My interview experience with Amazon

May 2nd, 2012

I’m not a person that gives up easily. Soon after my interview experience with Microsoft I applied for a position in software development at Amazon and my resume was able to catch the attention of the people from HR.

My first phone interview happened sometimes in December 2011. The usual technical questions that you would expect from big technology companies, given a problem go through the solution, do complexity analysis, write the code. I don’t actually remember how I did in that first interview, but apparently I failed it and I did not get the chance for a second round.

A month later I received another e-mail from an amazon recruiter, asking me if I was still interested in the position. I sure was. I was a little confused on why they would reject me at first to reconsider me just a month later, but that didn’t bother too much, I was just grateful for the extra chance. So I went ahead and took that second phone interview. I did very well on that one, so they scheduled me for a third one, then a fourth one and a fifth one! The difficulty of the questions was the same, 45 minutes phone calls with coding problems to solve. Once you know your hash tables and linked lists you are good to solve most phone interview problems. What bothered me is that my interviewers kept not calling on the time and day they were supposed to. I would get scheduled to receive a phone call on a certain day and time and promptly, for three times (three!) I wouldn’t receive any call. One time the justification was that they had a power outage. The second time no justification at all, only apologies. The third time something about the interviewer having to be on call (ok, fine, there’s an emergency, but at least notify me by e-mail).

I finally received confirmation that they were going to schedule me for a in-person interview in one of their offices in Seattle. They booked my flight and provided me with the itinerary. All expenses for transportation and meals were reimbursed and the hotel downtown Seattle where I slept for the two days of the trip was nice (the Westlin). I liked the on-site interview much better than I did with Microsoft. The atmosphere was much more professional and work oriented (let’s get to business kind of mentality) and it allowed me to get out of the office by 2pm so that I could explore Seattle.

The interview day started around 10am, I showed up 15 minutes early and registered with the receptionist. Just 5 minutes past 10am a recruiter directed me to the room where my interview would take process and chatted with me a little bit. I finally met with 4 people from the CloudWatch team and 1 from the Silk team, and I spent 45 minutes of time with each of them. Same story, given a problem, find a solution, do analysis, implement the code. I found a good solution (or at least I thought so) to all of the problems they presented me, but when one interviewer asked me to describe what the keyword final does in Java I couldn’t remember, but I tried to say something anyway. Later I found that I was wrong and I felt a little silly for not remembering, but overall I thought the interview went great. I spent the rest of the day walking around Seattle and visiting the EMP Museum. A great city to live in overall, if you don’t mind the rain.

A week later I received an e-mail from a recruiter thanking me for applying but that the team had decided to move on with other candidates. Of course they will not provide a reason for such decision or give feedback for improvement, which is always a bummer after you go through such a lengthy process to get a job. Why didn’t I get an offer?

  • Probably because I’m not graduating until December 2012. Three out of five interviewers asked me about my graduation date. I thought they knew it from my application when I applied online, but apparently they didn’t know. And they made it clear that they are planning to expand quickly their operations.

Or

  • Since I was considered for a position with the CloudWatch team and I do not have sufficient relevant experience with massive distributed systems (yeah, every college student can build one in their garage… not).

Who knows. I would love to know.

Overall here are my thoughts on this experience:

  • They need to improve their recruiting system. My phone interviews were missed 3 times out of 6 and I got rejected and reconsidered within 1 month. Also, ask me about my graduation date if you are not going to hire me anyway.
  • The employee I had my interviews with are very smart people and I had a great time chatting with them. I also learned quite a lot particularly from one of them (I do not remember his name though).
  • Seattle is a great city, go see it if you get a chance.
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8 Comments

  1. I interviewed for two positions at Amazon back in February 2012. Similar story. A phone interview for each job. I screwed up one, I knew the problem, I just did not know the Perl operator to use for it. But I got it right before the interview was over. So I was through for both positions. Then on to the in-person interviews. The first one including interviewing with three people. The manager was not technical, and the other two guys warned me that it was going to be a boring job. The job description looked a lot more exciting than what it turned out to be in the interview. For the other position, which was far more interesting, I interviewed with seven people, including the manger, one after another. The interviews were each largely the same. There were the Linux questions, then there were the programming questions, including coding on the white board, and finally there were the networking questions. I really enjoyed the interviews with the prospective co-workers, and I thought they went very well, and it is nice to interact with people with similar skills and interests. The manager was to take me to lunch. We walked to a nearby deli, where we got some take-out, and then we went back to the interview room. As I was eating the manager kept asking me questions that were kind of bizarre, and kind of irrelevant, in my opinion. Moreover, he truly seemed to have no respect for the fact that I was eating, that I had food in my mouth, as he asked me to write on the board, or explain things to him.

    Anyhow, I was offered both jobs. I turned them both down for the following reasons:

    -The money they offered was extremely low for the extent and depth of knowledge they required in the interviews.
    -Employees have to buy your own food at Amazon, or so it seemed when I walked by their cafeteria. Most places that hire creative tech people offer free food or drinks.
    -The place looked very corporate, with security gates and badges just about everywhere.
    -Amazon has a reputation for exploiting its workers. The manager asking me questions while I ate did not reassure me that the rumor is wrong. I certainly have no intention of working 60+ hour weeks.
    -I had another job offer that same week which, although it was not as demanding technically, paid more, and they seemed like nicer people.

    Comment by chicama — June 27, 2012 @ 11:34 pm
  2. I have a Amazon interview. If you do not mind can you tell me what was there offer like. Would help me to negotiate if they low-ball me.

    Comment by Deepak — September 4, 2012 @ 7:17 pm
  3. I didn’t receive an offer.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 4, 2012 @ 8:33 pm
  4. Oh, my bad. I just saw this was in reply to another comment. Ignore my previous message.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 4, 2012 @ 8:34 pm
  5. The shit happened to me last week. Those guys took some online programming test which i did cleared perfectly. Was told will be called up for interview

    But later they just advised we wont be proceeding ahead without any real reason. I’m really shattered with this attitude.

    Bureaucratic process, dont even know if they even send my solution to a developer ๐Ÿ™

    Comment by tony — September 16, 2014 @ 3:33 pm
  6. Yup. On the positive side you probably had a chance to polish your algorithms skills and you will find that the next company you apply for, their interview process is going to be very easy in comparison!

    Comment by pierotofy — September 16, 2014 @ 3:36 pm
  7. […] My interview experience with Amazon ยป Outdoor Coding Stories … โ€“ I’m not a person that gives up easily. Soon after my interview experience with Microsoft I applied for a position in software development at Amazon and my resume was able to catch the attention of the people from HR. […]

    Pingback by Amazon Job Interview Experience | Job To Do — September 28, 2014 @ 5:31 pm
  8. I’ve phone interviewed for three positions at Amazon. First time with Amazon A9, I was still at Stanford in 2008, asked me bunch of Ruby questions. I hadn’t interviewed for years, and flunked. Good news I earned C+ competing with some of the brightest from all over the world during the summer term.

    Next interview 2012, an aggressive program manager interview me. She was really on the ball and asked me to describe an Agile day, what it looks like, and the same for Scrum. Prior to the interview I’d pull an all nighter coding to dead line, and didn’t have Agile Scrum in ram, I flunked. For ten years, I’d run a huge C++ project, turned around water fall and shipped beta continuously with team of 12 from $4 million to $40 million.

    Last interview 2014, with a principle program manager on Kindle, describes a soccer game to me, and how would I would handle adding a new feature at the last minute, vs fixing a critical bug at the last minute. Apps I have designed/developed increasingly been for critical industries, I was even on team at Intel that shoehorned a feature in at last minute and brought twelve Intel assembly lines to a stop for an hour: at $200,000 per minute per line. So I’ve learned to offset risks rather than gun the last minute. Told this was the wrong answer. Amazon PPM wanted me to hold the team responsible for adding the new feature and shipping the bug (told me Xbox and Office ships know bugs). Same old email later on, team decided to interview other candidates.

    What I learned: Interviews with Amazon are great to practice and sharpen interview skills. But be wary if Amazon recruiters contact you out of the blue, some teams like Kindle have high burn out, be very certain you really really want to the position, so that you are totally 110% prepared. Finally a coupe of ex-Amazon / ex-Microsoft employees told me they suspect HR has to play a game to show H1B visa’s are needed by interviewing and showing that they can’t find qualified US based employees. Net-net interviewing is really a dating game; the folks who interview you have to like you.

    Comment by clibou — October 23, 2014 @ 8:32 am

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