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How to prepare for an Amazon product manager interview

Kenton Kivestu, ex-Google, ex-BCG, Founder at RocketBlocks
Updated: June 1, 2022

Interview structure | Leadership principles | Bar raiser | Final advice

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is a famously principled leader.

Ask any Amazon employee and you'll hear plenty of anecdotes about rules and principles. The "two pizza" rule, the infamous pre-written product release briefs and a cheap door for a desk (a sign of frugality) are just a few of many examples.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that when it comes to hiring product managers, the future leaders of the company, that Amazon interviews focus heavily on assessing candidates against Amazon's 14 Leadership Principles.

In this RocketBlocks post, we sit down with Abhi Tiwari, a Director of Product Management leading the Fulfillment by Amazon group, to discuss how product manager interviews at Amazon are structured and what key traits interviewers want to see from PM candidates.

Abhinav Tiwari, Director of Product at Amazon

Structure of the Amazon product manager interview (Top)

After an initial phone screen, PM candidates will move onto a final round of interviews. Here, candidates will typically go through five interviews and each interview will focus on a different topic. Hiring managers will coordinate in advance to ensure each interviewer has a specific topic to dig into that won't significantly overlap with over interviewers.

Organized around Leadership Principles (Top)

Each interviewer will be focused on assessing the candidate's fit with their aforementioned Leadership Principles. While every leadership principle might not be explicitly tested over the course of the interviewers, you'll likely be thoroughly tested on a large chunk of them.

Amazon's fourteen leadership principles

For PM candidates, two interviews are typically product design focused and will dive into the three of the product-oriented principles: Think Big, Invent and Simplify and Dive Deep.

Another interview will likely be focused on testing Amazon's most famous principle: Customer Obsession. And a fourth interview will be focused on testing how a candidate collaborates with others, digging into principles like Disagree and Commit and Earn Trust.

Finally, the last interview will likely dig into one of the more nuanced principles: Are right, A Lot. You can expect the "bar raiser" to dig into this topic.

In any case, you should still be familiar with all of the Amazon 16 leadership principles, including:

Customer Obsession – This is Amazon’s favorite question principle when it comes to interviewing product managers. The interviewers will want to know whether you put customers in the first place, as everything is designed to earn and keep their trust.

Ownership – This principle helps Amazon interviewers to see whether the people they’re hiring are long-term thinkers and never compromise for short-term gains. You need to prove that you don’t have a ‘that’s not my job’ attitude.

Invent and simplify – Amazon needs people who are innovative and are always looking to simplify things. You need to show your interviewers that you think outside the box and prove that you’ve invented something already.

Are Right, a Lot – If you want to work for Amazon, you need to show your interviewers that you understand this principle and that you have good instincts and strong judgements, which puts you in the right most of the time.

Learn and Be Curious – This principle shows your interviewers that you’re someone who is always looking to improve and learn new things. You need to show them that you’re curious and always in the mood to explore new ideas.

Hire and Develop the Best – Amazon interviewers need to see that you’re exceptional and better than the rest of the potential employees. You need to show them that you’re interested in filling out important roles and that you want to learn and grow every day.

Insist on the Highest Standards – To show your understanding of this principle, you need to prove to your interviewers that you have sky-high standards and that you’re always wanting to move up the bar.

Think Big – If you want to work for a company as big as Amazon, you need to think big. Amazon employees are people who need to inspire results by communicating bold directions for serving their customers.

Bias for Action – This principle requires you to prove to your interviewers that you’re someone who can take calculated risks and that you understand how much speed is important to any business.

Frugality – Amazon employees are people who are constantly looking for ways to accomplish more with less. You need to show them that you’re resourceful and inventive, that you won’t use up your whole budget when managing a project.

Earn Trust – Interviewers use this principle to see whether their future employee is someone who’s self-critical, even in situations where their self-criticism might lead to embarrassment. This allows you to earn trust of your team members and it shows that you’re not afraid of pointing at your own faults.

Dive Deep – Amazon employees are people who value every detail. You need to show your employees that you’re more than ready to go against the best and that you always stick to your plans.

Have Backbone; Disagree, and Commit – Commitment is a sign of a solid Amazon employee. Your interviewers will see whether you’re someone who can voice their opinion, stick to a decision, and commit to the plan.

Deliver Results – Delivering quality on schedule is one of the most important things employees of any company can have. You must show your interviewers that you’re not disturbed by setbacks and that you can always rise up to the occasion and deliver results.

Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility – Last but not least, this principle shows your employees whether you strive to be the best of the best when it comes to your work. Show them that you're a productive, high-performing individual who will do anything to bring success to your workspace.

Product design

In these interviews, the interviewer will likely dig deep on how a candidate would actually design and build a product at Amazon.

The initial prompt might be "What's an area of Amazon that you don't think is doing well and how could we improve it?" or something similarly open-ended that would give the candidate a product space to investigate.

Three key principles typically get tested in this type of interview:

  • Think Big
  • Invent and Simplify
  • Dive Deep

While coming up with grand ideas for what Amazon could build in the future is the fun part, Tiwari notes that candidates often struggle with how to decompose the big vision into steps they'd take to build their suggestions.

"It's critical to be able to translate the big vision into tactical components to build. For example, if I give you a few developers and resources, what are the tactical items you'd begin building? What key assumptions would you test up front? A lot of candidates fail here - they can't work backwards from the big vision to the tactical details."
Abhi Tiwari, Director of Product Management, Amazon

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Another key topic Amazon interviewers want to understand is how the candidate will collaborate with his/her teammates and managers - from developers to designers to managers and executives.

It's not uncommon for an interviewer to ask something akin to: "Tell me about a time you disagreed with a teammate and how you resolved that disagreement?" Here, the interviewers are typically probing on two specific leadership principles:

  • Earn Trust
  • Disagree and Commit

Tiwari noted that both are critical for building successful product teams, especially since a relationship built on trust makes it easier to have disagreements yet still push forward as a unified team.

"What we want to know is: can this person build a good relationship with a development manager and earn trust? In addition, can they successfully challenge a counterpart and stand up for their ideas?"
Abhi Tiwari, Director of Product Management, Amazon

Customer obsession

Amazon is customer obsessed and they expect their PMs to help drive that obsession.

In terms of Amazon product manager interview scenarios, an assessment of customer obsession will often kick off with a prompt akin to: "Tell me about a time you went above and beyond for a customer."

The goal with a question like this, Tiwari said, is not just to demonstrate extra-human work effort, but rather a deep understanding of customer needs and pain points.

"We want to see if they really go deep to understand what the customer wanted. If they just cite an example where they worked all night to do something the customer asked, that doesn't quite cut it. We want to see that they understood the root cause of the customer's issue and then delivered a great solution."
Abhi Tiwari, Director of Product Management, Amazon

Furthemore, it's important to note that customer obsession isn't just a "fuzzy" skill. To Amazon, being able to quantify and measure that customer obsession and how well they're delivering on it is key. Thus, it's critical to identify what metrics you'd look at to help understand if a particular product is delivering an exceptional customer experience and the inputs you control to drive that outcome.

"At Amazon, the customer experience metrics are always at the top of the metrics stack. Something like NPS is nice but it's too surface level. For example, on the e-commerce side, we might look at how often we successfully deliver on our delivery promise and the inputs that drive it."
Abhi Tiwari, Director of Product Management, Amazon

The "bar raisers" interview (Top)

Finally, no Amazon product manager interview is complete without participation from a Bar-raiser.

Bar-raisers are a group of select Amazon interviewers tasked with maintaining a company-wide quality bar for talent. For PMs, it's expected that one of the five interviews will be with a Bar-raiser who intentionally will have little context on the actual Amazon product manager role or specific needs of the hiring manager. Amazon structures it this way to ensure the Bar-raiser is primarily concerned with candidate quality and not any acute team needs or demands (which could be fleeting).

Often, the Bar-raiser will be the toughest interview a candidate will face. Candidates can expect to be tested on the more nuanced leadership principles:

  • Are Right, A Lot
  • Insist on the Highest Standards

One common way bar raisers like to test the first principle is by asking something akin to "Tell me about a time you had to make a decision without data." This question illuminates a candidate's judgment, product intuition and how they default to decision making when they don't have any data in front of them to guide them.

Product manager exercises

Here are some product manager exercises you should keep in mind before and during your Amazon product manager interview:

  • Do your research – You should inform yourself on the company and the job you’re applying for as much as you can before the interview. This will help you understand their culture, needs, staff, etc.
  • Mention your efforts – Tell your interviewers all about the effects your actions have had on your company and the efforts it took to get there. You should also remember to mention your team.
  • Go into detail – Describe the things you’ve been asked by the interviewers in as much detail as you can, as they’ll want to know who was working with you, how you achieved your goals, what were the results of your efforts, etc.
  • Ask for clarification – Don’t seem to understand a question during your Amazon product manager interview? Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification! It’s better to ask for help and understand the question better, than answer it in half. To top it all off, your interview will see that you’re an engaged person.
  • Talk about your failures – Talking about your failures proves that you were willing to go over them and learn from them, which is a must for any Amazon employee.

Nailing your Amazon product manager interview using the STAR framework

If you want to nail your Amazon product manager interview, your best bet would be to use the STAR framework. This technique helps you give your interviewers elaborate answers, which will provide them with more than enough details to know that you’re the right person for them. The STAR framework consists of four steps:

  1. Situation – The first step of the STAR framework requires you to talk about a story where you faced a problem and had to resolve certain actions to solve it.
  2. Task – The next step requires you to talk about what you need to do to solve the problem.
  3. Action – The action step requires you to give a few examples of actions you took to complete the task.
  4. Result – Last but not least, the last step of the STAR framework requires you to give a brief breakdown of the results of your actions.

Final advice (Top)

As with any interview, understanding the company's ethos, guiding principles and core metrics is critical to success. However, at Amazon, it's more important than ever because the company has created a culture that uses their leadership principles on a day-to-day bases and consistently evaluates candidates against a core set of values.

For candidates with upcoming PM interviews, RocketBlocks has one final piece of advice: review the full list of Amazon Leadership Principles and think critically about strong, robust anecdotes and product ideas you can share that demonstrate how you embody each of them. While the specific principles you are tested on might vary, you can be 100% sure your Amazon product manager interview will revolve around them.

Finally, while there are 14 principles overall, you thankfully don't need 14 different anecdotes! Many anecdotes can illustrate multiple principles at the same time and can be reused. It's significantly better to have a handful of solid anecdotes that provide real color and depth on your thinking, than a whole array of superficial ones.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to go into the review as relaxed as you can, as this will show nothing but confidence. We are all human and we all make mistakes, so take a deep breath, answer your questions stress-free, and you’re bound to pass your Amazon product manager interview!

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