Amazon Recruiting – A Case Study Of A Giant Among Children

Compare their results to all others, and you too will call Amazon… A Giant Recruiting Machine.

Note this case study is designed for quick scanning.

Yes, Amazon recruiting is in a class by themselves because they relentlessly hire when others cry for applicants. Of course, I don’t loosely use the phrase “A giant among children.” However, after doing numerous corporate case studies over the years covering other recruiting powerhouses (including Google, Apple, and Facebook). I quickly found that their record recruiting volumes across a broad range of jobs and locations could only be labeled as breathtaking. And just by chance, if you think that I’m not giving enough credit to most other corporate recruiting functions (even Google pales in comparison). You should realize that only a mere 18% of HR professionals even describe their own recruiting function as “top-notch” or “advanced.”

In a snapshot – Why Amazon is a recruiting giant – during our severe labor shortage in 2021. Amazon hired a record-breaking 500,000 employees worldwide, actually doubling the previous year’s hiring total (the previous recruiting leader Google hired a mere 20,000.) In addition, literally, everyone wants to work there. Because LinkedIn named Amazon as the #1 place for US workers in 2021. They are so popular that they received an astonishing 30 million job applications (that’s not a typo) for their open jobs, 10 times the previous 3 million record at Google. Last year Amazon even received a record 1 million applications during a single week!

The Six Pillars Of Recruiting Excellence At Amazon

This Amazon case study reveals the many factors that cause Amazon’s recruiting function to be so far ahead of the competition. They are truly a giant because they excel in each of the six pillars of excellence in recruiting. The six pillars that make Amazon so successful are:

  1. Their recruiting impacts business results
  2. Their proven capability of handling huge recruiting volumes across a wide range 
  3. Their fanatical insistence on quality hires
  4. A scientific data-driven recruiting approach is the foundation of their success
  5. They utilize a one-size-fits-one agile hiring process 
  6. Their targeted recruiting sub-programs are second to none

Let’s jump immediately to the first and most important strategic pillar – Amazon’s record-breaking strategic business and recruiting results. 

Pillar #1. Amazon’s Recruiting Impacts Business Results

Amazon recruiting is aiming to go beyond simply producing recruiting results. And to also directly impact their corporation’s business results. Those results include:

  • Hiring is the single most important element in Amazon’s business success – Jeff Bezos made it clear. “Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success” (that’s not just the most important HR function, but the most important business function). Jeff began making this recruiting priority clear in the company’s very first annual shareholder letter in 1998. Most other corporations don’t admit this reality. But, it’s simply not possible for a large corporation to innovate and grow rapidly without fully funded exceptional recruiting. 
  • Yet with all this emphasis, recruiting remains their primary challenge – The CFO recently publicly revealed that even with its current high priority, recruiting maintains a primary challenge. When he noted, for example, in the package movement area, “The availability of workers is Amazon’s primary challenge.” Rather than resting on their laurels, they realize that they continuously need to get much better is a primary reason they continue to improve in recruiting. 
  • Amazon’s size and growth are made possible by its excellence in recruiting – the prime limiting factor that restricts the company from maintaining its quantum growth rate is the ability to successfully recruit a huge volume of employees each year. And because Amazon employs about 1.4 million people globally, they have already done a high recruiting volume. The employee headcount makes them the US’s second-largest private employer (after Walmart). I predict that they will soon surpass Walmart for the #1 spot as the largest employer in the US. I would also note that Amazon has helped to reduce unemployment. Because of the 400,000 people they hired for their U.S. operations network, 45% were previously unemployed. Their new CEO, Andy Jassy, reinforced the importance of continuous growth through recruiting by announcing that he was planning to hire 55,000 people for corporate and technology roles globally during his first months. That’s close to all of Facebook’s current headcount and nearly 1/3 of Google’s headcount.
  • Amazon’s multi-industry innovativeness is made possible by their recruiting approach – although the BCG rated Amazon as #3 in innovation, I find that it deserves the top ranking. Unlike other top innovation firms, Amazon has led innovation and disrupted 12 completely unrelated industries. Since the beginning, their CEO has insisted on raising the bar for new hire performance. Along with his insistence on acting like it is still “Day 1.”  He has made it clear to everyone that mavericks are “not always the easiest to get along with.” He expects everyone to hire people who are “a little bit radical or a bit of a rebel because they often spark innovative ideas.” Assessing applicants on their leadership principles and giving them “real problems to solve” during interviews” are two ways Amazon identifies innovators.
    • Recruiting has made a major contribution to its stock value – businesswise, their recruiting and operational excellence have directly contributed to the corporation’s incredibly high stock valuation. Currently, Amazon is the fifth most valuable global company in market cap valuation, nearly 1.65 Trillion dollars. 
    • Recruiting has made a major contribution toward having an extremely productive workforce – the average revenue generated by each employee last year was $353,000, which is an amazing ROI. HR helped maintain that productivity by increasing management prerogatives by remaining a 100% union-free workforce. 
This would never happen where you work. Amazon disrupted their business for a hiring initiative – Amazon demonstrated how important recruiting was to its business in July 2012. They replaced the normal consumer-focused primary website front page and populated it with only a Jeff Bezos signed recruiting letter addressed to its customers. That letter announced to all of Amazon’s customers that it was hiring and instituting a new jobs initiative (its Career Choice Program). 

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Pillar #2.  A proven capability for handling a huge volume of recruiting across a broad range of positions and locations

Amazon recruiting has proven over the years that it has the capability of recruiting a huge number of new hires across many different job families and locations.

  • Recruiting volume and capability are second to none – the fact that during 2021 Amazon’s recruiting increased headcount by a whopping 63%  in a single year. The largest percentage increase in headcount ever accomplished by any large employer during peacetime! This is but one startling indication of recruiting’s agility and capability to ramp up their recruiting capability dramatically. Amazon, of course, must have an exceptional recruiting capability because it is America’s second-largest employer (and I predict that it will soon surpass Walmart). The workload handled by their recruiting function is unparalleled because it has as many as 30,000 openings at a single time.
  • Powerful Employer Brand means that everyone considers them – it is clear that because of its HR work, Amazon is recognized as an excellent place to work. And its rankings, notoriety, and exposure are major contributors to its recruiting success. Some of their notable recognitions include:
  1.  This year, LinkedIn’s top US employer ranking – Amazon ranked by the prestigious professional network LinkedIn as the #1 company where Americans want to work and develop their careers. 
  2. A global best employer also – this year and a ranking of global employers, Amazon was ranked #2 on the “World’s Best Employers” list by Forbes. 
  3. Fortune’s world’s most admired companies – this year, Amazon was ranked #2 on Fortune’s prestigious “World’s Most Admired Companies” list for the fifth year in a row. (After Apple). 
  4. BCG’s most innovative firms – this year, the Boston Consulting Group rated Amazon #3 on their “most innovative firms” list (after Apple and Alphabet). 
  • Amazon is the best at attracting a record-breaking volume of applicants – as previously noted. In 2020 Amazon received a record-shattering 30 million applications, an all-time record. But it is especially impressive because it occurred when almost every major corporation and business struggled to get even a few applications for each job. The attractiveness of Amazon is illustrated by the fact that they received a breathtaking “1 Million Job Applications (in 1 day)” as part of their 2021 annual Career Day event.
  • Amazon has the capability of recruiting over an amazing range of jobs – companies like Google and Facebook have an easy recruiting job because they recruit mostly engineers. In comparison, Amazon must have the capability of recruiting everything from AI experts, pilots, book specialists, entertainment specialists, and cloud experts down to package handlers. In fact, Amazon can recruit across five extremely diverse business units (Amazon.com, AWS, Alexa, Whole Foods Market, and Amazon Prime) and 32 distinct technical groups. Their new Project Kuiper will even require them to hire rocket scientists as they attempt to launch satellites into orbit to widen their broadband access. In my view, their recruiting leaders deserve major kudos for developing their recruiting capability in so many completely different skill areas. And because they are a technology company, they rely heavily on technology throughout their recruiting function. 
  • Amazon’s recruiting capability is truly global – because it is a worldwide e-commerce company, Amazon operates and recruits in 13 countries. In the US alone, it operates more than 930 facilities (including two headquarters locations). And last year, it received job applications from 170 different countries.

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Pillar # 3. Fanatical Insistence On Quality Hires

Their third and most important pillar of recruiting excellence is their fanatical insistence on only hiring quality candidates. In comparison, few corporations spend the time defining and measuring the quality of hire (i.e., top-performing new hire). And only 36% even attempt to measure the quality of hire. Amazon ensures that they will get those quality hires using seven unique recruiting approaches. They include:

  • Their goal is to be the “Earth’s Best Employer” – yes, Jeff Bezos’ stated, and only a little bit outrageous, goal is to make Amazon “the world’s best employer. However, in my experience, it is a goal that they have already met. Executives, managers, HR professionals, and recruiters work together to reach it. In their words, they reach that goal because  “Their leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher-performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: “Are my fellow employees growing?” “Are they empowered?” “Are they ready for what’s next?” “Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.”
  • The Bezos approach to hiring is laser-focused on quality – their hiring managers and the recruiting function’s insistence on quality has remained solid throughout the years. I find that this fanatical insistence on quality is in direct contrast to the approach taken by most hiring managers at other corporations. During this candidate shortage, managers have been allowed in desperation “to fill butts in chairs.”

Amazon’s #1 advocate of hiring only quality employees is Jeff Bezos. He has shown his expectations in many often-repeated quotes, statements, and expectations. Including: 

  1. “It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people… Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been and will continue to be the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”
  2.  “If you can’t hire quality, don’t hire at all.” “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”
  3. “Don’t “settle for second best” when hiring. Instead, “Do what it takes to find the best people available.”
  4. “Every time we hire someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire so that the overall talent pool was always improving.” Bezos “doesn’t care about an efficient hiring process.” “And he certainly “Doesn’t believe in making a hire, simply for the sake of filling an open role.”
  5. At Amazon, raising the bar means answering three questions for each candidate. First, “Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering?” Next, it asks, “Will you admire this person?” And last, it asks, “In what important area might this person be a superstar?” (In cases where they should be placed in a different job than they applied for). 
  • Amazon utilizes “bar raisers” as its primary way to ensure quality – a key Amazon expectation for leaders – “Is to raise the Amazon’s use of “bar raisers.” They get that name because their sole role is to ensure that each new hire will “raise the bar over the last incumbent” in each open job. The work during the interview process is to provide outside and neutral candidate assessments. To prevent a candidate from focusing on these individuals, they are anonymous to the candidate. These quality control individuals are from outside the team that is doing the hiring. And as a result, they are more likely to be critical because they don’t face the same “pressures to immediately fill the job” that hiring managers and teammates do. With this volunteer role, they accept the responsibility to literally “veto” any candidate they feel will not be a good fit for Amazon. Amazon’s new hires are quality employees because Amazon promoted more than 68,000 employees globally during 2020.
  • Hiring is a unanimous team decision – a second method for ensuring that they only hire a quality candidate requires a unanimous team decision. One prominent former Amazon executive noted that Bezos “ Believes hiring should not only be a team effort. It should be a team decision.” So in most cases, “After final interviews, each member of the hiring team meets in a room to share their opinions on each candidate. And after a discussion, a vote takes place, and the results have to be unanimous for the person to be hired.” A single “no” vote would mean that the team will have to go back and search again for the ideal employee. 
  • Amazon’s “unregretted turnover metric” helps fix hiring errors – Amazon assigns an “unregretted turnover metric” to its managers. It serves as an imperfect post-hire check on weak performing employees that somehow made it through their hiring process. This after-hiring double-check mirrors the approach that General Electric had under Jack Welch. Under this “regrettable turnover metric,” Managers at Amazon have a target rate for annual employee turnover. This means they are expected to lose a specified number of employees that they “wouldn’t regret losing” (i.e., below-average performing employees). Although this practice may appear harsh on the surface, it forces hiring managers to reassess each new hire periodically. 
  • Paying employees to quit – this “Pay Employees to Quit” approach is a second post-hiring check on quality under this program (borrowed from Zappos). Amazon proactively offers incentives to unhappy recent hires during their first five years. The goal is to force unhappy recent hires to take a minute once each year to decide if they “really want to stay.” Based on the premise that keeping workers unsure of their commitment to Amazon will harm both the customers and the team. So if a worker decides that they don’t want to be here, they can get between $1000 and $5000 for walking away.
  • Finally, improve new-hire quality by assessing candidates on Amazon’s leadership principles – one of the primary ways Amazon maintains quality hiring and fit. By assessing every candidate on Amazon’s published “leadership principles.” So each candidate at Amazon is expected to know and commit to following them (these principles are posted on their jobs website). As a result, everyone involved in hiring is expected to assess every candidate’s knowledge and commitment to these principles. At least 3 of these 15 principles relate directly to recruiting. Those three principles are below:
  1. Hire and develop the best – leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take their role in coaching others seriously. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
  2. Insist on the highest standards – leaders have relentlessly high standards. Many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders continually raise the bar and drive their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed, so they stay fixed.
  3. Deliver results – leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle. 

If you’re interested in the 12 remaining leadership principles, click here. The remainder mostly focuses on key workforce capabilities, including customer obsession, innovation, learning, and ownership of problems.

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Pillar #4. A scientific data-driven approach is the foundation for their success

During my assessment, I found that a primary reason why Amazon recruiting excels in so many different areas is that it operates under the umbrella of one of the most strategic HR functions. Their HR function is guided by 7 HR tenets, which are the guidelines that every HR function follows to “Maintain a Culture of Builders and Innovators. In my experience, shifting to a data-driven approach is required to maintain a culture in a large organization. Fortunately, Amazon is one of only a handful of HR functions (along with Google, Sodexo, and Nestlé Purina) that already makes decisions based on data and results metrics. Find that HR tenet in the box below. 

A foundation goal is to be scientific and data-driven – We seek to “be the most scientific HR organization in the world.” We form hypotheses about the best talent acquisition, talent retention, and talent development techniques.And then set out to prove or disprove them with experiments and careful data collection.” 

Every strategic recruiting function should know and follow three additional Amazon HR and leadership tenets. They are:

  • Recruiting must focus on directly impacting business results – because BCG research revealed that “recruiting has the highest impact on business results.” Therefore, it makes sense to follow and adhere to their HR tenet “We manage HR as a business.” Acting like a business starts with, rather than simply “aligning with business goals,” recruiting leaders purposely set recruiting goals and manage recruiting actions and resources to produce the maximum direct and measurable impact on business results. The next step is to reduce recruiting approaches that can’t demonstrate their business impact. And the final step is to convert recruiting problems and results into their dollar impact on corporate revenue (e.g., our recruiting efforts on sales jobs allowed us to maintain $232.5 million in sales revenue). Reporting recruiting results in dollars of revenue impact allow executives to quickly compare your dollar impacts to those from other HR and business functions.
  • You must assume continuous obsolescence along with rapid learning – you should also follow another of Amazon’s HR tenets. Which is “Learn and Be Curious.” Because in an unpredictable world, you simply can’t prepare for most things. The secret to thriving is rapid continuous learning immediately as new problems and opportunities arrive. So the first step in a recruiting world where everything changes should be operating under the assumption that every current thing in recruiting will soon become obsolete. And, of course, you won’t be able to detect that obsolescence without collecting and applying performance data. Next, you must also continually be looking for a replacement for every current recruiting approach and tool. And that can only be accomplished by continuously learning about evolving business and recruiting approaches at other advanced companies. To identify the ones that might be applied to your recruiting situation. And finally, you won’t be able to determine if your new solutions are superior without following the tenet hypothesis testing covered in the next bullet point. 
  • The utilization of hypothesis testing and experimentation – perhaps the most prominent difference between traditional and scientific recruiting is an insistence on hypothesis testing to discover what works and what doesn’t. The HR tenet is “We form hypotheses about the best talent acquisition, talent retention, and talent development techniques and then set out to prove or disprove them with experiments and careful data collection.” For example, a split-sample experiment could prove or disprove the hypothesis that “Diverse interviewers select more diverse candidates” (They don’t). Google HR has also long been a supporter of hypothesis testing. An outrageous example of Amazon’s hypothesis testing occurred when their AWS group experimented by placing a job ad on the Tinder dating site.
An experiment on hiring transitioning military personnel – AWS recruiting found that transitioning military had its needed skill set, and they matched their culture. However, AWS found that they didn’t quite have the needed technical expertise. So they ran an experiment and created an apprenticeship program for them. They first ran a pilot with 15. And after experiencing great success, the number of apprentices eventually exceeds 1000.

Amazon Recruiting – A Case Study Of A Giant Among Children (Part 2 of 2 parts)

Today, every manager needs to learn great recruiting… and to find it, they need only follow Amazon!

Note: The format of this case study is designed for a 5-minute scan

The title of this case study includes the phrase “A Giant Among Children.” That’s just how large I found the differential between Amazon’s recruiting and the recruiting practices at most corporations. And if you take the time to read this case study, I am sure that you will agree with the sharp assessment. Of course, many managers already justifiably study Amazon because of its excellence in well-known areas, including customer service, supply chain, and cloud computing. However, most don’t realize that Amazon can only excel in so many divergent business areas because it is “a recruiting machine.” It recruits effortlessly even during our current talent shortage when most others starved for applicants. This case study is designed to show you their best practices and what makes them “a recruiting giant among children.” 

Pillar #5. Amazon’s amazing array of targeted recruiting programs

In my view, the most surprising of all of Amazon’s 6 pillars of excellence is their willingness to develop and offer numerous individual recruiting and career transition programs that are “customized” to the needs of distinct groups of candidates and employees. Targeting subprograms is essential because different groups are attracted and motivated by different offerings. At Amazon, they specifically target a wide array of people, including diverse women, veterans, the elderly, and those that need internal movement or an upward push. Unfortunately, space limitations prevent me from highlighting all of the amazing, targeted programs in operation at Amazon. However, you will find a representative sample of 14 of their exceptional targeted recruiting programs below. The programs that likely have the largest impact appear first on the list.

  • The Returnship program helps the unemployed reenter the workforce – The Returnship is a reentry program designed to help the underemployed and those who have been out of the workforce for at least a year (usually due to unemployment, children staying at home, or Covid concerns). This program aims to provide this target group with a rare opportunity to restart their careers by joining Amazon. At the beginning of the program, “returners” work on a specific project. And after four months, they have earned the possibility to move into full-time positions at Amazon. During those four months, participants work remotely from home. If they need it, they provide child and elder care assistance. So they can ease back into the workforce without making any major life changes while they are in this program. And when they accept a permanent role, Amazon will also pay for their relocation if needed. Since their Returnship pilot initiative in January of 2021, Amazon reports that the program has enrolled more than 60 people, and 95% of them received an offer for a full-time role at Amazon. In the future, Amazon has stated that they plan to hire 1,000 professionals into the program during the coming years in roles ranging from finance to engineering.
  • The Best Fit Program makes it easier for software engineers to find their perfect job – this best fit program is an accelerated job identification program. Designed specifically to help software engineers that are applying find their perfect job fit among all relevant Amazon jobs. This program helps make their job search at Amazon quicker and more accurate. Those in the program can avoid putting in the traditional multiple hours of searching for their right job. It allows these software engineers to apply once and then be automatically considered for thousands of relevant jobs across the company. A combination of electronic and human matching approaches finds the jobs that fit their preferences during the first step. For their ideal kind of team and their desired working style. But the program will still recommend jobs in new areas in which Amazon thinks they would also be successful. During the last part of the process, applicants get to meet all of the hiring managers for each of the recommended jobs. And finally, they get to choose their first job at Amazon.
  • The Career Choice Program supports employees who want a college degree – support for getting a college degree or GED is a major attraction factor. One of the goals of this Career Choice educational opportunity program is to help lower-level Amazon employees transition into more lucrative paying and high-demand fields (and perhaps even leaving Amazon). For eligible employees, Amazon will now pay 100% of its employee’s college tuition and fees for earning a diploma or certificate in a qualified field of study at eligible schools. Recently the program has been updated to allow more flexibility.
  • The UX Apprenticeship – It encourages development in research and design – Amazon’s User Experience Design and Research Apprenticeship program provide a combination of instructor-led training and real-world experience in a one-year program. It offers employees the opportunity to learn and develop research and design skills on Amazon teams, including Prime Video, Alexa, AWS, and Amazon Fashion. Apprenticeship graduates can move into jobs that help improve the experience of Amazon customers, from making payments easier on Amazon sites to designing features that make devices more accessible.
  • Surge2IT – Proactively encourages career advancement in IT – their Surge2IT program is another career transition program designed to help entry-level IT employees across Amazon’s operations network. It focuses on IT employees who don’t possess a software development degree. After completing this program, they can become software development engineers after about nine months. This program allows lower-level IT employees to pursue careers in higher-paying technical roles through this self-paced learning resource. The course helps employees develop the skills necessary to advance their careers in the information technology field. Participants who complete this course and move up at Amazon can make up to an additional $10,000 a year.
  • The Amazon Technical Academy makes you a software developer in nine months – this career transition program requires nothing more than an interest in software development. It started as an experiment, and since then, it has successfully enrolled hundreds of employees. Amazon Technical Academy builds on their initial interest by training them in the essential skills needed to transition to an entry-level software developer engineer role at Amazon. The program is free for their employees. And it requires a high school diploma or GED. And the fortitude to get through a rigorous nine-month, full-time program that expert Amazon software engineers created.
  • The Mechatronics program prepares employees for robot maintenance jobs – under this career transition program in robotic repair. It is designed for employees interested in learning engineering and mechanical skills necessary to repair and maintain the equipment and robots inside Amazon facilities. Those that are accepted get the opportunity to go back to school for a free 12-week course. After that, employees begin a year of on-the-job learning under a technical maintenance specialist. After completing this final step, employees who now have these highly sought-after skills are eligible for a full-time role as a mechatronics and robotics technician, which may increase their paycheck by up to 40%.
  • Project Juno – aids in relocating current employees – this internal movement program helps out when a current employee must relocate. After they have decided that they must move, this Amazon job finding process electronically finds the relocating employee the same or a similar job available at the Amazon facility in their new city.
  • CamperForce – This Program offers jobs to traveling seasonal workersCamperForce offers jobs for those who travel in RVs and work along the way. They are known as Work Campers. And because Amazon especially needs people to work in its warehouses during the holidays. They now encourage and hire seasonal help that live in a trailer or RV. In addition to welcoming them, Amazon pays them a small monthly stipend to live in their own trailer at an RV facility close to an Amazon warehouse site where they will work.
  • The Military Spouses Program –  provides jobs for military spouses the goal is to find jobs for the spouses of Amazon’s 45,000 veteran and military employees. Designed to find military spouses an appropriate job at Amazon. Either for the first time or when he or she must relocate along with their military spouse. In addition, Amazon recently pledged to hire over 100,000 U.S. veterans and military spouses by 2024, further building on their commitment to military families. 
  • Amazon Warriors – provides support for transitioning veterans – this veterans support program is designed to help recent veterans transition into Amazon’s workforce. It helps by offering a professional network of Amazon employees that are veterans. It also provides a mechanism for community outreach.
  • People with disabilities – They have their own targeted website – Amazon offers a targeted site specifically to meet the needs of applicants with disabilities. The site also educates them on how to take the best advantage of what Amazon has to offer applicants and employees with disabilities.
  • Amazon hires felons – Amazon has no blanket policy against hiring felons. In fact, they are open to hiring them into seasonal jobs. Depending on the type of felony, time since they fulfilled their sentence, and the corrective actions completed, however, after successfully completing that initial assignment and based on their performance. The felon may then be considered for a more permanent position. 
  • Amazon employee referrals – like most large corporations, Amazon has a formal referral program. Unfortunately, I only rate it as a little better-than-average because only 11% of those interviewed are employee referrals. And they pay a range of bonuses up to $5000 for a referral that is hired.

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Pillar #6. Unique elements in their “one-size-fits-one” agile hiring process

I have discovered 7 unique hiring process elements that contribute to making Amazon’s hiring process highly agile, flexible, and adaptable. These seldom found elsewhere elements make it possible for their hiring process to adapt to the recruiting needs of every Amazon business unit and location. Those unique elements include:

  • By design, their hiring process flexes to fit every unique job – they hire in so many global locations and across so many jobs from pilot to janitor. Their candidate assessment process must be modifiable to fit the unique assessment requirements for each job family. We call this capability “one-size-fits-all one.” Of course, the hiring process includes the basic elements for all jobs, including the standard ATS/recruiter resume screen, a phone screen, and at least one structured remote or live behavioral interview. Some portion of that interview will be devoted to assessing the candidate’s understanding of Amazon’s culture through its leadership principles

    However, the interviews will likely last all day for most professional jobs. Often it will include an online test and a verbally presented work sample or problem to complete. The candidate may also be asked to write up an idea in a press release format (because that’s the way ideas are presented at Amazon). Or, developers may be required to participate in a virtual or in-person interactive whiteboard exercise for developer jobs where they have the candidate walk them through the steps they would take to solve a current software problem. In the end, the team will always make the final hiring decision, and the “bar raiser” gatekeeper will have the option of vetoing that choice.
  • To increase innovation, Amazon specifically targets problem-solving skills – one thing that is common across all business units at Amazon is the need for innovation. And as a result, Amazon targets candidates that thrive at solving a never-ending queue of complex problems. They consider a spirit of innovation part of their DNA at Amazon. They clearly state upfront that they are looking for “analytical and critical thinkers with great judgment, who can both think big and roll up their sleeves to solve hard problems on behalf of our customers.” 
  • Amazon increases its applications by removing the mystery from its hiring process – many firms talk about their “candidate experience.” However, I have found that applying for a job at most firms is a long way from being user-friendly. We know this because the number one complaint from applicants is almost always that the hiring process that they are about to face “is a complete mystery.” Amazon, instead, leads the way (along with J&J) in removing the mystery out of what the candidate can expect during their hiring process. They offer an extensive array of numerous free resources that guide applicants (our hiring process website) to meet this goal. It highlights what any candidate can expect from the day they apply until they begin work. In addition, they also offer suggestions on the best interviewing practices for its candidates to follow on its YouTube channel and its LinkedIn feed. They also make it clear that serious candidates must study the company’s leadership principles mentioned earlier. Finally, they help applicants understand the different teams they can work in. By providing them with a list of the 32 possible teams, a description of what they do, and how many open jobs are currently open in each team. They even have a “best-fit program” that uses artificial intelligence to help software engineers find their perfect job within Amazon.
  • Amazon holds a national Career Day event like no other – many firms, including McDonald’s and Walmart, hold “national hiring days.” However, I find that they pale in comparison to Amazon’s. They call their unique Career Day “America’s biggest training and recruiting event.” It actually is unique because it goes well beyond the typical job fair. In addition to displaying open jobs, it offers remote personalized career coaching sessions and even some tactical training. It further provides candid advice on how job seekers can start, build, or transition their careers at Amazon. Last year, they received 1 million applications for their Career Day event.
  • Amazon relies heavily on seasonal workers as a talent pipeline source – research has shown that often the new hire has the highest probability of success. Someone that has recently successfully served as a temp, intern, or contractor at the organization. Amazon takes advantage of this high-quality source by hiring well over 100k seasonal workers each year. In addition to filling their seasonal need, the seasonal workforce serves as an effective screening process for determining which seasonal workers should be offered a full-time job. It also gives the worker a chance to determine if they really want to work at Amazon.
  • They use FC brand ambassadors to improve their brand proactively – I’ve never seen this done before. But, to counter the massive amounts of negative Twitter messaging found about working at their warehouses. Amazon has asked long-term employees at its fulfillment centers to act as brand ambassadors in an extraordinary move to improve their online employment branding. They don’t get extra pay, but they get $50 gift cards as a small reward for tweeting positive things about working in their warehouses.
  • A shift in emphasis to remote and broader college recruiting – makes college recruiting more effective, diverse, and remote. Amazon is curtailing some campus visits and heavily emphasizing virtual student meetings. It has also broadened its reach to many more campuses to get added diversity to the point where for example, last year, it extended offers to students from 80 M.B.A. programs (instead of exclusively going to a few elite schools).

Amazon Utilizes Data To Identify The Most Powerful Attraction Factors

Rather than assuming that applicant attraction factors stay the same in a fast-changing world. A critical part of Amazon’s highly agile and adaptable recruiting process is continually gathering data to update “the most effective attraction factors” for their targeted potential applicants. Here are 8 examples of how they identify the attraction factors and the current ones.

  • They start by using data to identify the most current attraction factors – most corporations simply guess at them or assume that they are the same as last year. In comparison, Amazon uses data to identify its current attraction factors. At Amazon, these attraction factors currently fit into four categories. Each of the four is emphasized on their main career website. The four primary attraction categories include benefits, career advancement, work/life balance, and culture. As part of their data-driven approach, they continually survey new hires to determine the general and the specific factors that actually attracted them to Amazon. And last year, 93% of their new hires cited Amazon’s Career Skills and Upskilling training programs as their top attraction factor. As a follow-up, Amazon is investing $700 million in upskilling 100,000 employees in the U.S. by 2025.
  • They proactively encourage work/life balance although some may argue about their level of success. Amazon boldly lists work/life balance as one of its four primary attraction categories. And on its work/life balance website, it describes how Amazon strives to help its employees reach that balance.
  • Amazon is acting to reduce applicant health and injury concerns – during the pandemic. Amazon has focused on reducing Covid risks and workplace injuries as roadblocks that reduce potential warehouse applicants. So in that light, Amazon is currently developing a new automated staff schedule process. It reduces the risk of injury by utilizing computer algorithms to rotate employees between jobs when completed. A more frequent rotation is needed because their data reveals that roughly 40% of their work-related fulfillment center injuries are due to sprains and strains caused by repetitive motions. 
  • Higher base pay – Amazon was one of the first companies to realize that they needed to raise employee pay and its hourly jobs in a tight U.S. job market. So Amazon’s average starting wage is now over $18 per hour, with an additional $3 depending on their shift.
  • Sign-on bonuses – like many companies, Amazon has begun offering significant sign-on bonuses at some of their fulfillment centers (up to $4000).
  • Being dog friendly is surprisingly an attraction factor – in work areas where it is safe. Amazon is one of the few companies that actively encourage dogs in the office. And because of their efforts, Amazon was listed as the #1 dog-friendly company in the US by Rover.com. Their leadership has noted that “Amazon has found that dogs in the office actually contribute to their collaborative company culture.” 
  • They stopped testing applicants for cannabis –  in many states recreational or medical cannabis use is now legal. Amazon has been a leader in announcing that it will no longer screen finalist candidates for marijuana use. In part because this testing was unnecessarily reducing their candidate pool. But Amazon went one step further. It alerted its independent delivery service partners that if they too stopped testing for marijuana during their application process and prominently advertised that fact. They could boost their own business’s job applications by up to 400%.
  • They offer anytime pay – this last attraction factor may not seem like much. However, it has proved to be an attraction factor for the many hourly workers that live paycheck to paycheck. Amazon’s free fast pay program offers the option, in some jobs, for eligible employees to receive 70% of their eligible earned pay whenever they choose (24×7).
If you can only do one thin – you should survey the new hires in your top 1-3 key job families. Ask each of them during onboarding, “What top factors actually made a difference in attracting you?” And then change your recruitment materials and your recruiting pitch to emphasize these current top attraction factors. 

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Of course, Amazon is working on its weak points

Amazon is still far from perfect in areas other than recruiting despite all its efforts. Despite its ranking by LinkedIn as the #1 employer. They still receive relentless criticism because of their corporation’s size, speed of innovation, impact on small businesses, their percentage of diversity, and the waste they produce. Even some innovators criticize them for excessively keeping some innovative projects secret from other internal teams (just like Apple). 

In management, they have also received volumes of criticism, especially because of their anti-union stance and their common practice of continually replacing “human jobs” with robots. The media revealed that they once selected which workers to release using an algorithm, and they subsequently fired them via email. Its managers have been criticized for not telling their employees when placed under a performance management plan. They are also well-known for their fast-paced work environment that some argue can lead to excess injuries and employee burnout. And as a result of that work stress, in some cases, they have had to pay “show up bonuses” to reduce their sometimes-rampant warehouse absenteeism. Finally, as most great firms do, they have a relatively high employee turnover rate. This can be partly explained because they are constantly under attack by their competitor’s recruiters, who are logically targeting their exceptional talent. 

If you can only copy one more thing – it would be adding Amazon’s “bar raiser” role for filling your key jobs. This is when you assign one of your best employees from outside the team to act as a gatekeeper to limit the number of mediocre hires. However, this role will only work if you give the gatekeeper veto power, and they actually use it. 

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Final Thoughts

Today when I am asked by those beginning their career where they should work, I, without hesitation, say Amazon. It is primarily an innovation machine that dominates in so many different product areas and across so many industries. In the same light, if you are a recruiting leader, your goal is to lead your industry in recruiting and HR eventually. It’s time to realize that you must focus your best practice research exclusively on Amazon. You can learn so much so fast (Note: the previous recruiting leader, Google, has lost its luster since Laszlo left).

If you’re interested in past case studies by Dr. Sullivan 

The initial landing pages for Dr. Sullivan’s previous case studies on Google, Apple, and Facebook can be found on his www.drjohnsullivan.com website by clicking here. You can go directly to the introductory part of his four-part Apple case study by clicking here. The first part of his Google recruiting case study can be found here. Part 1 of his Facebook case study can be found here.

Author’s Note 

  • Please share these best practices by sending this case study to your team and network or sharing it on social media. 
  • Next, if you don’t already subscribe to Dr. Sullivan’s weekly Talent Newsletter, you can do that here.
  • Also, join the well over 11,000 that have followed or connected with Dr. Sullivan’s community on LinkedIn

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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