Amazon Product Management Interview Guide
Following Google, Amazon is currently the second largest internet company. It is also the largest online retailer in history. Although Amazon is seen as a behemoth branching out into many markets and industries, this did not come so easily.
Amazon was created in 1994 by Jeff Bezos. Initially, the company was only an online marketplace for books. What separated Amazon from other online book retailers was its greater convenience since it could deliver to customers across the world. Although Amazon had customers, their net losses grew each year with a net loss of $15.7 million in 1996. In 1998, Bezos knew Amazon had to adapt so it branched out to selling music and videos. The following year, it began selling video games, consumer electronics, home improvement items, software, games, and toys. Amazon finally became profitable in 2001 with revenues of over $1 billion and the growth continued from there. Today the online marketplace is selling anything imaginable from third party sellers and its own line of products.
Amazon’s corporate mission is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company”. This is seen through their marketplace, however they have many other products and services that also back up this mission statement. To name a few, there is Amazon Web Services (AWS) which provides cloud computing platforms and APIs to people, companies, and the government, Amazon Prime Video which is a streaming and rental service for shows and movies, and Amazon Home Service which is a platform aimed at offering homeowners professional services such as furniture assembly, electrician, and plumbing. On top of that, Amazon has acquired more than 100 companies across a variety of market sectors; including Whole Foods, the grocery store company, Ring, the smart home company, and Twitch, the live streaming platform. Seeing this list of products, services, and companies that Amazon owns has probably left you agreeing even more when we say that Amazon is a behemoth of a company.
Product Management at Amazon
Amazon is a company known for delivering the best products, hence product-related roles such as PMs are some of the most important jobs. Amazon splits their PMs into two categories, PMs that are non-technical (which are just called PMs at Amazon) and PMs that are technical (called PMT at Amazon). Don’t confuse the PMT role with technical program managers (TPMs), they are different.
Non-technical PMs at Amazon manage small units of the business or an internal tool. They act as the CEO of their individual space and have more entrepreneurial tasks than PMTs. Some tasks as a PM overlap with the business process manager or program manager roles. On the other hand, PMTs main focus is designing and building tech products (for example, Alexa voice assistant service or AWS). They work with software engineers to deliver products and features correctly in a timely manner. Both types of PM’s key focus are the customers, their problems, obsessions and opinions.
Customer obsession is the first Amazon leadership principle, hence this is at the top of Amazon PMs’ minds. The PM will spend time analyzing customer data to identify key problems they are facing. From there, they will come up with features or improvements that address the customer problem. Throughout this process, well written documentation is a must. Amazon is known for lots of documentation and PMs must output even more than average. Documentation may include business requirements, required resources, estimations, software requirements and more. Once documentation is done and approval is given from stakeholders, the PM will work with their team of designers and engineers to bring the idea to life.
On top of the typical product cycle process, as an Amazon PM, it is common to speak with global business and tech partners every week. These discussions can range from how to enter a new market or what can be done to help customers in a specific market. The calls can be with stakeholders from offices around the world such as the US, India and the UK. You will be representing Amazon on these calls and making key decisions for your product and ultimately the company.
Amazon occasionally can be found listing PM internships for university and college students. However, there are no set entry level PM roles at Amazon. You will need a minimum of 2 years of experience to join as a full-time PM. If you have no past experience, it is recommended to join as a Program Manager. Once promoted to the next level as a Program Manager, you will be able to move internally to a PM role. The career ladder from there as a non-technical PM and a technical PM are fairly similar.
The starting PM role is labelled as level 5, or L5 for short. You can then work your way up to a Senior PM which is L6 then Principal PM which is L7. After many years of experience, you can get promoted to Director PM which is L8 and then VP PM which is L10 (L9 is non-existent at Amazon).
Why be a Product Manager at Amazon?
All Amazon PMs, whether non-technical or technical, are treated as leaders. They lead the end-to-end process of developing new products and features for Amazon platforms and products worldwide. The teams they work on have a lot of autonomy and own specific parts of the platform or product they work on.
The two separate paths of PM and PMT combined with the abundance of products that Amazon offers provides many opportunities for PMs. Unsurprisingly, Amazon hires thousands of PMs each year, outnumbering any other company. As such, expect many job postings on their website for PM roles. The job descriptions in these postings clearly state the product or platform you will be working on, so it is relatively easy to find something you like (or won’t dislike). Combine this with the ownership aspect of a PM at Amazon and you can find yourself leading the construction of a product you are passionate about.
Do note that PMT roles do not require an extensively technical background like knowing how to code. It may help, but past experience as a PM at a software company will do just fine.
It is also important to note that PM at Amazon is one of the most demanding PM roles out of any other company of a similar size. The rate of change, whether that be a pivot in product vision or team changes, are both exciting and frustrating. You will have a lot of responsibilities and will be pushed by stakeholders to follow through with each. The role requires initiative, prioritization skills and a focused mindset to see the end goal of what you are working towards. As such, expect the role to be challenging. However, with challenges also comes lots of learning and improvement in your skills along the way.
Amazon PMs work across the world. This means the salary of a PM at Amazon varies based on location. Your salary as a PM also depends on which level you are at in the career ladder. Do note that PMTs are paid slightly more than PM’s at Amazon. The following numbers are a combined average of both roles:
In the US a PM at Amazon has a base salary of around $128k, where a Director PM can make upwards of $191k. This range may look small compared to other companies of similar size, however at Amazon, the higher the level as a PM, the more equity you obtain. Your equity goes up drastically as you progress in Amazon which in turn, increases your total compensation.
The Interview Process
The interview process for any PM role at Amazon, including PMT roles, follow the same process. There are 4 main stages. There will be an initial phone screen followed by 1-2 phone interviews with the hiring manager or a PM at Amazon, a take home assignment, and 5-7 on-site interviews. The end-to-end timeline for the interview process is roughly 4-6 weeks.
The interviews require you to show strong product strategy and execution skills. Most importantly, you will need to demonstrate that you align with Amazon's 16 leadership principles that are lined out on their corporate website. This is a huge focus in the interviews and can be called upon in the many behavioural questions that will be asked. Behavioural questions take up the majority of the interviews here.
Let’s walk through each stage of the interview process.
Initial Phone Screen with HR
The purpose of this call is to confirm that you are a candidate for the role and to get a better sense of whether you’re a good fit for the job. HR will ask questions about your experience and discuss what’s needed to succeed at Amazon. Also be prepared to share why you are interested in the role and working at Amazon.
Typical questions in this stage are:
- Walk me through your past experience.
- Why do you want to work for Amazon?
- Why is this job a good fit for you?
- What do you want to get out of this job at Amazon?
These calls will either be with the hiring manager or a senior member on a product team. Their goal is to check your competence in an array of topics.
The first thing the interviewer will check is if you understand the role you applied for. They will typically ask you to explain your understanding of the role and elaborate on specific aspects of the job description. For example, if you applied for a role that revolves around AWS, the interviewer will ask you to explain your understanding of AWS. Make sure to read the job description thoroughly.
The next part of these interviews will focus on Amazon’s leadership principles which is a recurring theme in the interview process. The interviewer will ask you a range of behavioural product related questions.
Potential questions that will be asked in this round are:
- Describe a customer feedback suggestion that you followed through with.
- Tell me about a time you declined a customer suggestion and why you made that decision.
- Talk about a time when you successfully launched a product with a team.
- Describe a time when you had to make an important decision on the spot. What were the results?
After the call, you will typically know if you progressed to the next round within 24 hours. If the interviewer is unsure with their decision, they may ask you to do a follow-up interview. The follow-up will likely focus on the areas where they think you need to dig deeper in your answers.
Take Home Assignment
Once you are through the phone screens, there will be a take home assignment that can consist of you writing an essay based on a prompt or answering multiple questions. You will need to complete and send the assignment 24 hours before your on-site interviews. It will be used along with your interview performances to make a decision regarding the position.
The assignment will require you to write 1-2 pages. The prompt or questions will focus on aspects of PM and you must showcase your skills from there. Although they may not explicitly state it, the hiring managers will be looking for you to talk about how you have demonstrated many of the Amazon leadership principles.
Potential prompts or questions for the assignment may be:
- What is the most innovative project you ever worked on?
- Talk about a time when you made customers’ lives easier.
- Talk about a time when you failed as a PM. What did you learn and what came out of it?
The next step in the interview process is to spend an entire day at an Amazon office and perform 5-7 interviews. Each interview is one-on-one and will last around 60 minutes. The interviewer will be someone from the team you are applying for, whether that be PMs, TPMs, software developers or software developer managers. One of the interviews, however, will be with what is called a bar raiser.
A bar raiser is someone from a different business unit than the one you are applying for. The bar raiser is not concerned with your fit in the specific team you’re applying for, rather they are concerned with the overall applicant quality. They have extensive training on making sure the hiring standards for Amazon do not fall overtime. Questions in this interview will be behavioural. This interview holds more weight since the bar raiser is able to veto your offer if they think you do not meet the standards for Amazon.
Other than the bar raiser interview, there are no specific themes for the on-site interviews. They will all focus around Amazon’s leadership principles, product strategy, and other miscellaneous PM questions.
Below are some sample questions that may be asked in the interviews at this stage.
Behavioural Questions (majority of the questions)
- Talk about a time when you made a short term sacrifice to complete a long term goal.
- Give an example of a time when you failed to reach a deadline. What were your steps following the miss?
- Offer a clear example of when you took a product to market.
- What is the most creative product or feature you have ever come up with?
- Describe a time when you used data to pinpoint a problem and formulate a potential solution.
- How have you measured customer satisfaction in the past?
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your team but moved forward with their plan.
Product Strategy Questions (some of the questions)
- Should Amazon create a new travel app?
- What is the Amazon business model?
- Come up with a new business idea for Amazon.
- Amazon launches into a new country. How do you decide what products or services to sell there?
- How would you price Amazon Prime and why?
Miscellaneous PM Questions (very few questions)
- How do you determine what the cost of a Kindle device should be?
- Design a fridge for blind people.
- How would you improve the user experience for Amazon’s marketplace?
- How would you improve Amazon Prime?
You will receive your interview results within 24 hours following the last interview.
Preparing for the Interview
As mentioned in the previous section, there is a huge focus on determining if the candidate possesses the Amazon leadership principles as this is an important part of being a PM at Amazon. Understanding the description of the principles and linking past experiences with them is necessary to be successful in the interviews. Always try to aim to include two of the principles within every question you answer, and try to demonstrate the top four principles in all the interviews you complete. The top four principles as a PM are customer obsession, ownership, bias for action, and have backbone; disagree and commit. Study these four extensively.
Interviewers see if you possess the leadership principles through behavioural-based questions. Study the questions in the previous section and think of past experiences you can tie into each of these questions. It is also recommended to have a predefined framework to answer the questions so you hit the most important parts. Many PMs at Amazon suggest using the STAR framework when answering behavioural questions. The four stages to this framework are:
- Situation - Set the scene. Give the necessary background information for the example you will bring forward. Describe your role, team, and organization. Do not provide excess information that is irrelevant to the experience you will be sharing.
- Task - Describe your responsibility in the situation and what the goal or problem was.
- Action - Explain the steps you went through to accomplish the goal or problem at hand. How did you implement your solution? Focus on your contributions.
- Result - Share what outcomes your actions achieved. Focus on quantitative results when possible. What lessons did you learn in the process? If the result was poor, mention how you would improve it if you were to go through it again.
Practice answering many behavioural questions using this framework. You should comfortably be able to talk on all the stages when answering any behavioural question.
Lastly, like all PM interviews, you must be comfortable with product fundamentals and answering PM style interview questions. Although strategy, estimation, analysis and design questions are not asked as frequently in Amazon interviews compared to other companies, it is still important to brush up on these skills because after all, you are applying for a PM role. They will be assessing you on your PM skills as well so do not be lenient when it comes to revising these skills. Brushing up on product concepts, even if you have lots of experience, will make you feel and be confident. This will help you make a great impression with your interviewer.
PMs are the head of product development and growth and are seen as the customers' champions. Amazon is known to be one of the most customer-centric companies in the world, hence the PM role at Amazon is extremely important and highly respected. Whether PM or PMT, Amazon has a selection of PM roles available for you to choose from to find your passion. All the PM roles lead to the same comprehensive 4 stage interview process that consists of testing your product skills, but most importantly, evaluating you on the 16 Amazon leadership principles. Ensure you thoroughly understand the top 4 principles as a PM and are able to tie in past experiences to each whenever you can.
Amazon wants great leaders to lead their products to success. Confidence in your leadership and product skills go a long way here.
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