Are you a senior technical leader with a passion for team development? Do you wish for the resources of a tech giant, yet yearn to run your team your own way? Amazon may be the perfect place for you.
Working as a Software Developement Manager (SDM) at Amazon will test your technical skills as well as your people management skills. "It's a huge organization and hard to generalize" notes an Amazon SDM, but the interview process is straightforward.
All Amazon employees go through a unique interview loop in which they're assessed on a variety of company-specific leadership principles as well as technical skills. The e-commerce arm of Amazon is open to candidates of all backgrounds, but Amazon Web Services (AWS) prefers those with very strong tech backgrounds.
Begin your application process by searching for roles on Amazon’s careers page.
You'll begin the process by speaking with a recruiter. The purpose of this call is to ensure that you’re a good fit for the role, so you'll go through resume highlights and discuss a few technologies you've worked with. It’s a fairly straightforward call to assess your background and fit. Be prepared to elaborate on your work experience and why you want to work at Amazon.
Next, you’ll complete one or two screening rounds with the hiring manager and possibly an engineer. This will take 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll get a mix of questions about your background, hypothetical people management questions, and leadership principle questions.
To prepare for questions around past experience and hypotheticals, review your resume and draft byte-sized snippets of your past work. Don’t neglect to prepare for detailed questions however - many SDM interviewees reported that Amazon interviewers asked lots of follow-up questions. You’ll need to be able to describe your thought process and tradeoffs as well as results.
The interviewer will also ask you questions pertaining to Amazon's 14 Leadership Principles., which you should prep for thoroughly, as they’ll come up again and again.
After the screening calls and before the on-site, you’ll asked to write a page or two on a past achievement. This assesses your communication skills and will serve as a jumping off point for behavioral questions. Be sure to explain the context of the achievement as well as the actual who-what-when and how. As a SDM, you’re expected to be a leader, so be sure not to overstate your contributions at the expense of your team.
The on-site lasts a day and includes 5-6 rounds, each lasting roughly an hour. You'll start off with brief introductions, work through the interview questions, and you'll have an opportunity to ask questions at the end of each. Amazon emphasizes leadership principles, but you'll also face at least one system design round. Your interviewers will typically be at the same level you're interviewing for or above. Exponent members report that recruiters are very helpful and will provide information on the leadership principles, system design, and position-specific skill requirements before your on-site. They are quite responsive if you have questions, so don't hesitate to take advantage.
Amazon includes a "bar-raiser" tasked with ensuring that every new hire "raises the bar" at Amazon. Specifically, their job is to ensure that candidates who get hired are at least better than 50% of the current workforce. You won't know which interviewer is the designated bar-raiser, so be sure to position yourself as an asset throughout - the bar-raiser has special veto power, and his or her voice carries more weight than other interviewers (with the possible exception of the hiring manager).
You will receive the results of your on-site interview quickly, sometimes even within 24 hours.
If you've done well, you'll receive an offer. Congratulations! Your recruiter will call to close the loop and ask for your input on compensation. If you performed well in the on-site, but the team did not feel there is a good mutual fit, you may enter a team matching stage where you speak with different hiring managers from other teams. You can expect these post-onsite questions to be more casual. To be on the safe side, you should still brush up on Amazon's leadership principles and have stories for how you embody them.
Amazon's behavioral interviews are centered around their 14 leadership principles. System design rounds are straightforward; prepare diligently for both.
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job."
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
Note: This leadership is less frequently touched upon in the interview.
Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
Note: This leadership is less frequently touched upon in the interview.
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ. No task is beneath them.
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
When Exponent spoke with a few folks who interviewed for an Amazon EM role, some had reported that they also encountered the following questions:
System design rounds assess your ability to break complex problems into digestible chunks, while considering tradeoffs, edge cases, and business goals. Your interviewer will ask a question like "Design Twitter."
In this interview, Amazon is looking for the following:
The best way to prepare for system design interviews is to watch our practice system design interviews like this one on how to design TikTok, and try your hand at some practice system design questions in our interview question database.
After your on-site interview, there will be a debrief. Everyone compares notes and gives a hire/no-hire recommendation.
The leadership principles, all equally weighted, are the main points of discussion. Each on-site interviewer was given two leadership principles to evaluate, and will have taken notes accordingly. If any of your answers violates of the leadership principles, that will be a red flag and send a negative signal. The bar raiser and hiring manager's voices are important, but overall, fairly equal consideration is given all interviewers.
"For on the fence hires, the group will weight technical and leadership skills, consider if they lack fundamentals like attitude. Do they just need polish? [Oftentimes] they give benefit of the doubt based on potential. It's very case-by-case." notes our Amazon SDM insider.
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