3 Questions Amazon’s CEO Asks Before Hiring Anyone
If you were asked to name the five biggest internet-related companies, Amazon would certainly be one of them. It would comfortably feature among the likes of Google and Facebook.
But still, Amazon is a bit different.
There is something about it that is quite unique. In fact, so unique that the founder, Jeff Bezos, has been catapulted to the position of the richest man on earth.
You may know it as the company that started small, in a garage, and expanded to a 37-story office building which includes six stories of underground parking with 1,064 spaces. Amazon is simply a great success story.
And how did it get there?
It is common for startups to struggle.
Some manage to get off the ground and become established while others go down in their first 3 years. It can be the saddest thing for an entrepreneur but those who know better, do not give up.
It happens that for Amazon, success has been brought about by a very simple philosophy. It is all about getting the best people to work in the company.
You may think that this is obvious, until you get a closer look at how they do it.
And for you to truly appreciate the uniqueness of their mode of hiring, just consider some of the things Amazon has managed to do.
AMAZON’S GROWTH TRACK
Founded in 1994, it started as an online bookstore. It grew to register enough confidence to the point of raising $54 million in the company’s IPO. The shares were going for $18 each. This IPO came just three years after being founded.
Seeking to grow further, it acquired IMDB, an online database for movies, TV and video games. This was in 1998, one year after the IPO.
Amazon would soon venture into an area that would bring them massive profits later. Between 2002 and 2006, they worked on various technologies for virtual service. Though initially designed for the company’s storage needs, growth had already been foreseen.
With a massive computing infrastructure, the possibility of selling out virtual servers was embraced. And after more work on the platform, several services came into existence.
These include the Amazon Web Service (AWS) which brought in $17.4 billion in 2017. Other technologies developed to establish the AWS were the Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).
Somewhere between this time, in 2004, Amazon ventured into the Chinese market. It did this by acquiring an e-commerce website called Joyo.com.
Interestingly, this website was an online bookstore, exactly what Amazon was, before becoming big. Is it that Bezos loved books?
In 2007, Amazon decided to help authors self-publish their books. This was through a service called CreateSpace. The service later merged with KDP.
In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion.
In 2011, it bought a DVD rental service based in the UK. It was previously called Lovefilm but later got renamed to Amazon Video. The same year saw the Amazon Appstore for android launched. Still, Kindle Fire was released selling at $199.
2013 saw the buying of book-reading and reviewing site Goodreads then later an expansion into India. Amazon Echo is released in 2014 as a food delivery service is introduced in 2015 for Amazon Prime customers.
In 2015, Whole Foods was acquired for $13.7 billion.
And the growth is ongoing. 2018 saw the expansion of Amazon into Turkey. These are just some of the more notable accomplishments which Amazon proudly wears like a badge.
If you were told that these were only possible because of having the right people, you wouldn’t doubt that those were really the right people. And how does Amazon know who the right people are?
Find out below.
3 QUESTIONS TO AN AMAZON JOB
According to Jeff Bezos, it’s pretty easy to know the right person.
All the hiring criteria employed by big companies don’t work. Only three questions do.
1. Will you admire this person?
According to a 1998 letter by Jeff Bezos to shareholders, he has tried to only work with the people he admires. He reasons that these are the people you are able to learn something from. As weird as this hiring rule sounds, the reasoning behind it is actually accurate.
This reasoning introduces a very different way of looking at things. Think about it for a moment.
Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world, whether you look at it from the revenue perspective or number of employees. That means that it is a successful company.
As such, many people will definitely want to work there.
Consider also that there are over 6 million unemployed Americans and this company is still growing. Won’t people be attracted to the company?
Yet the company wants people it is attracted to. People it admires, not the people who admire it.
How this works can seem confusing until you understand that the company seeks to always set the bar high. High in this case is relative. Not relative because there are no known heights, but relative because the heights keep going higher.
If the last employee to be hired raised the bar high, then the next one should take it even higher. And this is mentioned in the second question that is asked before hiring anyone.
2. Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they are entering?
Jeff Bezos is aware of the sobering truth that as a company grows bigger, managing it can start becoming a challenge. And so to ensure he stays ahead of the challenge, he hires only the people who will add a measure of effectiveness to the company.
You can bet that the questions asked to find out one’s qualification are tough. Or looking at it from a different perspective, the kind of explanation and proof that one gives must be very convincing in order to be hired.
According to the letter, an employee should look at the rising standards and say, “The standards are so high now — boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!”
And all this is intended to counter entropy. The company should never fall apart. The quality of service should never deteriorate. If it does, even a little, then the company starts losing its grip.
And this grip has held until today. The company has grown to have more than half a million employees.
If this philosophy wasn’t working, we wouldn’t know Amazon for what it is today.
3. Along what dimension might this person be a superstar?
This is where Bezos tries to be balanced. This question helps identify people with unique talents, even though the talents may not even be work-related.
The intention? Make work more fun.
He gives a case of someone hired who was a former National Spelling Bee champion. Obviously, Amazon is not in the manuscript editing business so how is this important?
In the same letter, he says it can be a lot of fun to meet this employee and present an out-of-the-blues challenge. If he can throw an unexpected challenge like “onomatopoeia!” at her and see her response, that lightens the mood of both.
When people with unique skills and talents form the workforce, the work environment is enriched.
This comes out clearly when in meetings. These are the people who will have very different perspectives. They can therefore present you with very unique solutions to the problems at hand.
And isn’t Amazon known to come up with innovative solutions?
A careful consideration of the growth experienced by this retail and tech giant testifies to this.
All the acquisitions and adaptive changes prove that the company manages to stay ahead of the times and the competition.
OTHER THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT AMAZON
And if you think that this is all you can learn from Amazon, you are wrong.
There are some key drivers behind the reasoning. Some of the things going on behind the scenes might also shock you.
Hiring is the most important thing
The reason behind the three considerations by Amazon’s hiring teams is not just a hiring philosophy. It is because the company holds this task as the most important one over all.
Obviously, this is second to customer satisfaction as discussed below.
For most companies, the hiring process is actually taken to be some sort of a liability. But for Amazon, it is an investment step.
For those seeing it as a liability, they focus on efficiency in the process.
The right candidate has to hired quickly. This requirement is further justified by the need to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible. They are simply in a hurry to continue with the business.
Whereas this kind of efficiency is a good thing, you can definitely see the big difference that it brings in the results. When others are seeking to getting the right employee, Amazon seeks to hire the best.
There is a downside to setting the standard very high. For example, what happens when all the interviewees fall short of reaching the “ceiling” of expectation?
Most employers will tell you that they employ the best from those they have interviewed. Bezos however says he would rather interview 50 people but hire none instead of hiring the wrong person.
This means it could possibly take longer to hire but the new employee will arguably be the best out there.
Amazon is obsessed about customers
Something else that will help you understand this unconventional hiring practice is knowing that Amazon is obsessed over customers. And that is very different from just being customer-minded.
All businesses want to satisfy their customers’ needs. They create relationships through different means all in an effort to cater to the needs of those who keep their businesses alive. It is really about that age-old phrase that the customer is king.
That means the customers have the final say. But being obsessed takes things quite further than that. If you are obsessed with something, that thing takes a very huge part of your mind. You probably live for that one thing.
From the management-level reasoning to the innovations at Amazon, everything is geared towards making the customer pleased. It is this obsession that makes the company think ahead in a way that somehow keeps others following.
Starting off as an internet company when the internet was only catching up, Bezos had one thing in mind.
He wanted to dive in before it was too late so as to avoid regretting that he didn’t do it earlier. And from then on, that has been the model of reasoning.
With an obsession, fear is usually lurking around. This is subtly evident in that Bezos was afraid of regretting that he hadn’t taken the leap when the opportunity presented itself.
And so even now, Amazon is afraid that if they don’t innovate enough, please the customer enough and do many other things enough, customers may leave. Or a competitor may overtake them—which will still lead to customers leaving.
The obsession? “We must keep the customers, and even get more,” says Amazon.
If you thought that hiring is the only test that a new employee needs to pass, please read on. Working at Amazon is quite an experience. And according to some past employees, the experience is unfortunately not the very best (all things considered).
Employees are busy and the kind of great work environments that tech giants provide for their employees is not part of Amazon’s work philosophy. Amazon is certainly a wealthy company but you will be surprised at what they say about spending.
Amazon believes that being frugal makes people resourceful and self-sufficient. This simply means there are no ‘unnecessary’ treats and perks as expected from a deep-pocketed employer.
In meetings, the staff are encouraged to tear down ideas and challenge decisions. This is an effort to come up with the best decision for the company.
Some former employees however say this bred fear of airing thoughts and opinions in some. That is expected, especially since human beings would rather talk freely in an environment they feel safe to express themselves.
Employees are encouraged to give opinions about anything and everything. Every morning before starting work, they answer at least one question about work. This is a HR program called Connections intending to help the company understand its huge workforce.
Some employees however didn’t trust the anonymity of the answers while it was said that some managers weren’t always sure how to use the data.
More positively though, they launched an employee-empowerment program called Forte. It is a review system though it focuses on the strengths of employees.
This is to help managers nurture and groom those strengths so the employees can achieve their goals.
RESULTS OF THE HIRING PHILOSOPHY
The competition is not relenting. Walmart is obviously not happy that Amazon’s presence in the retail industry. Suppliers have also felt the tightening grip of Amazon. Employees have complained of not-so-good working environments.
These and many other negative reviews are publicly available. Yet, the mighty long river keeps expanding beyond the traditional river banks.
Could a flood be coming soon?
There are at least three things the company can proudly declare from the rooftops. Depending on where you stand, these are definitely arguable. But there are facts supporting them.
Amazon has great talent
This cannot be disputed. Everyone knows that Google has very powerful algorithms which it leverages to give relevant search results.
Also, a considerable amount of its power comes from the fact that they have a lot of personal data coming from those searches which basically give them insights into people.
But for an online bookstore to stock almost everything, offer the biggest cloud computing platform and even venture into smart home technology, there is no denying that the hiring process gets the best.
The brains behind the success of these projects tell it all.
Amazon has high revenues
If you are in business, you know very well that the bottomline is what matters. No matter how good a product you are offering is, if you can’t sell it, you are doomed. If you sell it but fail to make profits, you are still doomed.
Amazon’s revenue is what makes it a real giant. For the past ten years, the company’s revenue has been going up from $14.835 billion in 2007 to $177.866 billion in 2017.
As of early November 2018, Amazon’s market capitalization was over $803 billion.
Numbers don’t lie.
The founder is the richest man on earth
For some time, the whole world knew that the richest man in the world was Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates. He was however overtaken in 2017 by none other than the founder of the company discussed here.
In 2018, Bezos maintained the number 1 position in the Forbes list of billionaires.
Again, numbers do not lie.
You won’t be blamed if you took this hiring philosophy with a grain of salt.
This is especially so if you consider what can happen to the employees long-term.
But if the company’s financial muscles are anything to go by, then you might consider picking something from this.
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