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Hiring Lessons from Jeff Bezos and Amazon

In Hiring Strategy — by Dave Anderson

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Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is a very rich man. In fact, he’s currently the wealthiest person in the world according to Forbes’ most recent list.

Bezos comes from humble beginnings. He left his job on Wall Street in 1993 to launch Amazon, which originally focused on selling only books online. It was successful earlier on, stayed afloat through the dotcom bust in the early 2000s and grew into the e-commerce giant we know today.

While Bezos is a self-made billionaire, there are thousands of great Amazon employees working behind the scenes. But Bezos leads the company and established the culture and hiring standards when it was a small startup 25 years ago.

It’s always interesting to learn what people like Bezos look for when hiring. We explored the internet looking for anecdotes and quotes from those who know him best.

He doesn’t care about an efficient hiring process

Most fast-growing companies preach efficiency, especially when it comes to hiring. The formula is usually source a lot of candidates, evaluate their backgrounds, interview a few of them and ultimately hire the best person for the job.

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However, Bezos doesn’t believe in making a hire, simply for the sake of filling an open role. A Fast Company profile revealed that he once told a colleague, “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

It goes against conventional hiring wisdom but makes enough sense. If you’re hiring for an important position, like a leadership role or manager for a new team, a bad decision is going to set your company back. The hire will resign or need to be let go and you’ll be back at square one. The next person you hire will not only need to do the job but also undo the mistakes made by their predecessor.

Each hire should build on the last

In Amazon’s early days, Bezos was known for putting candidates through tough interviews and scrutinizing every detail of their background. He had a vision and was looking for the people who would go on to make Amazon what it is today.

In a 1999 Wired article, Amazon’s fifth employee Nicholas Lovejoy said, “one of his mottos (Bezos) was that every time we hired someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire so that the overall talent pool was always improving.”

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This philosophy has been replicated by nearly every successful startup founder to come after Bezos. It’s crucial earlier on to build a strong foundation of people who will get the company off on the right foot. Bezos’s insistence on continuously hiring even better people is likely a major reason why Amazon would go on to become one of the world’s most successful companies.

Bezos questions for hiring managers

Given the current size of Amazon and all Bezos’s responsibilities, he of course can no longer interview every candidate like he did in the past. He does, however, have three questions he asks every one of his hiring managers to keep in mind as they evaluate candidates.

    • Will you admire this person?
      Once again, Bezos doesn’t want Amazon to hire any capable person. He wants his company to find the best so he asks hiring managers to look for candidates they truly admire.
    • Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering?
      Going back to Amazon’s early philosophy of each hire building on the last, Bezos wants hiring managers to find people who elevate the production of the people around them. Work is most often a collaborative effort so it’s important employees come together to work toward common goals.
    • Along what dimensions might this person be a superstar?
      This question is certainly open to interpretation but it seems that Bezos wants talented candidates to end up in the position that will allow them to have the greatest impact on the company. Some candidates are better suited for a role different than the one they applied for and will benefit the company in other ways.

By assigning these questions to hiring managers, Bezos’s hiring standards live on. He can’t interview every candidate but he can ensure those who do consider what’s important to him.

Hiring is a team decision

At Recruiterbox, we often preach that successful hiring is a team effort. Multiple people should interview candidates so the decision-maker has a variety of perspectives and opinions to consider.

According to Jeff Holden, a former Amazon exec who is now Chief Product Officer of Uber, Bezos believes hiring should not only be a team effort. It should be a team decision.

After final interviews, each member of the hiring team would meet in a room to share their opinions on a candidate. After the discussion, a vote would take place and the results would have to be unanimous for the person to be hired. A single “no” vote would mean the team had to go back on the search for the ideal employee.

Do what it takes to make great hires

If we can learn anything about hiring from Jeff Bezos, it’s that the hiring process should never be glossed over. Don’t settle when hiring. Do what it takes to find the best people available.