5 Lessons I learned from a failed interview process with AWS

Amazon Nov 26, 2019

This post was originally written in my LinkedIn profile.

Last month, I had the pleasure to be part of an interview process with Amazon Web Services.

First, let me clarify some things:

  • This post is not intended to dismiss or talk anything bad about Amazon and its interview process. To the contrary, my intention with this post is to help you to excel on it
  • Amazon's interview process is tough but not impossible. If you plan correctly your preparation, you will be doing a great job

Lesson # 1: Your Amazon Recruiter has the best intentions and she/he actually wants to help you to do a great job

This could be seen as a trivial thing but it's not. Believe me: Everyone in the recruiter team at Amazon I interacted with, was awesome. I had the pleasure to work with several of them (Camila, Lucas, Devon) and I can't thank them enough.

If you have a problem in the middle of the process, you should talk to them without any problem.

For example: in my case, I'm Cuban, so I had to request a visa for the onsite interviews in Santiago, Chile.

But the problem with this was that the Chilean Embassy receives the request and they have by law one month to give you the visa. When I was discussing this with Camila, she quickly coordinated with the interviewers inside Amazon, and we did the onsite interviews online.

This was not a typical situation for them, but they understood the issue and did it in this way.

So, again: if you have any problem, talk to your recruiter.

Lesson # 2: The role matters

In my case, I was interviewing for a Data Architect, Data Lake & Analytics role, based in Santiago de Chile.

Believe me when I say this: You don't have to know everything about the role, but at least 70% of the responsibilities. I believe in this role, the percentage of knowledge is higher because according to the job description, you will discuss everything with CTOs, CEOs and many high-level roles in the companies:

Customer facing skills to represent AWS well within the customer’s environment and drive discussions with senior personnel regarding trade-offs, best practices, project management and risk mitigation. Should be able to interact with Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Risk Officers, Chief Technology Officers, and Chief Information Officers, as well as the people within their organizations.

My advice on this is simple:

Apply for the best role you see on the jobs page, and if you don't feel ready for the role, don't apply. Study, learn, study again, make sure you are prepared and then apply.

Lesson # 3: Amazon's 14 Principles Matter More Than You Think

I can't discuss anything about the questions or anything more deeply about Amazon's interview process because I signed an NDA. But I can say this:

I can't stress enough the importance of these leadership principles at Amazon.

Everything done at Amazon is based on these principles. My advice here? Remember at least two stories related to these principles, and practice. Please: don't memorize everything. The idea is to have an engaging conversation with your interviewers, not to bore them.

There are many videos on YouTube that can help you to think in great responses for these principles, but again: don't memorize them; practice your response with your partner, with a friend.

I believe one of the reasons why I failed is because I didn't bring enough examples to discuss in the interview process. Lesson learned.

And don't forget about the STAR method to answer these questions and always try to deliver the Results part with numbers. Amazon is a true Data-Driven company, so if you can show this in the interview process, even better.

Lesson # 4: Smile

My advice here is simple:

Enjoy the process

This can be a challenging task because you will be nervous, but if you enjoy the process; if you enjoy the discussions and conversations with your interviewers; you will do a better job. And if you smile during the process; this can help you to forget about your nerves.

In my case, in every interview I had; I tried to smile and have a great conversation with them, and I had to say it: This can help you a lot.

Lesson # 5: Don't forget to ask questions

Yes. You have to ask questions. This is not a hard requirement, but this is your opportunity to show you have done your homework.

In my case, I asked questions about the recent JEDI contract that Microsoft won, and how I believed that AWS was the leader and why I was shocked by this decision. Even, I created a video on YouTube about it:

The idea here was to ask contextual questions about Amazon and AWS as a team. This was an important decision that could have an impact on the future AWS business. That's why I believed it was a good question to ask.

Another question I asked was:

Tell me about one thing you like about Amazon and one thing you don't like

This question led to incredible debates with my interviews. So, believe when I say: Questions matters. It's your opportunity to be remembered.

It's a shame to know I can't be part of this organization yet. But, at the same time, this makes me join the company even more now because now I know why they invest a lot of time in the interview process: Amazon wants the best people for their roles.

Two of their principles are:

Hire and Develop the Best
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.
Insist on the Highest Standards
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.

Yes: The bar at Amazon is very high, but I see this as a good thing.

So: prepare, apply, enjoy the process, smile, ask questions; and get that role at Amazon.

If you have any comments, suggestion or questions; please let it here or simple, send me a message here. It would be a pleasure to help you to get a role there, or simply connect with Camila. I know she will do the best to help you to enter at Amazon.

Some resources to help you on this journey for a technical interview:

Marcos Ortiz Valmaseda

Editor at The Panda Way, where I help companies to earn more income through #investing. Cloud Data Engineer in the morning at Grupo Intercorp