Failed Amazon on-site interview, but couldn't get even general feedback why. Ideas for improvement?

Carbonite elbowgrease
Oct 5 16 Comments

Sorry in advance for the long post. I've tried to organize it from most to least relevant.

Had an on site for Sr. Software Engineer in Alexa group. The recruiter informed me that it was "very close" and they "really enjoyed talking to me" and they would contact me again in the future, but probably not for a year. I asked about what general area I came up short (mgmt principals, coding performance, etc.), but she just apologized and said she couldn't reveal that. I have 20 YOE that correspond to about half the interviewers, so I don't think that's the issue.

Of the 5 interviewers, I thought I did well with, and neutral with 2. There were a few times when I struggled a bit to come up with a ready response, like "tell me a story about a time you received negative criticism" or "what is your strategy when it comes to developing new talent".

Coding portions went fine, maybe? Hard to tell - I wasn't ever stumped, but the livecode interface was not my cup of tea (tiny window that could only show about 12 at a time, and none of the navigation keyboard shortcuts from my editor of choice, so there was a.fair amount of fumbling when I wanted to move things around).

There was one question that sounded like a system design question, but after a couple of minutes getting info about the domain, it appeared all the interviewer wanted was a function coded.

My main reason for job searching right now is that although my current job is providing great value to my employer, it's a dead end professionally, and I'm not able to accumulate the kinds of "wins" or anecdotes that cover all the mgmt principals (for example, I have almost no authority to initiate projects, so I have little opportunity to influence the company).

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TOP 16 Comments
  • Amazon -RedCloud-
    "The recruiter informed me that it was "very close" and they "really enjoyed talking to me" and they would contact me again in the future, but probably not for a year"

    This is standard recruiter lingo. If you really were that close, we would've downleveled you, recycle you in 6 months or even set another loop directly. 1 year is the standard cooldown, so you were not "that" close.

    It sounds like you didn't give them enough information in the LP portion. Someone with your YOE should be able to come up with relevant examples very easily. Probably a pattern that came up in all interviews and they considered a red flag.

    I don't understand what "neutral interviews" mean but those two probably failed you. You must be better than 50% of those already in the company at the level to be hired. That's the famous Amazon bar. Being just ok does not cut it, specially at L6 and above.

    Did you come up with a full fledge end-to-end systems design that scales and is highly available? Sounds like you coded a function instead. In the systems design interview (typically led by a Bar Raiser) it is rare to have to write any code but if you were really lost or going too off-track they won't stop you.
    Oct 5 10
    • Amazon -RedCloud-
      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
      Oct 5
    • Carbonite elbowgrease
      OP
      Thanks, RedCloud. Neutral just meant that I wasn't "feeling it" when talking to that interviewer; my responses seemed to illicit not a lot of follow up, as if I wasn't answering the question the way they wanted, but didn't want to press forward..

      The recruiter stuff sounded like platitudes as well. It was my impression that it was the LP stuff that nailed me, but the recruiter hinted that the stuff I missed was something I could work on personally, as opposed to needing to be in an environment that could create opportunities. My current situation is pretty much opportunity-free.

      I did have about 10 situations ready, each which covered 2 or 3 LPs. Maybe this was the wrong approach? Should each situation be obviously just one LP?

      Part of a problem that may be insurmountable is that a lot of the behavior questions seemed, to me, confrontation-centric, and I've spent my career (after being a hotheaded 20-something) working on building consensus and getting people involved early so that you head off the conflict beforehand. Therefore, I haven't had many recent examples of "I fought the law and the law won" or vice versa.

      Also odd was the lack of an obvious scaling system question. There was a system question, but it followed 45 minutes of behavior and LP stuff, so there was only about 10 minutes for it
      Oct 5
    • Amazon -RedCloud-
      The systems design part being 10 mins strikes me as extremely odd.

      The recommended approach for a really bad interview is to give the candidate a feel-good experience (they're Amazon customers after all). I normally stop the technical part and move to easy behavioral questions or a casual chat about the candidate's resume.

      If there was no time for systems design because the interviewer spent 45 mins in behavioral, that is on the interviewer. I would mention it to your recruiter, but know that it's close to impossible to change the outcome now that they have completed the assessment.

      Maybe you just got a couple of bad interviewers? It's the luck of the draw I guess.
      Oct 5
    • Carbonite elbowgrease
      OP
      Thanks for the insight, RedCloud. I'm used to being sought-after, so this is a new experience, and lack of a path for improvement is frustrating; not just to get an Amazon job, but on general.

      Any thoughts on why they're so tight-lipped on the rejection details? Is it a legal thing, or are they concerned about people gaming the process?
      Oct 5
    • Amazon -RedCloud-
      It's purely legal. The interviewing training explicitly mentions that we don't give out feedback due to it being a legal liability.

      I have seen candidates threatening to sue Amazon for the pettiest reasons, like an interviewer not being too attentive. I guess that's the world we live in.

      What sometimes works is sending your recruiter a friendly thank you email to reiterate your interest and casually ask for general areas to focus on for the next time.
      Oct 5
  • Google
    kielbasa

    Google

    PRE
    Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft
    kielbasamore
    I also interviewed for a position on the Alexa team. Technical portion went well, but I didn’t get it. The recruiter said I would still be a good fit elsewhere at Amazon. They don’t give feedback, however, my general sense is that the Alexa group is trying to select candidates that can demonstrate effectiveness in challenging status quo ideas in uncomfortable situations (i.e. be an ass sometimes to get your way). There is a specific Amazon leadership principle you need to clear about challenging authority, knowing you’re right and being an uncomfortable change agent (the principle is something like leaders are right most of the time). I think that’s the one I didn’t pass as I emphasized cooperation and consensus too much. You have to know you’re right and convince people you are.
    Oct 5 4
    • Amazon -RedCloud-
      Why do you want to leave Google??

      One LP never fails your loop. There must've been other things. And the bar raiser is normally ok to ignore a mediocre behavioral if the technical part makes up for it.
      Oct 5
    • Google
      kielbasa

      Google

      PRE
      Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft
      kielbasamore
      I’m sure there were other things, but I don’t know because I got limited feedback, so I have to guess.

      I’m pretty sure I passed the technical portion as the hiring manager said I did well on that. I think there were some leadership principles I didn’t clear as I was interviewing for a senior role. I spoke to some other groups and they wanted to continue the hiring process, just not the Alexa group.

      I’ve been at Google 9 years, so looking for a change and pay bump. Fine with my job, but want to experience new things and grow more. Alexa seemed like a cool opportunity, but didn’t work out.
      Oct 5
    • Amazon -RedCloud-
      You dodged a bullet if you ask me. Alexa is infamous inside Amazon for being a raging dumpster fire.
      Oct 5
    • Carbonite elbowgrease
      OP
      Wow, interesting, kielbasa! In my other long-winded reply, I mentioned that I got a vibe of them looking for LP / behavior stuff that leaned on confrontation.
      Oct 5

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