I walked into the interview room, and an energetic young guy (we’ll call him Chen) ran up to me and shook my hand frantically with both of his. He was interviewing for a software engineering position.

“Hi, I’m Chen!” he said brightly. “I’m so happy to meet you!”

During his interview, Chen overwhelmed me with his enthusiasm. He was open to feedback, asked clarifying questions, and stayed extremely upbeat. Staying upbeat was impressive because he could surely tell he was doing a poor job solving my design problem.

During the final five minutes, when candidates can ask questions, Chen posed as many as he could fit in (I let the interview run over). He demonstrated a knowledge of Amazon’s business and history and explained how he would put in any energy necessary to be a successful part of the company.

When we did our debrief at the end of the interview, every interviewer had the same impression. Chen was below the bar on all technical measures (design, coding, algorithms). On the other hand, he was enthusiastic, energetic, self-critical about his technical gaps, and excited to hear constructive feedback, and he demonstrated a drive to improve himself.

Functional skills

In leading many hundreds of Amazon interviews as both a bar-raiser and a hiring manager, I’ve seen all types of candidates. I’ve also seen all the ways that candidates miss out on an opportunity to get hired.

When candidates prepare to interview at a company like Amazon (or Facebook, Google, Apple, etc.), they almost always focus on the functional aspects of the job. Software engineering candidates spend hours refreshing their knowledge of common coding questions. Designers build a beautiful portfolio of every UX they’ve worked on.

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