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What Jeff Bezos Can Teach You About Getting Hired

hiring

We’ve been hearing a lot about Google’s recruiting practices lately, and its steps to tidy up the messy process of hiring.

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, talked to the New York Times about the effectiveness of structured behavioral interviewing, in which interviewers ask candidates for examples of specific problems they’ve faced and how they responded:

The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.

That “meta” information is crucial. But plenty of people in a position to hire aren’t all that great at reading between the lines. Many need to learn what they are looking for—that is, how to link the examples a candidate uses to characteristics that will lead to success in a particular job and company. It’s no wonder companies are eager to find ways to standardize the process.

But it’s frustrating for job seekers as well. Being qualified for the job isn’t the same as conveying your qualifications in a stand-out way. Candidates don’t necessarily know how to tell stories that illustrate their character and judgment as well as their skills. Job seekers should arrive at interviews with several anecdotes that make clear how they approach issues and get results. But it’s worth taking time to make sure those examples really get at what makes you tick–what motivates and inspires you–as well as how you think. It’s not just what you can do. It is who you are that matters.

Recently I came across something Jeff Bezos wrote about hiring in Amazon’s 1998 annual letter to shareholders that struck me as useful for both managers evaluating candidates and candidates seeking to inspire people to hire them. Bezos boiled things down to three questions teams should ask when choosing candidates.

  • Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you’ve admired in your life, they are probably people you’ve been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I’ve always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.
  • Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, “The standards are so high now — boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!”
  • Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It’s often something that’s not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion (1978, I believe). I suspect it doesn’t help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: “onomatopoeia!”

When preparing for an interview, consider if the stories you tell about your accomplishments make the kind of impression Bezos was talking about. The specifics of his questions aren’t really important. What matters is that job seekers remember that no matter what results you can tout about your last position, the people doing the hiring want to like–and admire–their peers.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.