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“Why Amazon?” How to Answer Amazon’s Trickiest Interview Question

amandaeducative profile image Amanda Fawcett Originally published at educative.io ・10 min read

During the interview process, big tech companies like Amazon want to determine if you are a good fit for the company. This means that recruiters will test your technical prowess with coding challenges, and they will also assess you through behavioral interviews.

One of the most frequently asked behavioral interview questions is "Why do you want to work at Amazon?". While it might seem like a straightforward question, a lot of people struggle to answer it, even if they are very eager about a position at Amazon.

In this article, we will discuss how to answer this tricky Amazon interview question. We will discuss how to construct an impressive answer and walk through sample answers based on Amazon's leadership principles.

This guide at a glance:



Understanding the "Why Amazon" question

Many software engineers want to work at Amazon for its competitive salaries and benefits. But when Amazon recruiters or hiring managers ask “Why Amazon?”, they are looking to see what else compels you to join their teams.

At this point in the hiring process, interviewers already know about your work experience. Instead, this is a chance for them to assess if you are a fit for their culture and if you will stick around for the long-haul.

In other words, the "Why Amazon" interview question is assessing your motivations.

That's why it is better to answer this question emotionally. With an emotional answer, you have the chance to discuss your goals and values and goals as they pertain to Amazon’s principles. According to the recruitment slogans and goals set forth by Jeff Bezos (now former CEO), Amazon is looking for people who have an investment in the company beyond just a paycheck.

So, what makes a good response to this question? While there is no one right answer, a good response should be as specific as possible to Amazon and your experiences. You could touch on these topics:

  • Amazon's Products: If there is a particular produce that interests you, this is the time to mention it. For instance, if you're interviewing for AWS, mention that it's your default cloud development platform.
  • People: If you know employees who worked at Amazon, you should mention it. You could discuss how their positive experiences inspired you to apply. This conveys that you have a solid understanding of what Amazon is all about.
  • Values/Mission: If you are a big fan of Amazon's mission or leadership principles (which we discuss below), mention that you align closely with them. You could give examples of times where these values shined in your past job experiences. This also shows that you've done your research. > Note: Your response should not be interchangeable with other companies. For example, if you are also interviewing at Microsoft, your "Why Microsoft" answer should be about Microsoft's values, missions, and products. This job interview question is not a one-size-fits-all situation, unlike many other behavioral questions.



Amazon's Leadership Principles

Before you construct your answer to the "Why Amazon" question, it's important to align your response with Amazon's 14 leadership principles. A good answer will fit with Amazon's values and mission. Obviously, you cannot mention every leadership principle in your response, but addressing two of three indirectly will help you stand out.

Important: The Amazon onsite interviews will include a Bar Raiser interview (this is also true of virtual interviews during the COVID pandemic). This is an objective, third-party interviewer who evaluates you on these Leadership Principles. They have complete veto power over whether or not you will be hired.

Here are the 14 values that you be evaluated on:

  • Customer Obsession: Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. A customer-centric approach to solutions is always preferred.
  • 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. An Amazonian will never say “that’s not my job."
  • Invent and Simplify: 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."
  • Are Right, A Lot: Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
  • Learn and Be Curious: Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Think Big: Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results.
  • Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
  • Frugality: Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention.
  • Earn Trust: Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing.
  • Dive Deep: Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics differ. No task is beneath them.
  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree with co-workers, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.
  • Deliver Results: 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.



Examples of good answers

As I mentioned, a good answer should be specific to Amazon. It should capture an emotional response that is rooted in Amazon's leadership principles, values, and products. Let's take a look at a few sample answers to the "Why Amazon" questions. I will outline why each are a good response.

Sample Answer #1: Machine Learning Engineer/Data Scientist

I want to work at Amazon for three main reasons. First, I admire that Amazon values customer obsession. I believe that putting the customer first leads to better product and software. I am eager to design products that meet real human needs, and I like that Amazon puts that first. For example, I value that AWS is accessible at an enterprise and personal level so that analytics are available to anyone.

Secondly, a lot of my career has been devoted to creative applications of machine learning, which you can see throughout my resume. I am interested in Amazon's use of machine learning and its unique position in the market. In my last role, I was always seeking new ways to implement ML technologies but felt that the culture didn't make space for that. That's why this team excites me. They are looking for new collaborative ideas.

Lastly, a former co-worker now serves as a Product Manager at Amazon. She has told me all about the ongoing learning opportunities she had there, and I am eager to be immersed in a workspace that values my learning and development.

This is a great answer to the "Why Amazon" question. It is specific to Amazon and its products. It also naturally integrates three leadership principles: Customer Obsession, Think Big, and Learn and Be Curious.

This response is also emotional and personal: the respondent uses emotion-based adjectives like "excites" and mentions several personal experiences with Amazon as a company.

Lastly, this answer makes the respondent seem experienced and capable without being arrogant. Their response doesn't focus too much on themselves, yet they naturally integrate that they have relevant experience.

Sample Answer #2: Software Engineer

I am interested in working at Amazon because I want to help this division of Alexa develop new business opportunities in the realm of voice recognition. This is a topic that excites me on a personal and professional level. In fact, I did my Master's research thesis on new uses of Big Data in voice recognition software. That's why I was drawn to this role specifically.

More broadly, I am attracted to Amazon's culture of diving deep and taking ownership. I see a lot of value in taking projects seriously and trying to find clever ways to improve results as a team. These are some of the values I implement in my work, and I'd like to join a team that is already reaching for those standards.

I think that Amazon is at a very unique and interesting place in the market, and the resources Amazon has makes it possible to explore ideas with a good chance of success. Voice recognition is huge right now, but Amazon offers tools and metrics that make it unique, as compared to other big names, which draws me to the company.

This is a good answer to the "Why Amazon" question. It is specific to the role and job description. It also aligns the respondent's experiences with the values that drive those goals.

The respondent also expresses broad ideas about Amazon as a company, showing that they are already meeting their leadership principles. The respondent also focuses on the team aspect of Amazon and explains that they want to collaborate.

Lastly, this answer demonstrates that the respondent is aware of the market. They're not just there to get the job done. They are already thinking about the big picture.



Common mistakes to avoid

Now that we've seen two good examples, let's discuss some common mistakes that candidates make with the "Why Amazon?" question. In general, poorly constructed answers are not specific and focus on past experiences rather than values and goals.

  • Prestige: Amazon does have some clout, and a lot of developers are drawn to its reputation. But liking a strong brand name doesn't prove anything about the value you bring. Amazon is looking for a motivation that goes deeper. In fact, an answer that's all about prestige may come across as immature.
  • Company size: You may be drawn to Amazon because you want to work for a big tech company rather than a startup, and that's great! But this answer doesn't align with you with Amazon any more than it does Google or Facebook. A hiring manager or interviewer wants to learn why Amazon is the right choice for you, not what size of company is right for you.
  • Finances: You may be drawn to Amazon because of their salaries or rising stock prices, and that's totally okay. But this isn't a long-lasting reason. This answer doesn't really say anything about you as a worker, and it isn't specific to Amazon. You could discuss rising stock prices, but this shouldn't be the main motivation.
  • "I hate my current job": "I want to work at Amazon because my current job is limiting me." It's okay if you're unhappy with your current role, but this isn't a good motivator. If you use this approach, you may come across as desperate, and you don't get to showcase why you're a fit for Amazon specifically.
  • Past experiences: "I have the experience you're looking for." Similar to above, this question doesn't dive deep enough, and it may come across as arrogant. At this stage, you are selling them your motivation, not your expertise, so this isn't the time to discuss this. You can naturally integrate your experiences as long if they are supported by deeper motivations or values (like Sample #1).



How to practice your answer

You should now have a good idea what makes a strong answer and what makes a poor answer. So, how do you prepare your own? It's simpler than you may think.

Start by researching Amazon as a company. Brainstorm some specific ideas.

  • What interests you about this company beyond the salary?
  • What leadership principles are you eager to apply?
  • What products do you like from Amazon?

Then look at the job description.

  • What interests you about this role?
  • How does this role align with your career goals?
  • What do you bring to the table?
  • What does this job offer you?

Start drafting a 2-3 paragraph response that captures your motivations. Try free-writing first, or just record yourself talking. Then, once you get the basics down, you can go add more specificity. Be sure to name a few leadership principles and a few of Amazon's products. Add personal touches and emotional verbs (such as "excite", "thrill", "eager", "motivate").

It is recommended to create a basic outline with keywords to make this easier to remember. That way, if you're doing a virtual interview, you can have a sticky note with the main points you want to address.

Let's reuse our sample answer #1 from above with this brainstorm process. This should give you an idea of how you get from the "Why Amazon" question to a solid, thoughtful response.

Brainstorm

  • What do I like about Amazon? customer-centric, ongoing learning for employees, creative ML applications
  • What tools do I like or use? AWS
  • What do I like about this role? they're looking for new ideas, they use customer-needs to create designs
  • What leadership principles do I embody? Customer-Obsession, Think Big, Be Curious
  • What personal connections do I have to Amazon? former co-worker

Bullet Point Outline

  • Reason 1: customer obsession
    • Support: AWS services, real customer needs
  • Reason 2: ML experience
    • Support: Amazon's unique place in the market, excitement about ML
  • Reason 3: ongoing learning opportunities
    • Support: personal anecdote with former co-worker

Now that you have your outline it's time to practice, practice, practice until it feels natural. After all, when you're doing the actual interview, you won't be reading a script. Instead, you should memorize the main points, facts, and words you want to mention in your response.

Don't think you can wing this question on the spot. Behavioral interviews are very important and surprisingly challenging.

So, if you are looking for a place to construct answers and get tons of practice, check out Educative's course Grokking the Behavioral Interview.

You'll be able to use Educative's video recording widget to record yourself answering questions and assess your performance.
By the time you’ve completed the course, you'll be able to answer any behavioral question that comes your way with confidence.

Happy learning!

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