I hope everyone had a great weekend! We visited my family back in Illinois over the weekend, and my daughter had a lovely time playing with her cousins. As our kids have gotten older, we adults can spend more time sitting around talking while the kids enjoy themselves. It doesn't seem like much, but after years of needing your attention, a little independence feels fantastic.

For my private coaching, I'm most frequently hired to help senior employees practice for their interviews at Amazon. It's one thing to sit on the other end of the table evaluating potential employees, and it's another to be able to talk to them ahead of time. It's exciting to be able to identify the antipatterns early, and help people avoid making those mistakes. One mistake I've seen is when people don't take the writing exercise seriously. I've seen senior leaders spend hours crafting their stories for their on-site interview, but try to do their writing assignment in 30 minutes. It just doesn't work.

I thought it would be worthwhile to add to my collection of articles about how to interview by explaining the Amazon Writing Exercise.

Amazon asks all senior candidates to submit a writing sample as a part of the interview process. Amazon has a document culture, and it's important that leaders in the company have the ability to put their thoughts into writing.

But it's not about being able to have perfect grammar. We regularly hire senior leaders from other countries. They bring across their experience, but not necessarily excellent English. Instead, we look for leaders who can communicate information and ideas in a clear way.

The writing sample questions are unique. This is your one opportunity to spend more than 30 seconds thinking about your answer to an interview question. The most common complaint about a standard interview process is that it doesn't accurately represent their abilities. Candidates say that the rushed atmosphere doesn't give them enough time to think, or demonstrate their actual work skills. This is your chance.

What is Amazon looking for in the writing of their leaders?

  1. Complete Answers — Can you completely answer the question, including relevant details?
  2. Professional Writing — Will you write concisely and simply?
  3. Organization — Do you ramble, or can you tell a cohesive story?
  4. Quality — With a single writing assignment given days in advance, do you spend a moderate amount of effort?

The above seems obvious, but it's shocking how often a writing sample demonstrates a gap in one of the above expectations.

Complete Answers — STAR

The questions asked in the writing samples are interview questions. Like other interview questions, you should be using the STAR method to explain every aspect of your answer.

Situation

  • What company were you at?
  • What was your role?
  • What project were you involved in?
  • Who else was involved?

Task

  • What did you need to accomplish?
  • What did others need to accomplish?
  • How would you measure success?

Action

  • What action did you take?
  • How did you know to take that action?
  • How long did it take to do that action?
  • Did you need to do anything else?
  • What did other people do?

Result

  • What was the final result in comparison to what you needed to accomplish?
  • How did everyone feel about the result?
  • Were there any follow-up actions to be taken later, or are in progress now?

I understand people forgetting to provide some critical information in an in-person interview. Your brain doesn't function correctly while under pressure. There's not much excuse for a senior leader writing without a time constraint to forget an important aspect of their explanation.

Complete answers are your number one requirement.