Preparing for an Interview at Amazon Series: Phone Screen

I’ve been at Amazon for just under a year, at the time of writing, and as I approach my first anniversary, I reflect on how I got on this crazy, exciting merry-go-ride, they call Prime Video. I wanted to put down my thoughts on screen as to how I prepared for the interviews, what the interview process was like, and provide some tips for you, if you do get the privilege of going through the interview loop. Mind you, I am giving you just my mere perspective, as a Senior Technical Program Manager, and other roles would certainly have their caveats and domains of expertise.

Phone Screen

Assuming you’ve gone through the online application and have been sought after by a recruiter, phone screening is your entry into the interview loop, your first (and possibly only) opportunity to impress.

At Amazon, our interviews are rooted in behavioral-based questions which ask about past situations or challenges you’ve faced and how you handled them, using Leadership Principles to guide the discussion. We avoid brain teasers (e.g., “How many windows are in Manhattan?”) as part of the interview process. We’ve researched this approach and have found that those types of questions are unreliable when it comes to predicting a candidate’s success at Amazon.

(Source: Amazon)

As a TPM, I had to produce a kind of essay, demonstrating my work style in my previous companies, and of course aligning those with Amazon’s Leadership Principles(LPs), something you should certainly read back to front. Check out some of my other blog posts that dive into some of the leadership principles.

Structure

Your phone interview will consist of behavioral-based questions where you will demonstrate how you resolved past situations, whilst highlighting leadership principle qualities, along the way.

Questions you may face include(source: Amazon):

  • Tell me about a time when you were faced with a problem that had a number of possible solutions. What was the problem and how did you determine the course of action? What was the outcome of that choice?
  • When did you take a risk, make a mistake, or fail? How did you respond, and how did you grow from that experience?
  • Describe a time you took the lead on a project. What did you do when you needed to motivate a group of individuals or promote collaboration on a particular project?
  • How have you leveraged data to develop a strategy?

Preparing

The first thing you will need to do is build your own experience artifact, by creating an outline using the S.T.A.R method, and use the LPs as your guide for the questions. Then come up with about two or three examples tor each type of LP, variants.

It is critical your set of examples are diverse, don’t use the same example more than once.

Amazon is a data-driven company, so have your answers in S.T.A.R, making sure you are concise and answering the question at hand, along with metrics or data to back up your decision, it will surely help validate your train of thought.

A technique I like to use is to always repeat the question back, to help you ensure you are answering the question correctly, and give you time to provide a balanced structured response.

Finally, be relaxed, let your answers come naturally and not overly manufactured, and be prepared to dive deeper into your responses.


Ask my anything

If you have any questions, please comment below, and I will do my best to answer them!

We are Hiring

Come work with me at Prime Video | Amazon. We are looking for technical program and product managers. Learn about all our cool live and streaming innovations. Based in Seattle or LA. No remote work.

Preparing for an Interview at Amazon Series: Assessments

I’ve been at Amazon for just under a year, at the time of writing, and as I approach my first anniversary, I reflect on how I got on this crazy, exciting merry-go-ride, they call Prime Video. I wanted to put down my thoughts on screen as to how I prepared for the interviews, what the interview process was like, and provide some tips for you, if you do get the privilege of going through the interview loop. Mind you, I am giving you just my mere perspective, as a Senior Technical Program Manager, and other roles would certainly have their caveats and domains of expertise.

Assessments

Assuming you’ve gone through the online application and have been sought after by a recruiter, and made it through the phone screening, ahead of your formal on-site interview, you will be tasked with completing a written assessment.

At Amazon, one of our highest priorities is hiring and developing the best, and we work hard to raise the performance bar with every hire. Amazon uses online assessments as one way to help us get to know you better, and we design them to measure key characteristics required for success in a role. Assessments also allow us to assess applicants consistently and equitably, as every individual is provided with the same experience and information needed to complete the assessment. Depending on the position, we may ask you to take an assessment during the application process or send it to you separately after you’ve applied. The type and number of assessments will depend on the role you apply for and in some cases, must be completed within a certain timeframe. The two common types of assessments are work style assessments and work sample simulations.

(Source: Amazon)

As a TPM, I had to produce a kind of essay, demonstrating my work style in my previous companies, and of course aligning those with Amazon’s Leadership Principles(LPs), something you should certainly read back to front. Check out some of my other blog posts that dive into some of the leadership principles.

Taking these LPs, your assessor will give you two questions to choose from, for you to dive deep into.

Structure

The first thing you will notice in your assessment instructions section, is that you will need to craft your writing in narrative form, no more than four pages.

Communications is quintessential to being at Amazon, the culture of being able to write well-structured narratives, regardless of whether you are a TPM, engineer, or product manager.

So, it is already clear that you will have to respond in a narrative form that does not contain bullet points, for the same reasons Amazon doesn’t like PowerPoint presentations. So do some research into what narrative form is, look at some best practice articles such as https://writers-house.com/blog/write-narrative-form/ as guidance. Ensure you write in active tense (no passive tense) and remove jargon.

Next, you should ensure every paragraph, every sentence, every word has a purpose. Be concise, write the minimum, and refrain from using weasel words.

A weasel word, or anonymous authority, is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated.

Did each paragraph explain your thought with clarity of expression, and flows on to the next paragraph? Think back to college, and how you structured your essays. Present facts in the body, hypotheses at the top, and a methodology that will narrate the reader from your question to your answers.

For arguments, you present, also think about counter-arguments one might present, or in scientific term, I like to group my thoughts into hypotheses, null and alternative hypotheses.

Proofread

The assessor expects you to submit your assessment in Microsoft Word, and that is good because Microsoft Word allows you to do some nifty proof-reading. You can download macros such as Grammarly to help you not only spell-check, but ensure your document conforms to the right grammar, for a technical document, along with the other elements such as active voice.

Ask my anything

If you have any questions, please comment below, and I will do my best to answer them!

We are Hiring

Come work with me at Prime Video | Amazon. We are looking for technical program and product managers. Learn about all our cool live and streaming innovations. Based in Seattle or LA. No remote work.

The three pillars of scrum

Most practitioners associate the tenets of the agile manifesto as the guiding principles in executing their scrum agendas. In this article, With the premise of Scrum optimized on empirical process control, I wanted to spend some time looking into the three pillars of Scrum theory: transparency, inspection and adaption and provide some annotation on what they really mean, and why these pillars should be the foundations of your practice.

Most practitioners associate the tenets of the agile manifesto as guiding principles in executing their scrum agendas. In this article, With the premise of Scrum optimized on empirical process control, I wanted to spend some time looking into the three pillars of Scrum theory: transparency, inspection and adaption and provide some annotation on what they really mean, and why these pillars should be the foundations of your practice.

Transparency

Scrum is a framework, and frameworks work when you create a mutual set of transparent standards that are understood and accepted. From cadence in communications to understanding user acceptance criteria and definition of done advocated for during planning, transparency is key to expectations within the Scrum team and associated stakeholders.

Inspection

As opposed to the waterfall sequential process of gathering requirements, building, testing, and publishing, Scrum prides itself on a circular iterative process. You build in iterations, inspect, adjust, and build again. Throughout the sprint, it is encouraged that scrum members validate the work they are doing with the product owner, facilitating incremental inspection towards ensuring trajectory to definition of done. Inspection allows for accounting for the unexpected conditions that may either prevent definition of done, or reduce the level of its overall success, however it is also important that the inspection mechanism isn’t overused at the expense of productivity and velocity, ultimately disrupting work. This of course sounds very familiar to engineers who employ test-driven programming, asserting a test suite of use cases accounting for known variances that map with the definition of done.

Adaptation

The fundamental superpower of Scrum is in its ability to encourage pivoting, shifting gears and direction based on feedback. Following on from inspection, adaptation allows you to learn and change what isn’t working, rather than commit to the project based on steadfast requirements gathered at a singular point in time. But not just the idea is open to change, but the process itself. As a framework, Scrum allows you to augment and adjust to your needs, and this pillar gives you the mandate to adjust communications, cadence, sprint length, inspection checkpoints accordingly.

3 Ways a PM can help the team De-stress

With Project deadlines looming, stress is often a factor that project managers have to deal with, especially with the team they are managing, with a clear correlation between the level of stress indured and the quality of work produced, not to mention emotional endurance. Let’s face it, almost every project (most likely every project) is under the pump at one stage or another during the lifecycle, and duress is something, as a Project Manager, you certainly need to deal with. 

With fixed resources, fixed time and budget, things tend to go awry, whether it is a strong dependency of a delivery from one team, a technical difficulty that cannot be resolved, scope changes, resource changes, and your job is to make sure things don’t go belly-up. Negative stress influences teams by de-optimizing their work efficiencies, resulting in lower-than-expected sprint velocities, dampen creativity and constructive thinking, resulting in mental fatigue, resulting in even simple coding errors creeping in.

There are of course specific PM courses of action you can take to address the problems, and this article isn’t about that, it’s more about how you can leverage your influence to act as a mentor, or guru to project positivity, in order to boost the morale of your team. Here are 3 Ways a PM can help the team De-stress.

With Project deadlines looming, stress is often a factor that project managers have to deal with, especially with the team they are managing, with a clear correlation between the level of stress indured and the quality of work produced, not to mention emotional endurance. Let’s face it, almost every project (most likely every project) is under the pump at one stage or another during the lifecycle, and duress is something, as a Project Manager, you certainly need to deal with. 

With fixed resources, fixed time and budget, things tend to go awry, whether it is a strong dependency of a delivery from one team, a technical difficulty that cannot be resolved, scope changes, resource changes, and your job is to make sure things don’t go belly-up. Negative stress influences teams by de-optimizing their work efficiencies, resulting in lower-than-expected sprint velocities, dampen creativity and constructive thinking, resulting in mental fatigue, resulting in even simple coding errors creeping in.

There are of course specific PM courses of action you can take to address the problems, and this article isn’t about that, it’s more about how you can leverage your influence to act as a mentor, or guru to project positivity, in order to boost the morale of your team. Here are 3 Ways a PM can help the team De-stress.

#1.Empathy

The most important attribute I believe a project manager should possess is empathy. Empathy – em·pa·thy – the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings (source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Measured as emotional intelligence, a powerful leadership quality is the ability to connect with each of your team-members on a non-technical, but emotional level, and understanding their needs, concerns and helping build a stronger and safer mental state for your team-member.

“Leaders with empathy,” according to Dr Daniel Goleman of the Harvard Business Review (“What Makes a Great Leader”), “do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways.”

This tool, empathy is powerful not just in the sense that it allows you to help console a team-member, but also a strong negotiating tool. That is, empathy doesn’t infer you need to agree with someone, but rather substitute agreement for empathy, showing a genuine concern for the other person’s concerns, feeling and motives, thereby portraying a greater level of reasoning that leads to a response that is in tune with what the person is going through.

#2. Rallying Your Team

Empathy should not just in the form of words, but actions, and you know the saying work hard, play hard, that’s something that PMs should always do. Ideally, you want your team to bond and gell well, in order to build a strong sense of synergy and dynamics, and while that takes some time to form, you need to help facilitate the fostering of positive relationships. One way of achieving this, is through providing down-time, or socializing activities for your team. 

For instance, start with something simple as pizza Fridays, catered lunches during meetings, and lunches outside of the office. Allow your team members to get to know each other on a more personal level, and the bond will directly translate into the team rallying together for a common cause, or goal. 

One analogy I like to give is to compare it to the ancient Roman or Greek battle-cries, where a strong army morale with inspiring rallying, leads to armies defeating other armies of even greater sizes. Morale therefore is one of the most powerful emotional states a team can have. 

“Schedule monthly get-togethers to reaffirm the project goals, congratulate the team on their successes to date and boost their confidence in doing what it takes to complete the project successfully. Make sure that each person leaves the meeting energized and passionate about finishing the remainder of the project.” (source: Jason Westland. “Managing Projects of all Sizes.” ProjectManager.com, 2014)

With sprints, this is also where retrospectives come in, where you always make sure that you recognize success, and attribute success to each member always. 

#3 Prevent Negative Members from Influencing the Team

Sometimes its not external influences but internal influences that causes stress in the team. It could be someone from another team, say a product owner, that is the instigator. As a Project Manager, you play a fundamental role in shielding your team from negative outside influences, you bat for the team, advocate for the team (I’m looking at you, overzealous product owners).

Identify the instigator and use your personal negotiation skills (remember we talkd about empathy as a tool as well) and directly come to agreements so that they go through you. While listening to his or her perspective on the matter, you also put forward a strong stance that you won’t tolerate negative influences on the team, to hinder their performances. 

If the instigator is someone from within your team, you need to quickly pin-point the stress point (weak points) early on, provide a concrete action plan that will improve the situation. Of course, to be respectful of that person and everyone else, do this in a private manner. 

Remember, as a PM you need to always practice what you preach, and be a positive influencer, for others to follow. You don’t lead through authority but rather through influence, so your charismatic and empathetic attributes as a great leader will greatly determine whether your team is performing at its optimal or not. Rubbing out negiative influences, and instead rallying around your team, with positive re-inforcement, will allow you to achieve more, with less, all thanks to the comradership of each of your team-members.