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.” 

Part 1 Covered These Pillars Of Excellence

The previously published Part 1 of this 2-part recruiting case highlighted the best practices in Amazon’s first four of its six pillars of recruiting excellence. Those pillars included how their record-breaking recruiting volume over perhaps a thousand different job titles directly impacts Amazon’s business results. It also covered how they utilize data-driven approaches for continually raising the quality of their hires. The first part of this case study could be accessed here if you missed it. 

Part 2 begins by highlighting Amazon’s amazing array of individual recruiting programs. They target diverse and other important subsets of its target candidate population. The next part covers the many best practice elements within its extremely agile hiring process. I promise you won’t regret the five minutes it takes to scan this Part 2.

Pillar of excellence #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.
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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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