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Four Problems With Amazon’s Arduous Quest for Purple Squirrels

“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.

According to this recent article from Business Insider, Amazon has a notoriously hard Squirrel0001selection process.  Not only is the process full of thought provoking interviewing questions but potential employees may have to endure up to five interviews, each lasting a possible two to three hours.  Amazon has full time employees called “bar raisers” who spend 20-30 hours per week interviewing potential employees in addition to fulfilling their own regular work responsibilities.  These bar raisers come from various parts of the company and serve to prevent hiring managers from making hasty hiring decisions to fill an open position.  Each bar raiser has veto power and so if any one of them has an issue with the candidate at any point during the interview process, they can dismiss the application.

According to past studies by Careerbuilder, rushed hiring decisions are the number one cause of bad hires so at first glance Amazon’s diligent quest for the perfect candidate that best fits their culture might make sense.  I have several issues with their hiring process though.

  1. Amazon is missing out on great candidates.  Obviously Bezos and company must realize that many of the candidates they reject for lack of cultural fit are top notch and could be stars elsewhere.  I’m talking specifically though about the candidates who could potentially be stars at Amazon but are snatched away by competitors during Amazon’s laborious hiring process.  Here’s a quote by an MRI recruiter from one of my previous posts that sums up my position.  “Time is the enemy when recruiting exceptional talent because these individuals have more choices. The longer the process goes on, the less likely the candidate will be around to take the offer.”  I checked Fortune’s 2014 list of the best companies to work for and Amazon is not listed in the top 100.  Trust me, they have competition for top talent.
  2. Amazon is potentially ignoring the hidden costs of leaving a position open. The opening quote above from Bezos, however, which I don’t believe is an exaggeration, and the hiring procedures they lay out, implies that weeks or more could pass before a viable candidate is hired.  Even after the position has remained open for weeks a “bar raiser” from an outside division could veto a viable candidate thus further prolonging the hiring process and costing the company more money.  This brings me to issue number three.
  3. When positions remain open employees must shoulder the burden of maintaining the open positions’ responsibilities.  As the hiring process drags on will morale be adversely affected when an outside bar raiser unaffected by the demands of the vacant position vetoes a perfectly viable candidate?  I suspect that the longer a position remains open the more disgruntled affected employees will become.
  4. This may or may not be an issue but I bring it up because job candidates can be sensitive.  How does Amazon’s hiring process affect their brand among rejected candidates?  Can you imagine taking time away from your busy schedule to endure eight to ten hours of interviews believing the job is in the bag and then receive a letter thanking you for your time but Amazon has decided to go in a different direction?  Umm, what?!  Surveys suggest 32% of candidates are less likely to buy a company’s products if they simply don’t hear back from them after applying.  Leading a candidate through six to eight hours of interviews and then dismissing them seriously ups the rejection factor even if a “thanks, but no thanks” letter is sent.  Will Amazon’s brand suffer?

Nothing is wrong with hiring the best candidate possible unless that candidate doesn’t exist.  To keep the wheels of your machine moving sometimes you have to hire the best candidate available.  Otherwise those talented individuals will be more than happy to take their talents to the campuses of Google, SAS, Intuit and so on.  The squirrels there may not be purple but I hear they are pretty smart and happy to boot.

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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