Day-to-day, David Anderson is the Head of Technology at Amazon FreeTime, but he also works for the company as a Bar Raiser.
Bar Raisers are current Amazon employees, who play a key role in the company’s hiring process – and, reportedly, they have the power to veto any candidate after their interview.
David has interviewed very senior candidates hoping to work at Amazon, as well as brand new graduates. Regardless of your experience level, the main thing he’s looking for is leadership. Amazon has 12 Leadership Principles that candidates are assessed against, and employees live by, from the importance of taking ownership and never saying “that’s not my job,” to being someone who is able to think big and earn the trust of others.
Credit: Inga Anderson
Across many industries, hiring managers and employers alike say showing leadership potential is crucial.
With David's help, we're going to show you why leadership skills are important, and how you can show them off at interview.
Being a leader isn't about management, it's about how you work with others
According to David, if you're a natural leader, it's likely that you:
- Don't blame or wait for others
- Take initiative and responsibility for your situation, whether things are going well or not
These qualities make 'leaders' great to work with at any level.
"It's about being a person who takes ownership and responsibility for your actions and things you've accomplished. Being a leader is certainly something a junior person can do, or fail at," he explains.
In fact, if you've ever been part of a group project, on a sports team or joined a society at uni - you probably have more leadership experience to talk about at interview than you think.
"Being a leader doesn't necessarily mean leading a team. A leader can be an equal partner with a set of other classmates," David says.
"When you're sitting in a group of three classmates starting a project, and one person says 'hey, how about we start with figuring out what each of us should work on first...' and then steps up with a suggestion, they're being a leader.
"They're not a manager, they're not the boss, they're just leading as one person among multiple people on a team."
How to show you're a potential leader at interview
Want to demonstrate your leadership skills and experience at interview? It's all about having examples on-hand to talk about. One question David says you could prepare for is:
"Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker while working together?"
In this instance, a co-worker can be anyone from the person you had to put together a presentation with in a seminar, to the intern you worked alongside during a work experience placement. It's all about how you tell the story and communicate your take on the disagreement.
“If they say they’ve never disagreed with a co-worker, then we would have a concern that they don’t have strong enough opinions, or they don’t express their opinions, to the point of disagreement. We want people who are ‘right a lot,’ who will ‘disagree and commit,’” David explains.
But don’t go too far in the other direction, he warns. “If you say you did disagree, and it was because your co-worker was wrong about something, it suggests you're too focused on being right, and not enough on the relationship.”
Regardless of the example you detail, it’s important to show you were able to empathise with the person you were working with and that you understand why their opinion was different to yours. Then, talk through how you found a way to work together and come up with a solution.
Before your next interview, David recommends "thinking through 4-6 things you've worked on that had some level of leadership complexity - either a complex achievement, interaction, or assignment size."
He continues, "being a new grad who prepared a number of examples of complexity or leadership from your past experience is going to give you an advantage."
The ideal candidate
Finally, I ask David what the ideal graduate candidate would do at interview to show leadership skills.
He gives an example of a candidate he interviewed recently, who really stood out as a leader. She was quick to answer questions, give examples and clarify if her example had adequately answered the question, David says.
"It was clear she was anticipating and understanding the work I had to do interviewing her... As a hallmark of a great leader, she was careful to phrase every roadblock as a challenge she had to overcome, not as something that was an external force on her. She was able to phrase other people making mistakes as opportunities to step up."
"When someone says that every problem is something that can be overcome with some amount of effort or brain power, I think that's a great attitude, which makes me excited to work with them in the future."
Graduates, you definitely have more leadership skills and experience than you think. When it comes to your next interview, it's all about how you frame those experiences and your attitude to them and, as always, preparation is everything.