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How Amazon use its leadership principles to attract and develop the best talent

Dee Clarke - Head of EU Campus Programmes, Amazon

Dee Clarke is Senior Manager and Head of Campus Recruitment at Amazon, with over 15 years’ experience in the HR and careers sector. Here, she give us an insight into her favourite of Amazon’s core Leadership Principles, and explains how these are used to identify future leaders, attract the best entry level talent to the business.

Dee says, “Our Leadership Principles are used throughout the business, every day - and we apply them to everything, from new projects and ideas, to finding solutions to problems and of course, to the hiring process.”

“We have a high bar for hiring at Amazon – from our interns to our most senior executives. We evaluate candidates not just on their experience and impact, but most importantly, on how they embody our Leadership Principles – and whether they will thrive in a career at Amazon. This is at the forefront of our interviewers minds, even at the telephone screening and on-site assessment. Below are seven of my favourite Leadership Principles that we look for when assessing university talent.

Ownership 

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."

We find that a great way to determine whether a candidate is comfortable being an owner of their work is through the different exercises and interviews held during our assessment days. When managing a project, Amazonians work hard to understand the information they are presented with, dive deep into the results and own their recommendations and ideas with conviction. In the interview process, we use real life case studies to allow candidates to demonstrate their recommendations and ideas, group exercises to show how they drive results in teams, and in-person interviews to allow candidates to show how they’ve innovated, created and learned in previous life experiences. This allows us to assess how potential hires will respond to real-life scenarios they will encounter at Amazon.

Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgement and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Amazon’s competency-based questions allow us to probe further and identify if candidates have naturally good instincts and strong judgement. Someone who is a natural leader will be curious and ask more questions in order to arrive at the best solution. They will always admit to not knowing the answer to a question, rather than guessing haphazardly, or answering to save face, and getting it wrong.

Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

We always ask what candidates do outside of their work and studies, because it is very important to us that they are the sort of people who actively seek new opportunities to develop, grow their network and gain a greater diversity of thought. Amazon provides a breadth of opportunities in a variety of business areas, so we want to hire people who are interested in the world around them (not just their particular job or company), who connect the dots, and bring ideas and people together. Having intellectual curiosity means that a candidate challenges preconceived notions, and looks for new ways of working - which will enable us to keep innovating as a company.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

We look for candidates who think and act quickly and on their feet. This is easy to spot in the interview process, where we look for people who move fast, but not at the expense of quality. Having a Bias for Action means you are comfortable taking calculated, smart risks to best meet your customer’s needs, and that you’re comfortable failing as long as you are learning along the way. As Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos once said, "To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organisations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there."

Earn Trust

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 odour smells of perfume.  They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

While candidates naturally may want to be confident and sell themselves in an interview, never take credit for work that’s not yours, or fail to recognise when an achievement was a team effort. This comes across quite early on in our phone screening stage of the interview process, where we ask graduates to give key examples of their achievements and failures. Candidates should expect to be able to speak to the examples they provide, and their personal role in a project, in detail. Successful candidates are always self-aware, humble, authentic, responsible and resilient.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

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.

One test for a strong candidate in the interviewing process is to see whether or not they are comfortable respectfully disagreeing with you in the room. I will always ask our candidates questions that I expect to be challenged on. In the case study and group exercise, we want candidates to back up their ideas, but also to listen to others. Candidates who disagree respectfully and confidently, and offer an alternative solution, tend to do very well at Amazon.

Think Big

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.

Does the candidate focus solely on the task at hand, or do they think more broadly about the impact on the business and customers? In the Amazon recruitment process, successful candidates are able to explain how an isolated task they’ve completed will impact the business as a whole. Strong candidates see each task as an opportunity to take a step forward as a business, solve a major customer problem in a new way, or have positive impact outside of their role, rather than as a mere box-ticking exercise. Thinking like this is a sign that a candidate can be visionary in their role and weigh up the pros and cons of decision-making.