Raising the Bar: Amazon’s impressive commitment to hiring the best

Amazon hires thousands of new staff every year as they continue their constant expansion across the globe and into new categories of products and services.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon more broadly have consistently chalked up a large measure of Amazon’s formidable success and growth to their having managed to hire the very best engineers, product managers, and myriad other staff members.

The demanding selection process means that candidates will have to put in a lot of hard work, even before they submit their applications. Many candidates even find an experienced mentor to guide them through the process and give them an edge over the competition.

However, discerning standards will inevitably be difficult to make compatible with rapid workforce expansion for any firm. Here, though, we’ll see how Amazon has set out to achieve just that.

Growth at What Cost?

Amazon’s level of rapid, international growth can often come at a price regarding the caliber of newly-hired staff. It is not at all unusual for the average quality of staff members to fall as a company expands and opens up various far-flung offices. Even without any explicit or otherwise intentional relaxation of standards, hiring criteria can simply drift over time.

Sometimes, this is something companies can work around, sending more mundane, routine work to certain offices where the capacity for high-level work is a little less. Some offices almost become back offices, dealing with work passed down from higher-caliber offices elsewhere.

This might work fine for certain firms in certain industries. However, Amazon’s whole business model has been one based around constant innovation and growth, shaking up whole industries as they go. As such, it makes a good deal of sense that the firm is so concerned about maintaining the same high hiring standards, even as it adds thousands of new workers across the globe each year.

A more traditional firm offering the same products to the same markets year after year can afford to have variability in the quality of staff. Indeed, being flexible on staff quality, especially across locations, might allow for significant cost reduction. Helping keep costs in check by differentiating more routine and more involved projects across different offices with differing salary levels could be an efficient way to maximize profits in a more traditional industry.

The Key Problem

However, despite the inherent difficulty in being hyper-selective whilst also trying to fill huge numbers of vacancies, Amazon cannot afford for their operation to lose the qualities which have allowed them to succeed up to this point. In a business that constantly pushes for growth and which does so by elbowing its way into competitive, saturated marketplaces by sheer force of innovation, they need the most capable, dynamic staff they can find, right across the firm.

So, how can Amazon square this circle – opening up new locations and multiplying their workforce over and over again without letting standard slide or the dynamic culture of the company change or become fragmented.

The Solution!

To address this issue explicitly, Amazon has instigated a new role amongst its staff – that of the Bar Raiser.

These individuals are staff specializing in recruitment, who is explicitly tasked with combating any sliding standards in recruitment anywhere within Amazon’s global operation.

Thus, when a team in any Amazon location decides it wants to hire a new product manager, software engineer, or any other new member of staff, they will recruit for the role themselves, with their local HR department organizing resume screening, initial telephone interviews, take-home exercises and everything else required to select candidates for in-person interviews.

Most in-person interviews will be conducted by a mix of HR staff and team members, as one would expect for any other large firm. Thus applicants, as appropriate to the role, will have to demonstrate their technical skills to prospective co-workers and discuss their fit with the job and the wider team with HR and/or senior staff.

However, a successful applicant will then also have to undergo one or more interviews with a Bar Raiser, with this typically scheduled around the end of the in-person interviews. In effect, this Bar Raiser interview functions a little like a final round interview at another company.

This means that nobody is hired without a Bar Raiser having thoroughly checked that they are up to the same standard as Amazon’s staff elsewhere. More than this, the Bar Raiser also checks up on the recruiting practices of the team in question, working alongside but also overseeing HR to ensure that the selection process and final decision making is as Amazon would expect it to be.

Indeed, this is not all “negative” for applicants. Bar Raisers might make the hiring process harder, but they are also there to make sure that it is fair for all candidates. Of course, this also makes sense for Amazon beyond the moral dimension, as the company benefits by finding the best possible staff and ensuring that potentially valuable talent is not overlooked.

Ever Upwards!

One thing that is particularly fascinating about Bar Raisers, and what sets Amazon recruitment practices aside from the pack, even amongst the highly selective big-tech giants is the fact that they are not just there to maintain standards, but to constantly elevate them.

We can already imagine how inherently challenging it will be to relentlessly maintain the same exacting standards whilst recruiting more and more staff. At the scale on which Amazon operates, this already seems like a very tall order. However, Amazon has in effect committed itself to make matters exponentially more difficult for themselves by decreeing that every new staff member hired in a certain role must be at least as proficient as at least 50% of those employees at Amazon currently doing the same job.

In principle, then, despite growing the workforce of Amazon employees, the caliber of those employees should constantly track upwards. This seems like it ought to deny the laws of recruitment physics, but Amazon seems determined to make it happen. If Amazon consistently manages to pull this off, it will make a truly impressive feat of talent finding and should set the company in great stead to continue being a dynamic presence, deploying innovative new products across an ever-burgeoning swathe of markets!