Mark Craemer No Comments

Securing a job in today’s economy requires more than a solid resume and stellar references. You also need the ability to show your expertise during job interviews.

As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Amazon is especially picky about the employees they choose to hire. And yet they hired some 80,000 since 2010! Most of those, however, are working in lower paying warehouse jobs where starting wages are around $11 per hour.

Those candidates seeking higher paying technical and management positions at Amazon must first pass many intense interviews where they are asked to demonstrate their skills and aptitude in real time. This may include writing code on a white board or solving complex business problems in the moment.

I interviewed with Amazon back in their book selling days of the late 1990s and remember being asked whether I thought they should expand into selling music and movies or go international. While I stated I thought it made most sense to choose the former at least initially, they took the path of expanding in both directions at the same time. Obviously, that turned out to be a pretty good plan.

According to Amazon spokespeople, challenging interview questions are not necessarily meant to arrive at the correct answer, but rather to demonstrate the path a person uses to solve a problem. Showing how one thinks helps Amazon discover whether the candidate has the potential to succeed at their company.

And this tactic isn’t new as high tech companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google have been testing the prowess of their job applicants for a long time.

Applications, resumes, college transcripts and other data can all serve to help identify a good candidate, but it is the phone or in-person interview where a person can be screened most effectively as to be really viable or not.

This is where potential employees can demonstrate their ability to think on their feet, reveal technical knowledge and problem solving abilities, and show off their personality and soft skills. All of these can continue or halt the interviewing process.

Amazon goes so far as to include what they call “bar raisers” during the interviewing process. These individuals, who come from throughout the company, can veto a candidate even though they may possess no specific technical expertise or business acumen to properly evaluate the person being considered.

Bar raisers may simply provide a gut-check on whether a candidate is a good cultural fit or perhaps offer an out-of-the-box perspective. I have no idea how many candidates have been dropped from consideration due to vetoes by bar raisers, but I’m certain Amazon keeps track of this and perhaps even follows the careers of these individuals to see how they’ve faired after being dropped from consideration.

I can see how a potential candidate might feel this is an unfair way to gauge a person’s suitability for a position. However, I also recognize the importance of Amazon and every employer in obtaining the right person for the right job.

The more a company understands the traits necessary to succeed in a position as well as the organization itself, the more they should invest in thoroughly evaluating their applicants to ensure they hold those traits.

More and more companies are likely to adopt this strategy of scrutinizing their applicants more thoroughly because it is so expensive to hire the wrong person.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the individual’s first-year potential earnings. This means a single bad hire with an annual income of $80,000 can equal a $24,000 loss for the employer.

If you’re looking to get hired you need to be prepared to think on your feet and demonstrate your expertise during the interview. This means selling yourself successfully not based on what your resume says about you, but on what you can convincingly show in the moment.

You can prepare yourself for general interview questions, but it’s really not possible to anticipate these other questions. Instead, you need to rely on your instincts and innate critical thinking abilities. You need to remain calm even though this will likely be a stressful environment to do your best.

Keep in mind that it is in the best interest for you and the hiring company’s to find the right fit. As scarce as good paying jobs may be, securing one that fits both you and the company you’re seeking to work for is the best solution. Be prepared to be authentic and to show all that you have to offer. Anything less and you’ll sell yourself short. And that’s a bad idea for everyone.

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