You’ve got an interview at Amazon and want to be prepared. So, you read up on common Amazon interview questions, practice your responses, and feel like you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Or are you?
Answering Amazon interview questions requires more than your “standard” interview prep. You need to dig deep into what the company is looking for in applicants and frame your answers in a way that explains why you’re the person Amazon wants to hire.
Fortunately, Amazon offers advice on interviewing at the company on its website. With that information and this handy guide, you can feel confident that you’re prepped and ready for your Amazon interview.
What Amazon Wants in Interview Answers
The best way to prep for Amazon interview questions is to understand the types of questions they ask, the way you should format an answer, and what the interviewer wants to hear in your response.
Most of Amazon’s interview questions are behavioral interview questions. These questions help the interviewer understand how you use your skills in a real-life situation. Generally, a behavioral interview question starts with, “Tell me about a time when,” or “How would you handle?”
When answering these kind of questions, Amazon recommends using the STAR method. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result and the mnemonic can help you remember the critical elements your answer needs. In short, you describe a situation you faced, the task you needed to complete, the action you took, and the results.
Unspoken Interview Fundamentals
Master the art of interviewing in this free course from Comcast. Learn how to identify your strengths and tell a story that explains why you're the best person for the job.
Avg. Time: 2-3 Hours
Skills you’ll build: Identifying strengths, video interviewing, verbal communication
However, Amazon isn’t only looking for candidates that use the STAR method. Every answer should be framed around three critical items: Amazon’s leadership principles, data, and peculiarity.
Let’s start with the easy part first: data.
One reason people use the STAR method is that it’s a great way to include metrics and outcomes in the answer. This allows you to quantify how much you’ll positively impact the organization if they hire you.
And one of the tips from Amazon mentions including data in your answer: “Use data or metrics to support your answer.”
Data is usually in the results section of the answer. So, you might say that you decreased late payments by 27% or sped up shipping rates by 36%. Depending on your background and the position you’re interviewing for, you could explain that you had an overall customer satisfaction rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.
Another key point Amazon stresses in its interview prep advice is to frame your answer around the company’s leadership principles. Those are:
- Customer obsession
- Invent and simplify
- Are right, a lot
- Learn and be curious
- Hire and develop the best
- Insist on the highest standards
- Think big
- Bias for action
- Earn trust
- Dive deep
- Have backbone; disagree and commit
- Deliver results
- Strive to be Earth’s best employer
- Success and scale bring broad responsibility
Each leadership principle also has a brief description. For example, for “Learn and be curious,” Amazon explains, “Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.”
So, frame your answer around at least one of these leadership principles. For example, you could talk about a time you wanted to learn a new skill and what steps you took to make that happen. The rest of your answer could discuss how you used your newly acquired skill on the job and how that benefited the company.
One additional thing Amazon wants candidates to address in their answers is the company’s self-described peculiarity. And what is that, exactly?
Interestingly, this is never specifically addressed. However, according to Amazon, the company has several peculiarities, many of which are covered in the leadership principles and the annual letter to shareholders.
One clue the company gives is that every letter to shareholders ends with this point from the 1997 letter:
“Our core values and approach remain unchanged. We continue to aspire to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
It’s safe to say that your answers should include some indication of how you are a customer-centric person.
How to Answer Common Amazon Interview Questions
To answer any of Amazon’s interview questions, you’ll need to use the STAR method to frame your answer around one (or more) of their leadership principles and use data to support your answer while including something about the company’s peculiarities.
Get career ready with this free class from Cisco. Learn how to analyze a data set, manage a project, and communicate in the workplace.
Avg. Time: 2-2.5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Data analysis, data presentation, project management, project planning
What’s more, Amazon also says that your answers should be specific and detailed, as well as have a beginning, middle, and end. You should also be ready to answer follow-up questions in even greater detail and use examples that are unique to you.
Phew! That’s a lot, but with a little practice, you can do it!
Fortunately, Amazon posts several common interview questions it asks during in-person or phone interviews, so you can practice your answer and get a feel for what works. Head over to Amazon’s interview information page and click on “Behavioral-based interviewing” to see them. Let’s check out two of Amazon’s interview questions and possible answers.
Describe a time you took the lead on a project.
OK. Technically this is a request, but it’s still a behavioral interview question. The interviewer is asking you to tell a story that explains when you led a project and what the outcome was.
Don’t worry if you don’t have the word “manager,” “supervisor,” or any other leadership-type words in your current or past job titles. What the hiring manager is looking for is a time you stepped up and led something.
So, let’s say you’re going to talk about a group project from school. Using the STAR method, you could explain how everyone volunteered to take on parts of the project, but no one seemed to be getting their work done. You stepped up and collaborated with the entire team to ensure everyone did what they were supposed to.
But to make your answer more Amazon-ish, you need to frame it around a leadership principle (say, bias toward action), use data to back up your answer (the grade your group received), and how your actions were customer-centric.
That last part may be a bit tricky because, technically, there are no customers in this scenario. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use this example to illustrate how you are a customer-centric person.
Your answer could go something like this:
I was part of a group project for class. Things started off OK. Everyone volunteered to take on a specific portion of the project, and we agreed to a timeline for milestones. A few people missed the first milestone, which was fine, but from there, the entire team seemed to slip.
Worried we were going to either turn in something not great or miss the due date entirely, I stepped in. I met with each person on the team to see what was holding them back and brainstorm ideas on how to get their part of the project done — without doing the work for them!
In talking to my teammates, I learned that some of them needed information from others in order to make progress on their part. So, I organized a group chat and set up a shared Google doc where everyone could discuss how things were going and what they needed from other team members in a transparent, shared, and organized manner.
This helped improve communication among the team and had a noticeable impact on how quickly the project moved along. After we started communicating more openly, we didn’t miss milestones and got the project in on time, resulting in an A grade on the project.
This answer hits all the essential points. It talks about the situation (people missing milestones), task (meeting with each person), action (brainstorming, setting up the chat and shared document), and result (made the milestones, turned the project in on time, got an A).
What’s more, the answer also hits the key points Amazon looks for. It’s framed around a leadership principle (bias toward action) and includes data (the grade). And it explains how you’re customer-centric. By talking to teammates, you learned what challenges they were facing and devised a solution that met their needs.
When did you take a risk, make a mistake, or fail? How did you respond? How did you grow from it?
At first glance, this may seem like a trick question. Why would Amazon want you to talk about a time you failed? Should you say that you’ve never taken a risk or are always right?
One of Amazon’s leadership principles is “Leaders are right, a lot.” Interestingly, the explanation says that while a leader has strong judgment and good instincts, leaders also “seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.”
In other words, leaders know that while they’re right most of the time, they aren’t right all of the time. And sometimes, the best way to learn when you’re right is to occasionally be wrong.
The question is asking if you’re comfortable taking a risk even when there’s a chance you’ll be wrong. And that time you were wrong, what did you learn from it, and how did it change your thought process or methods?
Your answer could go something like this:
When I was an intern, I was responsible for the email list. This included list hygiene, merging new entries onto the list, and segmenting the list for different campaigns. I had never worked with email management software before, so I was learning on the job. For the most part, that was fine. There were a lot of helpful tutorials online.
But one day, I was asked to segment an already segmented list, and I just could not find a tutorial anywhere. I googled and searched the software’s knowledge base but…nothing. Then I tried internal resources, like Slack and Notion, but there was nothing there.
I had already been at the internship for about three months and assumed that with that amount of time on the job, people figured I knew how to do my job, and if I asked a question, people would wonder if I should still be responsible for the list or even in the internship.
So… I guessed how to do it. And it was wrong. It wasn’t a huge deal in that it didn’t involve a coupon code or sale or anything, but it did give a group of people incorrect information about their order.
When my boss found out, he had me send out a corrected email with an apology note, then explained to me how to segment a segmented list. And, much to my relief, he wasn’t mad about what happened and told me that in the future, I should ask for help!
What I learned from this is that there really are no stupid questions. I knew this, of course, but actually living it is different. I also learned that no one expects anyone to know everything, so it’s OK to ask for help whenever you need it. Someone on the team probably has the answer, and the team is there to help and support each other.
This answer describes a situation (being responsible for the email list), task (segmenting a segmented list), action (not knowing what to do, so guessing), and the result (you messed up but learned it’s OK to ask questions).
And it’s also framed around a leadership principle: Leaders are right, a lot. In this instance, you took the lead and made a decision, but it didn’t work out. This is one of those times you were wrong but learned something.
It also includes data, even though it’s not a number. In this case, it’s what you did after the fact (sent out the corrected email with an apology) and what you learned about asking questions and teamwork.
And finally, this also explains how you’re customer-centric. You were trying to serve the customers by sending an email, and once you found out you were wrong, you did what was necessary to make it right.
How to Answer Common Amazon Technical Interview Questions
If you’re applying for a software development or software engineering role, you’ll also have a technical interview. This is slightly different from a behavioral interview in that the hiring manager will see you use your skills by whiteboarding or coding during the interview instead of asking you to talk about them.
Amazon offers candidates tips to prepare for the technical interview. You should be ready for topics like:
- Programming languages
- Data structures
- Object-oriented design
- Distributed computing
- Operating systems
- Internet topics
- General machine learning and artificial intelligence
Unlike the behavioral questions, Amazon does not provide a list of common technical interview questions. Instead, the company briefly explains how to prepare for questions about each topic.
For example, under algorithms, Amazon says you don’t need to memorize a bunch of algorithms. Instead, you’ll need a “good understanding” of common algorithms (like traversals and divide and conquer), how to implement them, and the limitations of each algorithm. This will help you solve the problems the interviewer presents.
Answering Amazon Interview Questions: The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there’s really no “wrong” way to answer any of Amazon’s interview questions. But by using the STAR method to frame your answer and including elements of Amazon’s leadership principles and peculiarity, along with data to back your answer up, you’ll be a strong candidate that stands out.
Get prepped for other common interview questions you might encounter:
- Analytical Skills Interview Questions (and Answers)
- 15 Entry-Level Interview Questions
- Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Do You Think You Are Qualified for This Position?’
- How to Answer: ‘What Motivates You?’ in a Job Interview
- How to Answer: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
- What Is a ‘Good’ Weakness for a Job Interview?
- Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Is Your Greatest Strength?’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Are You Applying for This Position?’
Image credit: NewAfrica/Depositphotos.com