Amazon is totally obsessed with hiring the best people.
This obsession with talent has helped the company survive the dot-com crash of 2000, (where the NASDAQ fell by 78% and countless hot-shot startups filed for bankruptcy and vanished) and has powered its growth ever since.
I know what you’re thinking, lots of companies talk about hiring top talent: what’s so different about Amazon?
Well, they certainly ask their fair share of strange interview questions:
The goal here is to understand how candidates tackle complex problems, but this is something that other Silicon Valley powerhouses like Google are also well known for.
It’s Amazon’s concept of “bar raisers” that makes them a little different:
In the early days of Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos saw 6 cultural values as critical to the success of the company:
Values always look great hung up on the wall, but Bezos wasn’t satisfied with decoration. He wanted to find a way to make sure that every new hire bought into Amazon’s fledgling culture.
To reinforce the idea of a high bar for talent, he borrowed a concept from Microsoft’s hiring process.
The “bar raiser.”
A bar raiser is a skilled evaluator who already holds a job with Amazon and plays a crucial role in the company’s hiring process.
The bar raiser represents the final hurdle for incoming candidates. They run the last interview in the process, making the final judgment on applicants.
Amazon uses employees that have proven themselves to be intuitive recruiters of talent. At least one bar raiser is involved in every interview process and has the power to veto a candidate that doesn’t meet the goal of raising the company’s overall hiring bar, even if their expertise is in an area that has nothing to do with the applicant.
No one can overrule the bar raiser, not even the hiring manager.
It sounds like an extreme system, but it’s Amazon’s way of ensuring that their hiring standards never slip.
How to raise your own hiring bar
I know what you’re thinking:
Rolling this out across your organization might be tricky. You’re asking employees to devote a huge chunk of their week to hiring, and you’re not taking anything off their plate. It’s a big ask.
Quality of hire is certainly worth investing in, but you don’t have to go the whole hog and refactor your hiring process to include bar raisers.
Here are a few other ways to raise your hiring bar:
1. Culture add, not culture fit
Culture fit is a variable that has become increasingly important in the hiring process. Companies aren’t just looking for candidates with the right skills – they want someone that matches their company DNA.
But there’s a problem:
It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring people like everyone else in your company as a default. Adding people like you can create a “me-too” culture, not typically an environment where ideas and innovation flourish.
Instead, look for people that add to your culture.
Hiring candidates that bring something different to the table gives you a diverse workforce that can approach business problems from different directions.
It’s also a far more inclusive way to evaluate talent. Instead of focusing on what a candidate lacks, think: what can this person bring to the table?
2. Look for intellectual horsepower and curiosity
Is a candidate capable of getting the big picture? Are they a good communicator? Do they have cross-functional skills and interests?
These are some of the best markers of intellectual horsepower and potential. They’re indicators that a candidate can grow beyond her current skillset and become a leader in your organization.
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How do you measure this?
Well, human interaction is the best way to grade potential, so the interview is a great setting to evaluate curiosity and communication skills.
These are all clear signs of careful thinking and effective communication. It’s not a foolproof way to gauge potential, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
3. Don’t get desperate
Hiring speed is always on a recruiter’s mind, particularly if they’re performance is rated on time-to-hire.
In certain situations, this can lead to hiring decisions being made around urgency, not quality. A hiring manager just needs someone, they don’t care who.
This is an issue that all organizations face, but it can lead to problems down the road.
Building a great team means not compromising on your hiring bar. It’s the very reason Amazon uses “bar-raisers” – to ensure they keep their standard sky-high.
Align your recruiting team around the goal of hiring the right person, not just hiring quickly. Think about the long-term impact of hiring the wrong person.
There’s a financial impact, some put the cost of making a bad hire as high as $240,000, but there’s also the risk of a number of poor hiring decisions snowballing into employee disengagement and lost productivity.
This hiring principle takes root best if it comes from the executive level.
It’s their role to remind the entire company that they shouldn’t be in a rush and that they shouldn’t settle. They’re building a company for the long term, they need the best people.
This has a trickle down effect that empowers recruiters to hold out for the right candidate.
4. Diversify assessment
Would some version of “bar-raisers” work in your organization? Can you diversify the group of people that assess each candidate to weed out people that aren’t a fit for your company?
The time commitment that Amazon expects from its bar raisers is pretty significant, so if you’re interested in testing the idea out, it might make sense to start with a few senior, mission critical roles first.
At Beamery, our final stage interview usually involves a presentation to a panel of different stakeholders.
We always try and involve someone from a different part of the business in that final stage (e.g. product for marketing candidates), to make sure we’re as thoughtful as possible with our final decision.
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