Dan D Kim

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Interview with Amazon - Getting the interview

2020-07-06 Dan D. Kimcoding interview

Early last year, I had an interview with Google.

I wrote about it here, but long story short, I made it to the final round and failed.

I tried my best, so I thought that was my limit.

I thought to myself, “Maybe I just can’t make it to a Big-N company”.

Fast-forward a year, and I am cringing at my lack of resolve. I’m mad, almost. Career goals are long-term, and like anything long-term, you just get better at it over time.

I don’t think these interviews are “only for smart people”. They are nothing more than a system, and like any system, you can break it down and engineer your path to success.

I tried again. This time, with Amazon.

Skipping the line of applicants

I needed to find out a way to get an interview with Amazon. I could apply online, but applying online SUCKS.

I once submitted 188 applications online. And only 5 of them reached back for an interview. That’s a 2.7% interview rate. What a waste of my time.

Aside from having a terrible resume, I was only applying to Big-N companies (Microsoft, Facebook, AirBnB, Dropbox, Adobe, Apple, etc…) that I didn’t have a referral for. Had I applied to medium-sized companies and startups, the number might have been different! When I was looking for my first full time job, I applied to companies of all sizes, and had a 15% interview rate. There, had to stroke my ego.

The point is, don’t apply online. Learn from my mistake.

Anyways, I reach out to a friend of mine. This friend, he was also going through the interview process with Google back when I was doing it as well. He ended up going to Amazon, and we kept in touch.

When I ask him for a referral, he is eager to give me one. Awesome stuff. As I mentioned before, getting a referral at a company is like skipping the lines at amusement parks.

You have been referred to work at Amazon!

My friend guided me well on the referral process. Basically, Amazon’s referral process is like this:

  1. You go on Amazon’s job page
  2. Find a bunch of jobs you are interested in
  3. Send those jobs (links) & your resume to your Amazon friend.
  4. Your Amazon friend will refer you for those specific jobs using their internal tool.
  5. Then you will get an email that looks like this: Amazon referral email

Literally a day after that email, I get an email from an Amazon HR for an interview.

The email is pretty standard. A bunch of survey-style questions, and the availabilities for a phone chat.

I promptly reply and a phone call is set up.

Cleaning a Mirror

“So why do you want to work at Amazon?”

The voice coming from the phone is both friendly… and stern.

I think to myself, “Hm, typical HR question…”.

To me, HR interviews are like cleaning a dirty mirror. You clean specific spots so that only the best parts of you are reflected.

I thought they were easy.

I thought they were just a formality.

I thought I would never fail an interview at the HR screening.

But guess what? I got cut from my interviews with Palantir… at the HR stage. After passing their online assessment, I thought their HR screening was just a formality.

I was wrong.

Culture matters. Personality matters. First impressions matter, a lot.

Typical HR questions? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t overlook it. Prepare your answers. Tailor it to the company.

How embarrassing would it be to fail in the HR screening?

Pretty embarrassing, as I learned from Palantir.

So, what did I tell my Amazon HR?

I tell him about how I look at Amazon. The global impact, the potential, diversity of projects, technical growth, how a career at Amazon fits with my own desire to grow in my career, how my background complements the required skills, etc.

Pretty standard template. But I even wrote a script on this beforehand, to make my sentences eloquent.

Did he like it? To be honest, I don’t know. He probably heard something like that a million times.

But after a couple more back-and-forth questions, he proceeded to walk me through what the rest of the interview process will be.

Tips

  • Be ready to talk about why you want to leave your current company. Don’t say anything negative.

Throughout the phone call, the HR broke down the entire interview process. Here it is:

Amazon Interview Process Breakdown

The major interviews would be as follows:

  1. Recruiter phone screen (right now)
  2. Online Assessment
  3. On-site Interview
  4. Team-matching

The Online Assessment Breakdown

  • Will provide a link to online coding challenge
  • 2 problems
  • 90 minutes for coding
  • 15 minutes for explaining your approach
  • 20 minutes for surveys
  • Use any major language. I ask about JavaScript. JavaScript is okay
  • 4 potential outcomes

    • Green automatically considered for on-site interview
    • Yellow manual review, considered for another try
    • Red re-apply in 6-12 months
    • Inconclusive manual review

The On-site Breakdown

  • Amazon will fly me out to San Francisco (flights, hotel, food all covered)
  • 4-5 rounds
  • 1 hour each
  • Will have both behavioral and technical questions
  • Will not have system design questions since the position is for L4
  • Results will be communicated within 5 business days

Team-matching Breakdown

  1. Based on my candidacy, my HR will send my profile to a number of teams.
  2. If hiring managers are interested in my profile, they will ask for an interview.
  3. After the interview, we both tell the HR on whether or not we would be interested in moving forward with an offer.
  4. If moving forward with an offer, discuss and have an agreeable offer with that specific team.

Other Notes

  • In Amazon, interview processes are team-specific, unlike Google where interviews are generic. In my case, I was being interviewed for Amazon Music. This meant that the entire interview process was supposed to be somewhat tailored for the Amazon Music team.
  • Since the team I was being considered for was Amazon Music, I would probably end up meeting employees in Amazon Music at my on-sites. And my team-matching would preferably prioritize Amazon Music teams. But in the case I would be a stronger candidate for another team, like Amazon Prime Video for example, I could be considered for that team.
  • The position I’m being considered for is a L4, or Software Development Engineer 1.

    • it’s not a hard-rule, but since I had less than 4 years outside of Amazon, I was considered for L4 instead of L5.

Amazon is really flexible

Apparently, the entire interview process usually takes 2-5 weeks. But there is no hard rule on this. It really depends on the candidate.

If I wanted to start my Online Assessment in a few days, I could.

If I wanted to do it next month instead, I could. It was really up to me, when I felt I was ready.

I ask for a 2 week preparation period, which the HR is super OK with.


So it begins. My chance at a Big-N company in the US is officially underway.

I would spend the next couple of weeks drunk on my determination to succeed.

In the next post, I will talk about the online assessment.