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[15 comments]

Are You Tough Enough to Cut It at Amazon.com?

January 9, 2014

As a recent book by Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek makes clear, Amazon.com is a challenging place to work and get ahead. Every aspect of their performance is measured and workers must prove their worth every day. A new Wall Street Journal piece says that getting hired at the corporate level of the e-tail giant is no walk in the park either.

According to the Journal, Amazon's legendary need for speed when it comes to serving its customers doesn't apply to its recruitment process. The company makes use of "hundreds" of current full-time employees from across the organization to serve as "bar raisers," individuals skilled in evaluating whether prospects not only have the skills necessary to make it at Amazon, but will fit with the corporate culture.

The Journal reports that bar raisers may assess as many as 10 candidates in a week, with two to three hours spent on each. They do this with no additional compensation.

Candidates, according to the report, run an obstacle course of sorts, going through a series of phone interviews and face-to-face meetings. Interviewers write evaluations of the potential employee and then get together to compare notes. When all is said and done, five or six Amazon employees will have spent a couple of hours each evaluating the same applicant.

"You want someone who can adapt to new roles in the company, not just someone who can fill the role that's vacant," said John Vlastelica, a former Amazon employee who helped develop the program. "It can be an expensive process because it takes longer, but think of how expensive it is to hire the wrong person."

FINANCIALS:     [NASDAQ:AMZN] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of Amazon.com's process for evaluating corporate level employee prospects? Are there other companies that you think excel in the recruitment and retention of corporate employees?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Is Amazon.com's process for evaluating and hiring corporate employees more or less thorough than other top companies in retail and related industries?

Comments:

I think what Amazon is doing is great. Making the grade at Amazon.com must give a person a feeling of accomplishment and acceptance. What I like about this is that it gives the coworkers more say on who is hired. Many of the larger employee-owned supermarket companies have a similar vetting process on hiring employees.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

One of the best aspects of the Amazon "bar raising" process is the involvement of employees from other functional areas in the evaluation of new hires. This allows the candidates to make an impression not only based on their specific area of expertise, but more importantly in terms of general leadership skills and acculturation issues.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Two quotes come to mind when you look at Amazon's hiring process, or any other company that takes hiring of employees seriously:

1. "The most important decision a manager makes is who he allows in the door to help him take care of his business."

2. "If you beat your competition to the best people, those best people will help you beat your competition."

When you talk about other companies that have a great hiring process, all you have to do is look at the companies that are long-term leaders in their segments of the market. Why not start with a company that Amazon bought - Zappos.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

I don't know if I have ever heard or knew of a gauntlet this difficult and time consuming. But it seems to work for them, so why be a critic?

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Amazon.com knows what they want in a new employee, and they take the steps necessary to get the best.

Getting a new employee, especially at a corporate level, can be difficult unless you are willing to follow a process that helps eliminate a bad decision. It's expensive to hire, and more important, train a new employee. The "ramp up" time could be months - even longer. All companies should do their due diligence with all new-hires to hire right the first time. Amazon.com is a role model for many things, and now you can add their hiring process to the list.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

It may be a longer, more time consuming and costly process, but the results are probably superior. Most companies screen a resume, do a search, and or have a recruiter interview the applicant. Many times, the applicant's potential boss and maybe a team member conduct the interview. The problem is, within two years, this person is likely working for someone else.

Amazon's process is directed to finding people to work for the company, not the boss of the hour. Amazon has an advantage in that people want to put working for Amazon on their resume. It is like the old days where working for P&G or General Foods was a ticket to better jobs.

Further, Amazon is growing and that creates promotion opportunities which many companies have not had since the '08 recession.

Within the industry, Wegmans and H.E. Butt are two companies that have a good hiring process.

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W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

All the comments above are in agreement and support of Amazon's recruiting process ... and so am I.

So, let's take a different angle here ... how store associates are hired. When a candidate can get a job after a 20 minute interview in the food court, just how valued to you think they feel, and how valued will they see the job? Not very!

The point is, and it fully aligns with Amazon's approach for hiring execs, is that the more time and effort you put into the hiring process will result in consistently better hires and results.

With retail staff becoming so much more important, more retailers need to invest way more time in the hiring process for all levels of the organization.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

Not only Amazon, but companies such as Zappos are known to place emphasis on hiring people that are the right fit culturally for the company.

It makes perfect sense to vet people beyond the written words on a resume and their LinkedIn profile. There is no substitute for speaking with people in person to understand their attitudes and interests in order to assess their "fit" to the company.

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Bill Hanifin, Managing Director, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

Recruiting is another Amazon process that demonstrates the company's relentlessness. Having spent many hours both being interviewed (which can stretch out over weeks and sometimes months) and then interviewing, it is indeed a process that produces superior results.

An important part of the success is an ingrained understanding that it is much more important to hire the highly-qualified and well-matched person than to just hire someone under the pressure of the existing workload.

The long-term perspective wins out over the short-term benefits every time.

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Todd Sherman, CMO, Point Inside

There is nothing new about this approach, but I do give kudos to Amazon for doing it. I started my career at Arthur Andersen back in the day, and we went through a very similar process. Each candidate was interviewed by about 5 employees at different levels in the organization who rated them on every aspect. Someone even took them to lunch and rated their skills there also. They were going to be consultants entertaining clients out, etc., after all. The process took the better part of a day and that was almost 40 years ago. We did the same at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I went later.

But I have to say the best was an employer interview where I was given a scenario and had to prepare a full-on presentation as if for a client.

Bottom line, these hoops made me feel like the work was important and that I would be joining a group of committed and talented people. Let me just say, it worked!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Amazon is a well-oiled machine and continues to refine its methodical practices to stay ahead. While most outsiders think this only happens on the technological side of the business, Amazon also is continually training, developing, and evaluating their people.

No one is being forced to work at Amazon; it's a booming company with a brilliant future. This practice shouldn't scare anyone who's performing up to their capabilities. Those that are producing will advance, and those that don't cut the mustard will be cut loose.

It's the way a company should be run.

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Eric Chester, Keynote Speaker, Author, Reviving Work Ethic, LLC

A's hire A's, B's hire C's.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

This is a very good article for discussion, showing us how Amazon is very determined and prepared in its hiring process. What might have been considered for inclusion is the market's perception of Amazon as a place to work and how this is perceived by the best candidates in the field.

The current stream of published information from media and blogs seem to indicate that all is not well in this retail land of milk and honey and like it or not, that is a problem that they need to address.

'gjarnoldjr'

Yet another reason why Amazon is the best retailer - and one of the best companies - out there. There is no substitute for having a high bar when it comes to hiring. Our firm employs a similar process of heavy scrutiny and the challenge to everyone to not lower the bar for new employees.

After undergrad I got hired into Macy's Executive Training Program, when it was still Macy's (pre-LBO, pre-Federated). In addition to on-campus interviews, if you were selected to go through the final round of evaluations there was a two-day "Assessment" that included not only a gauntlet of interviews but also a number of exercises and evaluations to weed people out. It's what made Macy's what it was, back before the financial maneuvers that were its ultimate and unfortunate downfall.

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

In my experience Amazon and McKinsey are among the best at interviewing and assessing candidates. It is a rigorous but not unpleasant process at both firms. Amazon has its distinctive bar raisers and McKinsey its case studies.

Good interviewees evaluate the company even as they are being evaluated. They will find the process at Amazon tough but respectful. It can even teach you things about yourself.

But the second part of the question above is most revealing. Amazon famously has a high bar but low retaining wall. Attrition is high after short term vesting, which means the benefit of Amazon's bar raising process also accrues to companies who find it an outstanding talent source.

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Dan Frechtling, Vice President, Global Product Management, hibu, PLC

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