Amazon's Hiring Process: Hiring for Character

Former VP, Amazon Logistics Europe

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How Amazon looks to hire people who can evolve with the company
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Executive Bio

Philippe Hemard

Former VP, Amazon Logistics Europe

Philippe has spent over 25 years developing end-to-end logistics systems from vendors to customers, including 18 years at Amazon.com. He joined Amazon in France in 2000 as Distribution Centre General Manager, moving to Amazon.co.uk (Scotland) in 2004, to support business growth within the UK. Philippe then took up several senior leadership positions in European Operations at Amazon EU Headquarters in Luxembourg, culminating in the role of VP Amazon Logistics Europe from 2015-18. Before joining Amazon, Philippe worked for Danzas (now DHL) in France. Throughout his career he has worked on network modelling, procurement and buying processes, inventory management, fulfillment management, and transportation network management. Since March 2018 Philippe has run his own consultancy business, holds several board positions and teaches Supply Chain Management and Global Logistics Strategy at university. Read more

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Interview Transcript

That would seem possible, if you have this culture that’s focused on hiring for character, as opposed to the specific role. Is it fair to describe it in that way? Maybe I’m putting it in a way that’s a bit too strong, but it strikes me that this benefit that you have, being so acutely aware of someone’s competences and character, allows you that room to shift them into different channels, within the company? Does that make sense?

Yes, it does make sense, but it doesn’t mean all the hiring is like that, either. Sometimes, we are looking for very strong specialists on something. You’re not going to hire an engineer and make sure that he does operations, and vice versa, which would be worse, because the engineer could fit in very well, as a business leader, some years later, where I’m not sure that a business leader like me, would be very good for running anything, at any point of time, without having the right skill set, acquired elsewhere. It’s half right. Yes, Amazon spend a lot of time, hiring the best, developing the best, and trying to understand what the people could do later. Not limiting themselves to what they could do now. We try to really think about what they could still evolve to.

Where character is important?

Yes, exactly. What are they able to do? Are they willing to take risks? Are they really biased for action? Are they really driven by results? Those kind of things are other leadership principles. If the guy is giving you lots of examples every time, trying to justify, that’s the Amazon way and you say, one way or the other, that’s going to work. Of course, we’re going to put him where he has experience and skills but those things are going to count a lot in the interview process and, not necessarily, you’ve done 10 years of accountancy, great; we’re happy about that, come and be an accountant. That’s the difference, basically, compared to what some others are doing. But not led only by the feeling you have, as an interviewer, that you have about the person. I get a good feeling, I like the guy, he was easy to speak to. When you do that, that helps a lot. Also, that multi-interview and usually, they don’t happen the same day. Some are packed into one day, but not all happen on the same day, to give you another chance with other people. Sometimes, you go through an interview process and you’re bad; it’s a bad day for you. You’re uneasy, it doesn’t flow right. Unfortunately, you lose the job, because that morning, you had three interviews and it didn’t work and it’s over. You were not feeling good and it didn’t work.

With Amazon, it sometimes happened and it happened to me, that the person I was interviewing wasn’t that easy. It was very difficult, he was barely speaking and it was hard to get information out of him. I feel things, but I’m kind of worried and I’m not sure he’s going to fit. The other guy, who interviewed him three days ago, was like, really? He was completely different and you start to think, maybe the guy travelled to see me and he slept badly, whatever, and you start to look at those perspectives and say, okay, I’m going to retrieve my feelings that this guy was not super comfortable with me. Three other people, of seniority, all say, no, I think he will work well. It allows you to do that kind of thing, as well, which is very helpful for candidates.

It happens the other way around, as well. Sometimes you do very well, you have a great day, you do three interviews and two other interviews are bad and, unfortunately, you fail the process, but it’s a good way to test that people can reproduce those kind of things. You cannot only be good for two interviews and not be able to manage five. From memory, and it came very early in the process, to be hired at Amazon, in 2000, I had to have nine interviews, over a four-week period, before getting my contract. That was a pretty long process, even if not as structured, but in the same spirit.

Nine interviews. That’s incredible. Philippe, I think that’s a great place to conclude our conversation.

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