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"By the time they come back with an offer, you can give birth": details of interviews in large international companies

One secret cover letter, 7 days of preparation, 10 sheets with answers to expected questions, 5 interviews by subject matter — and then an offer in the mail when not even 9 months have passed. Mariya Antonova, recruiter with experience in international companies, shares her story of preparing and interviewing at Amazon.

Mariya Antonova, recruiter with experience in international companies

— A year ago, I was looking for a job and I saw a vacancy at Amazon in Poland. Adding a line to my CV showing experience in a FAANG company (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) is certainly a big plus. In Belarus, for example, I had experience at the international company Wargaming. After that, I was eagerly invited for interviews by other companies, because it was understood that this is one of the top companies in the country.

I had heard that Amazon did not have the best conditions, but I decided to try my hand anyway. There is always fear before an interview at a company of that caliber. Their interviews are very advanced. But, if you understand how it works at companies like these, you'll be ready for interviews at any level.

Cover letter

— The first thing a recruiter sees is a cover letter. I realized that they had a very large flow of candidates and needed something that would stand out and catch their attention. So, I wrote a cover letter according to my favorite method. What is this method?

I take the requirements of the job and, in the cover letter, I briefly describe my experience in relation to each requirement. For example, the job requires a recruiter with three years or more experience who:

  • Knows how to communicate with hiring managers;
  • Appreciates candidate experience; and
  • Can work with an applicant tracking system.

And I write:

  • I have 5+ years of experience;
  • I was responsible for a hiring management experience project, and we improved manager satisfaction from 3.5 to 4.5;
  • At a prior company, I initiated a candidate experience project using various tools, led it through a trial period, and presented this project to the company management; and
  • I worked with Greenhouse, Clever, etc.

Amazon told me that my cover letter was excellent: everything was clear and to the point. I, on the other hand, come across unfocused autobiographies all the time in my career. When I see the body of the letter on the page, I don't even read it. Instead, I quickly run through the resume — I need to understand the connection between the requirements of the job and the skills and experience of the candidate. I work as a filter. In long cover letters, people tell me where they grew up, that they always liked to play computer games, and, in general, give a lot of unnecessary information. To me, the ideal cover letter is short, clear, and set up as a list. Some recruiters think that writing a cover letter with a list is too direct. If that worries you, you can add a couple of introductory sentences. But there's no need to write a long story. By the way, in the jobs that I post, I never make the cover letter box mandatory.

The first interview

— I was invited to my first interview with a recruiter, which lasted about 30 minutes. They asked about my experience, why I was looking for a job generally, and why at Amazon specifically. Before such an interview, it is important to read about the company and carefully study the position description.

About the company, it is necessary to know not only when it was founded, but also what its mission is, what useful things it does for the world, and about diversity (which is now very fashionable). Everybody likes candidates for whom a job is not just a job, but also an opportunity to feel involved in the mission of the company. This is very easy to see at the interview, and shows your future loyalty: are you interested, are you only going for a salary, or does something more resonate in your soul?

Five-step interview

— Next comes a five-step interview divided by subject area. There are five participants in the hiring process, each of whom measures one of the competencies. The stages can be divided over multiple days, for example, one day — two interviews, another day — three.

This is where you need to do some serious preparation. You can go to the Glassdoor website. It has a tab called Interview questions, where people who were interviewed for a specific role at the identified company indicate the questions they were asked. I typed into a search engine: recruiter, interview, Amazon. The first link took me to the right page. Then, I created a document in which I wrote out all the questions, removed the duplicate ones, and started preparing my answers.

I took another look at the job description. There are words in there that give you hints, like — we need a proactive recruiter, we need a recruiter who knows how to work with data, etc. I wrote those out, too.

The company itself also sent me a file identifying their values and the areas on which they were planning to interview me. This was all very helpful.

I started answering questions using the STAR (Situation, Target, Action, and Result) system. In fact, this is one of the strongest methods of evaluating a candidate. There are psychological tests, questionnaires, and case studies (what would you do if...), but STAR is the most reliable. The recruiter and the candidate talk about the past, and the recruiter hypothesizes: if the candidate behaved this way in the past, they are likely to act this way now. It's a system that makes it hard for a candidate to lie, because the recruiter asks a lot of pointed questions.

For every question, I described the situation, the goal, the actions, and the result. I considered all of my experience and selected exactly the situation that would fit the specific question. For example, there is a question that asks you to remember a situation in which you had to make an extra effort to achieve a result. My answer: I had a job that I had to close in 2 months. A month later, I realized that I would not close it — that was the goal and the situation. Then I discussed my actions — I tried a new resource, approached the manager, asked him to shift the deadline, and explained to the manager that I needed an assistant. And the result — either closing the job or not. This can also be an example of a negative case.

American-oriented companies tend to ask most often about failures. It is important to them. We find it easier to talk about achievements. If you make a good recovery after failure, it means you will not make the same mistakes again.

For negative cases there is an acronym PARLA — Problem, Action, Result, Learn, Applied. When a situation has developed in a certain way, it's important to remember mistakes you've previously made in a similar case, and handle the current situation differently. This skill comes with experience. When we talk about negative situations, it also reveals whether we know how to admit our guilt rather than blaming the team, the manager, or the circumstances.

Of course, not all your stories can be perfectly perfectly fit in the template. And it is not forbidden to embellish a little. Some stories I modified, so that they have a positive ending.

If you do not have a list of questions in advance of your interview, you can focus on the required hard skills, and then look at the soft skills you need for the job. Again, use the STAR methodology to prepare your answers. If you are preparing for an interview with an international company, your file of answers should be in English. When you prepare in this way, words line up in your head that you might not have known before. When you find them, write them down, reread them, and the probability that you will remember them at the time of the interview increases.

Discover your English level

In my case, the interview went without stress because I knew the answers to all the questions beforehand. I gave all the examples with details and figures. And it all sounded smooth and believable. How do you know if a candidate is lying? When they speak in general phrases, and when they can't give names, or positions, or numbers.

It took me about a week to prepare, and the result was a 10-page file.

Offer

— It took almost 9 months from the time I applied for the job to the time I received the offer. In large companies, the hiring process is always very long. So, if you want to try out for a company like this, start the process while you are still working elsewhere. By the time they come back to you with an offer, theoretically, you can have time to give birth. I refused the offer that I received because we did not agree on the terms. At that time, my salary was three times the amount offered. At the interview stage, I talked about the salary, and at the final stage of communication I said that it did not suit me. Two months later, another recruiter came back to me and offered to discuss the money again. But again we did not agree.

Current hiring situation

— These are the hardest times in the labor market that I can remember. Even comparing it to the days of covid. Hiring freezes, layoffs, recruiters disappearing in the latter stages — and that goes for all occupations. Plus, more and more companies are going back to an office or hybrid work schedule. More jobs are coming up that are remote, but you still must live in the country where the company is registered. It's not uncommon for me to see local language skills in the requirements. It's like the world is shutting down a little bit. I do not understand it, but I do still believe that anyone who is looking for a place will definitely find it. To get an offer, even from the giants of the industry, is achievable, but whether you ultimately agree to work there — that is another question.

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