HR Retail 2019

April 08 - 10, 2019

Hyatt Regency Austin

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Has Been Taking Lessons from Wall Street when it Comes to Hiring New Staff

brought to you by WBR Insights



Amazon's status as an employer is often in the news, and often not in the most favorable light. However, when it comes to hiring new staff, the ecommerce mega-corporation has a few unique tricks up its sleeve.

The ecommerce giant's Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos may be the richest man on the planet these days - having recently surpassed Bill Gates to the top of the pile as the only person with a twelve-figure fortune - but it wasn't always so.

Bezos left his job on Wall Street back in 1993 to start an online bookstore, which would not only survive the dot-com bust but thrive to become one of the world's largest companies. Rather than forget his roots, Bezos learned a lot about hiring new staff from his experiences in those early days - both on Wall Street and with the fledgling Amazon - and now uses it in recruitment strategies today.

Effectiveness Over Efficiency

Big companies have a lot on their plate when it comes to hiring new staff, and most of them are forever searching for ways to streamline the process and get as many prospects seen in the most efficient manner possible. Group interviews, phone interviews, even social media interviews are all designed to whittle down the numbers and get that position filled.

However, this is not a philosophy Jeff Bezos subscribes to, evidenced when he famously told a colleague he'd "rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person." While on the face of it this may seem like a counterproductive attitude, there is wisdom contained within.

Once you hire someone, you need to go through the whole recruitment/training/onboarding process, which requires significant resource investment. If the person you end up with is not right for the job, they're likely to either leave of their own accord or be let go after a short amount of time, wasting all that precious time and money. Then, when you do finally find the right person, the recruit must waste even more time correcting past mistakes before truly starting the job.

Another tactic Bezos used to use in the early days of Amazon - which is still employed today and has been adopted by many companies since - is to raise the bar for each subsequent hire. By ensuring you improve the standards of recruitment every time you bring on a new employee, you develop and improve the talent pool as your business grows.

This is especially important for companies in the early stages of development, as it makes sure you have the talented people required to enable the company to grow. Such a strategy is indeed likely to be one of the contributing factors of Amazon becoming the corporate behemoth it is today.

Questions

Jeff Bezos obviously doesn't interview too many candidates himself these days, but he does ask his HR people to keep his three main questions in mind when considering the suitability of a potential hire.

  • Will you admire this person?
  • Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering?
  • Along what dimensions might this person be a superstar?

These three simple questions are clearly subjective, but they help hiring managers to decide whether the person in front of them is someone who's going to be of benefit to Amazon in both a micro and macro sense, and what their likelihood is of rising through the ranks and delivering ever greater ROI.

Amazon also likes to use brainteasers to test prospective employees' ability to think outside the box. The technique, which Bezos adopted from his time working at D.E. Shaw, helps find the right mindset for higher positions within the company.

Questions such as, "If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?" are deceiving in that the point is not to find out if the candidate can perform the mental arithmetic necessary to solve the riddle, but rather will they ask questions as to whether the figure refers to teams or individuals. Candidates' responses tell Amazon whether or not the person pays attention to detail and doesn't simply take things at face value.

In the words of the man himself, "I've always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise."


Recruitment philosophy and the lessons to be learned from big brands are set to be hot topics at HR Retail 2019, taking place in April at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas.

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