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How to Nail Amazon’s Behavioral Interview Questions

It's no secret that getting a job at one of the big tech companies can be quite challenging. In a way, the interviews at companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are almost as famous as the companies themselves.

There are countless books geared at giving their readers a leg up on these interviews, such as Cracking the Amazon Interview and Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?

Applicants for positions at Amazon can expect to be asked a set of questions commonly referred to as behavioral interview questions. Amazon puts an enormous emphasis on these questions for their applicants because they really put a serious emphasis on their hiring process and those they decide to hire. Jeff Bezos famously once said that "I'd rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person."

As such, the company leans heavily upon these types of questions to gauge whether you're right for the job.These may be a little difficult to improvise on the spot, so it'd be wise to prepare for them ahead of time. This article will allow you to do just that.

What are Behavioral Interview Questions?

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Before we get down to it, we should probably explain what exactly a behavioral interview question is.

Well, you may have already guessed, but they're the questions focused on gleaning info on your past behavior and performance in earlier positions. Companies like Amazon include these questions because they reveal quite a bit about you.

Based on your answers, they can deduce what kind of skills you have, how you may perform as an employee, and how well you'd mesh well into the Amazon workplace culture.

They also clue your interviewer into how you think, and if you demonstrate something called "Leadership Principles," something we’ll explain in more detail later in this article.

Some examples of Amazon behavioral interview questions include:

What was your most creative idea?

What's an example of a time that a project failed?

Walk me through a time you didn't agree with your manager?

The STAR Method

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Under the 'Bias for Action' leadership principle, Bezos claims that "speed matters in business." This attitude extends towards their interviews, as well. Your interviewer won't appreciate meandering anecdotes that seem to jump all over the place. They want you to be clear, concise, while still demonstrating a depth of understanding with clarity of thought.

That's why Amazon isn't secretive about its encouragement of something called the STAR method.

The STAR method is a way of answering these types of questions in a succinct, yet, complete way.

STAR stands for:

S - Situation

T - Task

A - Action

R - Results

So, for example, if your interviewer was to say:

Tell me about a time you had to make a decision to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.

You're advised to use the STAR method to make the most out of your answer without any rambling or confusing answers. So, you'd begin by briefly describing the situation in which you had to make such a decision. What was the context, how'd you know you needed to make the decision, etc.

Elaborate on the necessary tasks involved with the decision to make short-term sacrifices, the actions you took in completing these tasks, and, finally, the results that occurred, especially, in this case, regarding these long-term gains.

So what's a behavioral answer look like?

Well, here's a sample answer a member of the Exponent community gave to "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."

Situation: Let me tell you about a time where a website I managed suddenly showed slow performance and the mistake on our side was it was unnoticed until a user reported the issue to management. As a PM for that project, I took full responsibility for the situation and worked with the engineering team to quickly resolve it.

Tasks: This mistake taught me the importance of focusing and monitoring non-functional requirements as well in addition to new feature development /adoption where I was mostly spending my time on.

Action: After deploying the quick fix, I ensured that such a mistake doesn’t get repeated by putting a good application management tool in place and set up to receive email alerts and necessary Pagerduty alerts when website behavior exceeds set thresholds/SLAs. I personally took the effort to also learn the tool myself to further analyze past issues and call out optimization areas to engineering.

Result: With that effort, we are able to show consistent page load times to be less than 3s. I also shared my learnings with other PMs in my team in a brown bag session so they could also benefit.

Using this method, your interviewer will learn a lot of useful information about you in a short amount of time. Behavioral interview questions can often be directed at past situations that can be very complex, nuanced, or that require some context to fully understand. But with the STAR method, you don't need to worry about leaving anything important out or wasting the interviewer's time with a long-winded response.

Amazon's Leadership Principles

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During Amazon's behavioral section of the interview, your interviewer will be particularly focused on how your answers demonstrate an alignment with Amazon's Leadership Principles.

Amazon is well known for its strict adherence to the management principles laid out by its CEO, Jeff Bezos. One of these is the famous 'Day 1' mentality that surely had a lot to do with Amazon's colossal success.

But Day 1 isn't the only tenant that Amazon holds dear. The company has 14 leadership principles, written by Bezos himself, that its employees, and the company itself, are expected to uphold.

These are:

  • Customer Obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent & Simplify
  • Are Right, A lot
  • Learn and Be Cautious
  • Hire and Develop the Best
  • Insist on the Highest Standards
  • Think Big
  • Bias for Action
  • Frugality
  • Earn Trust
  • Dive Deep
  • Have Backbone; Disagree & Commit
  • Deliver Results

Naturally, your interviewer will be listening closely to the examples of past performance you give in response to their behavioral questions, and how they demonstrate these leadership principles.

Amazon is well known for the hyper-competitive, and often ruthless, corporate culture. As such, it's safe to say that the behavioral questions during an Amazon interview may hold more weight than at other companies.

Which is even more reason to prepare for them ahead of time.

John Rossman actually wrote a remarkably helpful book that explains in detail what each leadership principle is and why they're important to Amazon's business philosophy. Give it a read, and you should have no problem impressing your interviewer with your clear understanding of the leadership principles.

Also, be mindful of the fact that your interviewer may even ask you to recite what the leadership principles are. So, not only should you study up for the sake of your behavioral responses, but just in case you receive that pop quiz-esque "please recite the Amazon leadership principles."

Examples of Amazon Behavioral Interview Questions

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Here's a list of sample behavioral interview questions compiled from past interviews.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to leave a task unfinished.
  • Give me two examples of when you did more than what was required in any job experience.
  • Tell me about a time when you took a calculated risk.
  • Tell me about your proudest professional achievement.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to leave a task unfinished.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with incomplete data or information.
  • Tell me about a time when you influenced a change by only asking questions.
  • Tell me about a time when you invented something.
  • Tell me about a time when you solved a problem through just superior knowledge or observation.
  • Give me two examples of when you did more than what was required in any job experience.
  • Tell me about a time you had to deal with ambiguity.
  • Tell me about a time you had to handle a crisis.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision that was going to have a significant impact on the business.
  • Tell me about a time when you had a group conflict, and how did you overcome this conflict?
  • Tell me about a situation where you directly impacted customer satisfaction.

Tips For A Successful Interview

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It must be remembered that unlike other questions you'd be asked, there are no right answers, per se.

That is, there can be countless right answers, as it's based on your personal experiences.

However, there are several tips you can keep in mind to ensure the effective performance of your interview.

Do Your Research

First and foremost, you should do your research on the general scope of the behavioral questions you may be asked.While you'll never know exactly what questions you'll be asked, looking over the following list should give you a good idea about what you're up against.

Brainstorm Possible Situations

You should brainstorm possible situations from your previous experiences that you could use for these questions. If you read through our list of behavioral interview questions, you’ll get a good sense of what answers employers are generally looking for. You can use as a good starting point in your brainstorming.

Write the Situations Down & Flesh Them Out

After you’ve brainstormed relevant work experiences, write them down and flesh them out so that you're not stumbling to remember some of the details amid the questioning. Make sure to write them down according to the STAR method, as well, to make sure your answers are both concise and fully developed.

Study the Role You’re Applying For

Given Amazon's notoriously high standards for their hiring process, you should also do as much research as you can about the role you're applying for along with the work that the role's department/team actually does. Your interviewer is bound to ask questions aimed at evaluating if you're a culture fit, and your prior research will only help to make the best impression possible.

Not only that but your research regarding the role you're applying for can give you a good impression on the behavioral skills necessary for the job. And by extension, it can give you a good idea of the behavioral questions they may ask regarding those skills.

Consult With an Exponent Coach

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Here at Exponent, we understand that it may be both extremely exciting and nerve-wracking when you have an Amazon interview just on the horizon. That's why we put together some Interview Prep Courses for Product Management, Software Engineering, Data Science, Product Marketing Management, and many more.

Alongside our courses, we also offer industry-leading interviewing coaching to help you

  • Get an insider’s look from someone who’s been interviewed, got the offer, and worked at the companies you’re applying at.
  • Receive an objective evaluation of where you stand as a job candidate.
  • Obtain personalized feedback and coaching to help improve and get more job offers.

A few of our coaches have even worked at Amazon, so you can trust that they know exactly what you need to do to prepare. If you're interested, be sure to check out the profiles of former Amazon interviewers Abhishek Joshi, Sai Boddupalli, and Vichitra Kidambi to request a coaching session today.

Anthony Pellegrino

Anthony Pellegrino

I’m a rather bohemian freelance journalist and tech content writer. Philosophy/CS student - A.I.,Consciousness, Social Sciences.

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