they acquired to contribute to their company’s growth.

While preparing for an interview at Amazon, it is of paramount importance to first read through and understand their 14 leadership principles. Amazon expects its employees to embody certain ideas, which they have comprehensively published as their leadership principles. Behavioral questions at Amazon interviews are focused on determining whether candidates can emulate their leadership principles. One such principle is the ‘learn and be curious” principle.

Being curious and open to learning new things involves keeping one’s ego in check and picking up things from one’s peers and juniors. A candidate who is okay with letting a peer guide them sometimes has an open mind, and Amazon would like to see more of this in their employees. This is why the interviewer needs to know the candidate already has some work experience, telling them whether the candidate in front of them has the required attributes. For example, the candidate may mention an instance where someone pointed out something that would add value to some work already completed by them or about how they sought help from a junior when they couldn’t figure something out by themselves.

Amazon defines this principle as: “Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.” This is actually one of the simpler principles to understand. Amazon wants the candidates who apply to them to be generally curious and intellectually dynamic and are open to experimenting with new methods and strategies at their job.

This may seem like a broad question, but in the context of curiosity and learning, it means to check what standards of learning the candidate holds themselves accountable to. A good leader, according to Amazon, is never satisfied with what they have and is always looking to improve themselves. This should automatically apply to their learning process as well. An ideal candidate should have very high standards of learning, and to demonstrate that, the candidate may say that they always keep some time aside for themselves to read and understand new things relevant to the job. The candidate should also be open to conversing with peers and superiors to learn their points of view on matters related to work. Someone who constantly challenges themselves on the job to be a better version of themselves will be a good hire for Amazon.

A brief overview of the Amazon hiring process

The first thing to note is that the hiring process with Amazon is lengthy. That’s not to scare you off, only to prepare you.

There are many different departments that all have slightly different hiring processes, but the fundamentals are similar across the board, so let’s have a look at them…

Online applications

All applications to Amazon start in the same place, on the amazon.job hub. Here you will create an account and upload your CV or LinkedIn profile.

Top Tip: Make sure you use keywords in your CV or LinkedIn profile that are relevant to the job you are applying for. Have a thorough read of the job description and make sure you are using similar descriptions and phrasing for the work you have done.

Amazon Online Assessment

In addition to your application, you will be required to do an online assessment. Amazon is looking for candidates that not only have the skills for the job but also a commitment to the company’s values. This is their first step to assessing if you meet their base requirements.

The tests vary but will more than likely include at least one of Work Style Assessment and Work Sample Situations.

Work Style Assessment – This will be a list of statements, and you will be asked to select which statement best describes you. This gives Amazon a quick insight into your professional working style. It will usually take around 20 minutes.

Word Sample Situation – This will be specific to the role that you are applying for and will be a virtual task that you need to complete. This section can take up to an hour to complete.

Top Tip: Amazon’s job postings are very comprehensive so read them carefully as they will be the best pre indicator of what kind of assessments and questions you will be asked.

Once you get through the online assessments your next step will be going through the all-important interview process. We’ll dive into a bit more detail on this below, but what you can expect is:

  • Direct communication with HR Recruiters – their first step will be a call with HR
  • One or two interviews over the phone – next you will have one or a few calls with the relevant hiring team
  • Writing a one- or two-page essay – this is in preparation for your in-person interview and could be on something like “how do you bring creativity to your work?”
  • Six to seven onsite interviews – yes, it’s lengthy! But these are generally packed into one full day of interviews at the Amazon offices

Amazon’s interview process focuses primarily on two key areas of questioning – leadership questions (based around their leadership principles), competency-based questions and behavioral questions.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what questions you are likely to face in an Amazon Interview, and the best way to answer them.

Example Amazon Ice breaker Interview questions

  • Why do you want to work for Amazon?
  • Why Amazon?
  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why have you applied for this role?
  • What do you know about Amazon?
  • What would you say are your biggest strengths?
  • Tell us about your biggest weakness?

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