Tips to answer Amazon behavioural interview questions

Tips to answer Amazon behavioural interview questions

You may think you know it all- and perhaps you do- but just knowledge and skill set won’t help you land that coveted job at Amazon. Like most American companies, the retail biggie relies on behavioural interview questions to find the candidate who’s the perfect fit for the company and the job.

But what are behavioural interview questions?

On her blog, Pamela Skillings, co-founder of Big Interview and one of the top interview coaches in the US, writes: “Behavioural interview questions are probing questions about your background. How and when have you used the skills that they have deemed most important for the job in question? How have you responded to challenges similar to those you would likely face in the new role? Behavioural questions often ask you to get into very specific detail.”

Typical behaviour interview questions invite you to talk by giving you an opening like “Tell me about a time....”, “Give me an example of...” or “What would you do if…”. 
But why does almost every firm now insist on adding behavioural questions into the interview mix?

Because asking about your past behaviour can help hiring managers get a sense of how you might respond in similar circumstances in the future, believes Skillings, who’s also adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

Amazon is big on behavioural interview questions, but we have tips that can help you ace this part of the hiring process:

Take a cue from the job description

The job description is sure to give you some clues about probable behavioural question topics. Career coach Jeanne Knight, who has created the presentation, 10 Steps to Interviewing with Confidence, believes it is essential to take some time to “thoroughly review the job posting and job description if you can get it and research the company and its culture.” “Identify the skills a successful candidate would have and speculate about the behavioural-based questions that correlate to those skills and might be asked in an interview,” she advises in an article.

Keep the Amazon Leadership Principles in mind

At Amazon, the Leadership Principles are used by Amazonians every day, “whether they’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates.” When answering behavioural questions, try to tie in your answers to one of the fourteen principles: Customer Obsession, Ownership, Invent and Simplify, Leaders 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 and Commit), Deliver Results.

Use stories to answer behavioural questions

Behavioural questions aren't yes or no questions, so you need to spin a story around them – a story about something that happened at work and shows the skills you’re being asked about. Michael Higgins, career coach at This is My Path and author of Pit Stop: A Career Workbook for Busy People, advocates using the STAR technique to “structure your stories”. He suggests how to structure your response to a “Tell me a time…” question: Speak about the “Situation (set the context for your story), Task (what was required of you), Activity (what you actually did) and Result (how well the situation played out).” It's important to speak in specific rather than general terms and quantify your success - so bring in numbers, names, client conversions and other things that matter. It would be best to prepare two stories for every leadership principle – this will ensure that you are covered if they ask you for another example. You don’t want just one example that shows how “you could have stopped working, but persisted.”

Keep your answers short and smart

Your stories shouldn’t be so long-winded that the interviewer begins to feel it’s bedtime – keep your answers between 1 and 3 minutes. Rajeev Chand, Founder and CEO of Zenterview, in a blog post writes: ”Understand this is poker – look for the tell. Every interviewer has at least one leadership principle they are in charge of evaluating. Try and figure it out, and make sure to tie in your answers. This will result in the interviewer [advocating] for you in the debrief session.” Interview coach Jennifer Scupi suggests that instead of playing back words from the interviewer’s question in your answer, use different words. Try “value customers” or “pay attention to customers” or “customer oriented” instead of “customer obsession.”

We leave you with a sampling of behavioural questions that Amazon hiring managers have asked in their interviews:

• Tell me a challenge you had where the best way forward was not clear-cut.
• Tell me about a time you had to work hard to please a client.
• Give me an example of something you tried to accomplish but failed.
• Give me an example of a time when you showed initiative.
• Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
• Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
• Tell me about a time when you coached someone.
• When have you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem?
• Walk us through a time when you helped a customer through a difficult process and what that looked like.
• Give me an example of when you took a risk and it failed.
• Tell me about a time when you observed two business opportunities to improve ROI, and how did you determine that they were connected.
• How do you find the time to stay inspired, acquire new knowledge, and innovate in your work?
• Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a poor performer on your team.
• Describe how you would handle a busy situation where three people are waiting for help from you.
• Tell me about a time where you thought of a clever new way to save money for the company.
• Tell me a time when you earned trust of a group.
• Tell me about the most difficult interaction you had at work.
• How do you resonate with our principle, 'Are right, a lot'?
• Which Amazon leadership principle do you resonate most with? 
• Tell me about a time where you overcame an obstacle and delivered results.