How To Answer Amazon Interview Questions Using Problem-Solving Situations

If you join Amazon, you will quickly realise that everyone around you is a serial problem solver. This is by design. Other than being an organisation of over-achievers, Amazon has a profoundly ingrained engineering ethos that lives in both tech and non-tech organisations.

Therefore, you won’t be surprised that problem-solving is a recurring theme throughout the interview process. Amazon interview questions that ask you to share a situation where you were solving problems map to 5 out of 14 Leadership Principles. Problem-solving questions can test Dive Deep, Invent & Simplify, Are Right A Lot, Frugality, and Learn & Be Curious.

However, unless you know the nuances of the Leadership Principles, I can’t blame you for being somewhat confused around what LP is being tested in one problem-solving question or another. Another complication for candidates is that when we find ourselves in problem-solving situations in real life, we may demonstrate a range of leadership principles all mixed together.

I wrote this article to offer you a quick orientation around problem-solving themes in Amazon Leadership Principles and in the interview questions that test them. I hope that it will make it easier for you to pick the right situation during the interview, and to focus on the correct details to answer Amazon interview questions.

Problem-solving and Dive Deep

While Dive Deep Leadership Principle at Amazon is not only about problem-solving, some Dive Deep questions will look for evidence of you being able to solve complex problems. Complexity means different things to different people. Yet, in an Amazon interview context, it typically boils down three things.

  1. A problem that requires multiple levels of data analysis (peeling the data onion) to solve.
  2. A problem that had you using numerous sources of data (from either systems or people) to come to a solution.
  3. A problem was so novel that it took you a while to figure out how to approach it.

In contrast to other Leadership Principle questions that ask for problem-solving evidence, the main focus of Dive Deep is on the process of getting to the solution itself. Here, I’d recommend that you focus on establishing the source of complexity, and then outline in detail the steps that you took to get to the very bottom of the problem.

Problem-solving and Invent & Simplify

At the heart of the Invent and Simplify Leadership principle at Amazon are two distinct themes: invention and simplification, as the name of the LP indeed suggests. Problem-solving typically comes under the Simplification theme.

Under Invent and Simplify, Amazon will expect you to demonstrate how you effectively boiled complexity into simplicity while solving a problem. From my experience at Amazon, I can attest that many problems started as big hairy monsters with root causes completely unknown and hidden under a sea of data (most of which was useless to the analysis).

While you should still follow a STAR format of answering Amazon Leadership Principle questions, the main focus of Invent and Simplify problem-solving responses should be on the “A-Ha!” moment that led you to invent a simple solution. It is the invention of a fix at the end of the problem-solving journey that is the main currency of an acceptable answer. Therefore, the bulk of your story-telling here should detail the process of innovation rather than digging for the root cause.

Problem-solving and Are Right A Lot

Are Right A Lot Leadership Principle at Amazon is mainly about being able to continuously learn from your successes and failures so that you could always make the right decisions. So where does problem-solving feature in this LP? Very prominently, in fact. Just think about all those times when you needed to solve a problem while operating under uncertainty, or, perhaps, without having all the knowledge and expertise right away. Being able to inform your gut on the spot by learning from people and systems around you is how you would need to approach problem-solving under Are Right A Lot.

Therefore, the currency of a good problem-solving answer to a Are Right A Lot Leadership Principle question in an Amazon interview is a series of steps of how you went about building or disconfirming (challenging) your beliefs while operating under uncertainty and needing to solve a problem.

Problem-solving and Frugality

If you’ve taken my training, you will remember the main themes of Frugality Leadership Principle at Amazon. Having read the previous few sections, you won’t be surprised that Frugality situations may also have a problem-solving element to them.

But this time you are operating under resource constraints and have to make do with what you have. This is Frugality as defined by the official version (achieve more with less), but just in a problem-solving contest.

Hence, the currency of a decent problem-solving answer to Amazon interview questions on Frugality Leadership Principle would be a story about how you effectively ran with what you had to solve a challenge.

Problem-solving and Learn & Be Curious

Problem-solving themes under Learn & Be Curious are similar to those under Are Right A Lot. The slight difference is in the nuances. While Are Right A Lot is about drawing on the expertise of others to inform or challenge your intuition, Learn & Be Curious is about acquiring knowledge. Both Leadership Principles make one a confident problem-solver, and you have probably demonstrated both LPs in real-life situations, possibly both at the same time. However, in an Amazon interview situation, it would be helpful to focus your response on the details that matter for Learn & Be Curious.

Therefore, the currency of a workable answer under this Leadership Principle in an Amazon interview is a story of the steps you took to acquire expertise that you did not have to solve a problem.

I hope that this article helped you understand the nuances of sharing problem-solving situations when answering Leadership Principles questions in behavioural interviews at Amazon. If you fancy taking your interview preparation to the next level, check out our signature training courses (Amazon Interview Bootcamp and D1C STAR Master) as well as interview coaching. And do join our Discord community where you can always find interview partners.

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