The Amazon Interview Process

5 Apr

A couple of months ago someone from Amazon HR found James’ Linked In profile. She told him that Amazon were coming to Australia for a recruitment event and asked whether he’d be interested in interviewing with them. James wasn’t looking for a job, but he figured it would be cool to interview and see how it went. He didn’t even know what the job was for, and had the sneaking suspicion that it was for a grad position (it wasn’t). It turned out that Amazon weren’t hiring for any one position in particular – they’re pretty much always looking for candidates and this trip was just to cast a net for any suitable people.

Amazon came to Australia in October last year and recruited a bunch of people, and it went so well that they came back for more. They looked for graduates for entry level positions as well as people who already had industry experience. Initially I was pretty confused as to why they’d bother recruiting in Australia. They flew a bunch of their staff halfway across the world and put them up in a nice hotel just to interview Australian candidates. Not to mention the expense of moving employees to the US – getting their visas, paying for relocation, etc. I was like “aren’t there engineers in the US?”  But our friend Bo (who worked for Microsoft and is now at a start-up called Ooyala) said that it’s not that there aren’t enough engineers – the issue is actually finding people who pass a certain bar of ability. Apparently there aren’t enough people in the US who can perform to the level that the tech companies want – the demand is much higher than the supply, which is why it’s worth it to them to look internationally.

There is a lot of information online about interviewing at Amazon, and hopefully this will add to the body of knowledge out there. James is joining as an SDE and he thinks that’s why he got really easy programming questions. He said he was actually pretty surprised at how simple the questions were, because a lot of the ones I found online were much harder.

Phone Interview

The first interview was a collaborative programming interview over the phone. I thought that James was bombing it, because at the start I heard him say (in a really embarrassed voice) “actually I have no idea even where to begin”. But I guess I didn’t eavesdrop long enough because he actually did really well. He had to find the first common ancestor of two nodes on a tree. The interviewer had assigned 60 minutes for the interview and he got through it in 20 minutes, and they spent the rest of the time talking about the work the guy did.

I should point out that James didn’t get the answer straight away. He solved it after the first clue from the interviewer, which he thought worked in his favour because the point of the question is to see how you abstract it and how you solve problems. Apparently US tech companies all do this kind of model of interview, where you get a series of technical questions from developers. When Bo does interviews he makes the candidate code Tetris!

But anyway, James was confident that he’d done well, and about a week later he received a call to ask him to fly to Sydney for a series of in-person interviews. They sent him an information pack, an NDA to sign (don’t worry I’m not breaking it – the NDA was so he didn’t reveal information about projects that Amazon is working on), some questions to fill out (including current and expected salary), and flew him to Sydney for a 5 hour long interview.

From what I’ve  read there are normally two phone interviews. According to one guy online, the interviewer can give a strong recommendation, recommendation, non-recommendation or strong non-recommendation. If you are asked to do a third phone interview supposedly that means you got one recommendation and one non-recommendation so the third interview is the decider to see if you progress.

In-Person Interviews

There were several candidates rotating through the interviewers. James said it was hilarious because a few of the Amazon staff were sunburned. I guess they got a bit carried away admiring the Australian sun. =D

James was told to dress casually for the interview. He wore a long-sleeve buttoned shirt (knowing James the sleeves were probably rolled up) and dark jeans; he said that the other candidates were dressed similarly and that the interviewers were dressed more casually. I think when he actually starts work he’ll just wear a t-shirt and jeans. Which is awesome because I hate ironing.

He saw a couple of people who must have done badly because before they’d gotten through all the interviews someone from HR thanked them for coming and said that would be all. Ouch.

Interview #1

The interviewer asked James some questions about binary search, and how you would re-use an existing binary search algorithm on an array for which the elements had been rotated. He also asked James about the orchestration of web services. I have no idea what any of this means. James said he answered all the questions and was confident with all his answers.

Interview #2

This was the interview that James thought he did the worst at. He talked through the design of a distributed system. The guy said that James’ design would work, but it’s not what they ended up with and he didn’t think it was the optimal solution, and he didn’t like that James suggested the use of Oracle Coherence to solve the problem.

Interview #3

The interviewers must compare notes because the third interviewer said that the other guys had told him to give James a “meaty” coding question. In all fairness James said that in the previous interviews he had talked mainly at a design level, but only because the coding is not the difficult part. He was expecting a difficult question but said it was pretty easy – he was asked to convert any number between 0 and 1,000,000 into words. So 35 is thirty five (not three five), etc. He had one bug and the guy showed him the requirements again, and James figured it out straight away and fixed it.  Like with the phone interview, James thinks it was to his benefit that he didn’t solve it perfectly right off the bat because it showed the interviewer that he could find and fix his mistakes.

Interview #4

In this interview James had to design a chess and checkers game. The interview kept adding more and more complicated rules and getting James to update the design. James said it was more of a conceptual, open-ended question than the previous interview. I think he quite enjoyed it.

Interview #5

This was the hint that he had actually done really well, because none of the other candidates were given an additional interview (someone from HR thanked them for coming and then they left). James spoke to a senior manager who talked to him about what he did, what it was like to work there, and what Seattle was like. He asked James why he wanted to work at Amazon. The guy said it wasn’t an interview (merely a chat), but James still thought it counted as an unofficial interview.

Afterwards

James was quietly confident after the interviews, and said they had been easier than he had expected. But you never know, right? Overall he thought everyone seemed really competent and the sort of people he’d be happy to work with. The interview was on Thursday, and then on Saturday he got an email from Amazon in HR asking to arrange a time to talk. After a series of missed phone calls and daylight savings induced misunderstandings, he finally got a call on the following Thursday with a job offer.

From what I’ve read online, if Amazon are interested in you they will get back to you quickly. My google research found a couple of people who had received offers in the same batch of interviews that James was in, and they received them within a couple of days of the interviews. Even in the US people said that if you didn’t hear back within a week or so you were unlikely to have received an offer.

Salary

While James probably wouldn’t approve of me posting his salary package, it seems highly dependent on how you did during the interviews and what your current salary is. I don’t know what tech companies normally pay but his package offer seemed quite generous, especially given the fact that Washington State doesn’t have state income tax. We were initially a bit worried because some of the salaries Glassdoor were substantially lower than what he’s on now, but it was a fair offer. He wasn’t able to get them to move much on the salary but he did get his signing bonus nearly doubled.

Amazon are paying for our relocation costs (the visas, plane fares, an 180kg air mail shipment, and a 20 foot container for sea mail shipping), though there has been a mix-up about the cats and James is checking whether their relocation is included in the package. Plus we get some extra money for miscellaneous costs. Like having to replace all the food and booze we can’t bring with us. And my Australian appliances. =(

Other standard perks include a yearly ORCA public transport card for James, subsidized parking or Zipcar membership and 10% off purchases from Amazon (capped at $100 in savings a year). Amazon also contract a company to show us the ropes – they’ll help get our finances set up, and assist us in finding a place to rent. Apparently they also arrange for someone from Deloitte to help us with Australian and US taxes, so that will be handy.

Overall

James said it was actually pretty low-pressure and I think he liked that the interviews focused on technical skills. Not that he does badly in regular interviews – he’s actually really good at them, I think because he’s a quick thinker and just really competent in general (it’s actually one of the things I find really sexy about him. I panic under stress, but James can stay calm and reason through things. He would be a really good partner for something like The Amazing Race. Or the zombie apocalypse. Cat agrees that James is super competent but said that she has a friend who would be a better zombie apocalypse teammate but I think that’s a filthy lie. WHY U LIE CAT??).

One thing that James thinks helped him was that he reasoned out loud; one of the interviewers said he liked that because he got an idea of how James dissected and solved problems. I asked James if he had any tips and he said not to be afraid to ask clarifying questions. One of the interviewers said that he once interviewed a candidate who didn’t know how to start and just sat there not doing or saying anything, which is a bad, bad move!

Also I guess have a really good Linked In profile, since that’s how Amazon found him to begin with. Overall he has a reasonably strong Linked In presence – he has his work history, recommendations, and I think he also blogs about some stuff that he has worked on. He consistently gets pings from headhunters, so tech companies aside, it’s a good thing to have your profile up to date (James said you can always tell when someone is looking for another job because they suddenly spruce up their Linked In page). An accountant friend updated her page, and the next day she was headhunted for an interview (OK now I sound like a chain letter, but it’s true!).

So anyway, that is my blog post about James’ Amazon interview. I hope it helps someone. Well you’re extremely unlikely to come across the same questions (apparently in tech companies it’s common for all the engineers to help interview candidates) but hopefully it gives you an idea of what to expect. =)

Update

I posted a couple of random interview tips here.

Advertisements

18 Responses to “The Amazon Interview Process”

  1. Catherine April 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    It’s funny, I hadn’t looked at your blog in a long time and now you’re moving to Seattle! I live in Tacoma, which is about 50 minutes south. I stumbled on your blog last year when I searched for a recipe. I think you’ll both really like it here. I know you like to eat and cook and stay in shape, and all those things are very popular here. There are great natural markets and great restaurants. You won’t get a lot of sun, of course but it is so beautiful here. There are a lot of great walk-able neighborhoods in Seattle and I definitely recommend living by public trans. The traffic can be bad. I’m happy for you both and welcome to the area!!

    • pamperedhousewife April 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      Thanks so much Catherine! =) James and I aren’t actually huge fans of warm weather – I know I like it in the overcast 60-70 range so I’m feeling pretty optimistic it all! This Belltown condo at $2950 is the one I have my heart set on, but we’re also looking in other areas near Amazon so James will be able to walk to work. James is excited about all the bouldering places and I have my eye on some Crossfit gyms too. =)

  2. Wen April 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    that’s so exciting!!!!! wow….adventure ahead!!! hope all the packings are going well and you are not too stressed! hope we can visit your guys at some stage in the future!!
    btw, what would James do if you turned into a zombie in a zombie apocalypse?? did you ever ask him about this??;-)

    • pamperedhousewife April 11, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

      We’d love for you guys to come visit! Kalo could eat all the American food and we could go snowboarding together. =D

      I hope James would put me out of my zombie misery! I’ve never asked though – I think he has always assumed I would already be dead. I tried to tell him that I’m tough but he was like “you’re not that tough”. =(

  3. Ann April 16, 2012 at 4:57 am #

    All the best for your move. I came across your blog when looking up Beatrix’s menu. I like your funny, apt reviews and wish you good eating in Seattle!

  4. SeattleorBust July 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Thank you a billion times over for taking the time to post such great information about the Amazon process and about your experiences moving to and living in Seattle. My husband is starting the phone interview process for a Senior QAE position and your thorough account of your husband’s experience has made us both feel a little more at ease about the process, although I did stay up till the wee hours of the morning reading blog post after blog post because I couldn’t sleep last night…had visions of Seattle dancing in my head LOL!

    • pamperedhousewife July 24, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      Ha I was the same way! My husband has actually started interviewing candidates now so I’ve been thinking about updating with a bit more info about the process. I just have to run it by him first in case Amazon’s not cool with it.

      Good luck to your husband! James has been very happy working at Amazon and Seattle is such a lovely place to live. =)

  5. Mike Burke November 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Howdy,

    A quick thank-you for your blog and this post in particular.. I went through a very similar experience to James (I’m in Sydney) and got a phone call yesterday to let me know they’re going to make me an offer! I’ll be doing a TPM (Technical Program Manager) role, but my background is software development. I’ll be in the WAP team.

    Your post was the first google-hit I clicked on and was really useful for getting to grips with how it would all roll. Thanks again.

    Now the real fun begins!

    Cheers
    Mike

    • pamperedhousewife November 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Hey Mike,

      Congratulations – glad to be of help! Hopefully you’ll enjoy the US and Amazon just as much as James has. =)

  6. Jason February 22, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    Very good post, I saw this when I was preparing my interview last Friday. I got an offer the same day after the interview in Sydney. Did amazon end up paying for your cat relocation? We will be moving with our lovely fluffy spitz. Thanks

    • pamperedhousewife February 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

      Congrats on the offer! And no, Amazon didn’t pay for the cat relocation which was a bummer cos it was quite expensive!

      • Jason February 24, 2014 at 5:09 am #

        Yeah, it’s expensive and not cheap to move them back to Au later 😦
        Thanks for your tips and answer.

      • pamperedhousewife February 24, 2014 at 9:58 am #

        Our plan with the cats is to stay long enough that they both live out their lives in the US. I think it would just be too traumatising (and expensive!) to fly them back and keep them in quarantine for several months.

  7. Emily July 24, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    Thank you for your informative post! Would you be able to give me some details about how many hours your husband works a week? I have a small family and we are debating going to Amazon in Seattle but don’t want to commit to him working extremely long hours (no more than 50/week). Is that even a possibility with Amazon? I have read and heard rumors that they work you like dogs for two years and then everyone quits because of burnt-out. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for any reply. Emily

    • pamperedhousewife July 24, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

      Hi Emily!

      James usually works 45 hour weeks. He has done 50+ hour weeks plus evenings and partial weekends (for about 2 months) because he was delivering a project that was important for his career but he said that’s far from the norm.

      James suggested that your husband talk to some people on the teams he’s considering and ask about their work/life balance and operations load because experiences vary a lot depending on your team. Enough people have talked about the crazy hours that it must be happening somewhere, but most of our friends at Amazon work pretty normal hours. One of our friends has even said that 9-5 is an unusually long day for him!

      • Emily July 24, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

        Thank you for the quick response and good advice! I appreciate it!

  8. Michael April 21, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

    Great post except there is one part that isn’t really true.

    “The issue is actually finding people who pass a certain bar of ability… Apparently there aren’t enough people in the US who can perform to the level that the tech companies want”.

    Seattle has one of the best CS universities in the world (University of Washington) not to mention all of the other fantastic universities lining the west coast. The truth is that there are tons of fantastic developers all over the west coast. The problem is that Amazon cannot retain talent (just look at it’s Glassdoor reviews). There are plenty of other great companies in the area to work for if you are a developer and most Americans just won’t put up with Amazon. A high turn rate over can be incredibly expensive for a company. So one tactic companies like Amazon do is get foreigners here on Visa. The foreigners are willing to put up with Amazon, work the long hours, worker harder to not get fired, and stay at Amazon because they don’t want to lose their Visa and get deported. A lot of times they will even pay the foreigners a lower wage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: