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So, You Want to Work for Amazon...
By: Maryann Fabian
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Are you tough enough to work at Amazon?

It looks like at least one person saw the Steve Jobs movie that came out last year with Ashton Kutcher. Or maybe he just borrowed the book from his warehouse. In either case, it appears Jeff Bezos’ main takeaway is that in order to mimic Jobs’ success, you need to be a little cray-cray and always keep your employees on edge.

Recent media pieces are uncovering not only how hard it is to get in to Amazon, but then what it takes to get ahead and even get through the day.

According to a new Wall Street Journal article, CEO Jeff Bezos believes he must raise the bar with every new hire. So hundreds of current employees are used as “bar raisers” to evaluate each crop of candidates, often donating up to three hours a week to help HR. The extensive interview process is likened to an “obstacle course” of meeting five or six bar raisers who then compare notes to “screen out cultural misfits.” As one person commented, “If a job seeker feels like they want to run away from the building screaming after the interview, that’s probably a good sign that they don’t belong there.”

Former employees interviewed for The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, described the company as having a “gladiator culture.” The people who do well learn to “thrive in an adversarial atmosphere with almost constant friction.” That’s because Bezos thrives on confrontation. Author Brad Stone says, “Bezos abhors... the natural impulse to seek consensus. He’d rather his minions battle it out.” Also, be prepared for “fire drills,” like when a customer complaint comes in. Teams have to drop everything to get Bezos an explanation. And when he “sometimes explodes into what (employees) call ‘nutters’. A blood vessel in Bezos’s forehead bulges and his filter falls away.” He has been known to fire off one-liners such as “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” “Why are you wasting my life?” and “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of this company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”

Organization and Leadership Reviews (OLRs) take place twice a year at which senior leaders sit around and debate the weaknesses of every employee. They are encouraged to weed out the “least effective 10 percent.” Amazon employees regard OLR as “the meeting where careers and livelihoods can be won and lost in an instant.”

Promotions are hard to come by, too. Even when you think you’ve won over your boss, he or she must present your request to everyone else at the OLR. “Veterans complain that their fates hang on the ability of their boss to make their case persuasively... new managers are often unable to get anyone promoted for years.”

Part of this is by Bezos’ design to run a flat organization: There are only ten levels one can aspire to. Levels two and three are for hourly wage workers in the fulfillment center. Level four belongs to recent college grads. Managers are level five. Senior managers, level six. Level seven employees have graduate degrees and often have to do time in the call center or fulfillment center before they can manage lower employees. Directors are level eight. Vice presidents are level 10. Senior vice presidents are at 11 and are part of the leadership teams, either the “S Team” or the “D Team.” Bezos alone is level 12. Yes, there is no level one and no level nine. No one knows why but ideas abound. Stone likes to think it’s intentional: “If you want to make it more difficult to climb the corporate ladder, removing a rung might make sense.”

So, how does your job look in comparison?


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About the Author
Maryann Fabian is a copywriter who has crafted the voice of some of this country's best brands.
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