/ Interviews

How to Nail Amazon’s Behavioral Interview Questions

Hey there! Have you heard? Amazon has two new leadership principles in 2021. This article is part of our series on Amazon's interviews. For even more help, resources, and recently-asked Amazon interview questions, check out our complete Amazon Interview Course.

It's no secret that getting a job at the big tech companies is challenging. Even for product managers with years of experience, the behavioral interview can be intimidating. In a way, interview processes at companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are 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?

Amazon does things a little differently. Applicants can expect to be asked a set of questions commonly referred to as behavioral interview questions. Amazon puts an enormous emphasis on these questions as they strive to find candidates that will fit in with the company culture - much more so than other FAANG companies like Apple or Facebook, where technical skills are generally assessed more heavily.

"I'd rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person." - Jeff Bezos, Founder and Former CEO, Amazon

Behavioral questions are 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. We've included:

  • A quick introduction to behavioral interview questions and what they assess.
  • The STAR method: A framework for answering behavioral questions effectively.
  • A deep-dive into each of the 16 leadership principles Amazon uses to assess candidates.
  • 50+ recently-asked Amazon interview questions to practice, and example answer  including several mock interview videos.

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.

These questions focus on your past behavior and performance. Companies like to ask these because they reveal quite a bit about you and help predict job performance (at least in theory.) Interviewers are looking to deduce your skillset, how you may perform as an employee, and how well you'll fit in with the Amazon workplace culture.

They also clue your interviewer into how you think. In Amazon's case, they are also looking for evidence of what they call "Leadership Principles" - something we’ll explain shortly.

Some examples of Amazon behavioral interview questions include:

You'll find many more of these below.

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 were to ask you to "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.

What does this look like in practice?

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

illustration by Ouch.pics

Use every behavioral question to demonstrate 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 16 leadership principles, mostly written by Bezos himself and updated as recently as 2021, that its employees and the company overall are expected to uphold.

Amazon's 16 Leadership Principles: An Overview

  • Customer Obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent & Simplify
  • Are Right, A lot
  • Learn and Be Curious
  • 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
  • Strive to be Earth's Best Employer (New in 2021)
  • Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility (New in 2021)

Naturally, your interviewer will be listening closely to the examples of past performance you give in response to their behavioral questions, and how you've demonstrated these leadership principles. As we mentioned before, behavioral questions at Amazon interview may hold more weight than at other companies.

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

Let's review each in-depth.

Leadership Principles In Practice: Examples of Amazon Behavioral Interview Questions

Photo by Van Tay Media / Unsplash

Below, you'll find the short explanation of each leadership principle given by Amazon on their careers page. Read each explanation thoroughly, as you'll pick up clues as to how your answers to behavioral questions will be scored. When you're ready, watch the expert mock interviews linked and then try your hand at a few sample behavioral interview questions compiled from past interviews.

1) Customer Obsession

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Watch an Amazon PM answer the Customer Obsession question: "Tell me about a time you solved a pain point for customers."

Practice questions:

2) Ownership

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Watch an Amazon TPM answer the Ownership question: "Tell me about a time where you were dissatisfied with the status quo."

Practice questions:

3) Invent & Simplify

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

4) Are Right, A Lot

What does this mean at Amazon? "Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts.  They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs."

Practice questions:

5) Learn and Be Curious

What does this mean at Amazon? "Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves.  They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them."

Practice questions:

6) Hire and Develop the Best

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

7) Insist on the Highest Standards

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

8) Think Big

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

9) Bias for Action

What does this mean at Amazon? "Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and  do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking."

Practice questions:

10) Frugality

What does this mean at Amazon? "Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness,  self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing  headcount, budget size, or fixed expense."

Practice questions:

11) Earn Trust

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

12) Dive Deep

What does this mean at Amazon? "Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task  is beneath them."

Practice questions:

13) Have Backbone; Disagree & Commit:

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

14) Deliver Results

What does this mean at Amazon? "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."

Practice questions:

15) Strive to be Earth's Best Employer

What does this mean at Amazon? "Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with  empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun.  Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what's next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees' personal success, whether that be at  Amazon or elsewhere."

Practice questions:

16) Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

What does this mean at Amazon? "We started in a garage, but we're not there anymore. We are big, we  impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and  thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local  communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every  day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do  better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners,  and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even  more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave  things better than how they found them."

Practice questions:

Want more? Give these bonus practice questions a try:

  • Tell me about a time when you took a calculated risk.
  • 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 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.

For even more on the subject, John Rossman 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.

Tips For A Successful Interview

illustration by Ouch.pics

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.

Tip: Amazon interviewers have been known to give "pop quizzes" on the leadership principles, so be sure you can recite them as well as effectively answer behavioral questions.

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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