What I learned as an Amazon Bar Raiser

I joined Amazon in 2010, just as the company began blitz-scaling.

Amazon employee count from 2007 to 2017

During this growth period I was an Amazon Bar Raiser. My job as Bar Raiser was to help teams across the company decide which job candidates met Amazon's famously high standards. 

Here are some of the most important things I took away from that experience.

Make hiring a core competency

A major component of Amazon's success has been their focus on making good hiring decisions. To do this they treat hiring as a core competency. 

What I mean by that is they treat hiring as they would any other business critical process. They set goals, measure progress, and hold people accountable. They've created frameworks and technology to support the process. And they invest in training and continuous improvement.

Not every company is Amazon. But every company does need employees. And how good those employees are will be a major factor in that company's success. What Amazon and all top companies know is that to get good employees you first have to get really good at hiring. 

Like developing any competency, getting good at hiring doesn't happen by accident. It's exceptionally hard. 

But like any business critical process, the alternative to success is failure. And when it comes to hiring, failure is a company-killer. 

Conversely, getting really good at hiring is a competitive advantage. 

Measure twice, cut once

There's a saying in carpentry, "Measure twice, cut once." It means that one should check one's measurements for accuracy before cutting a piece of wood; otherwise it may be necessary to cut again, wasting time and material.

In carpentry and in hiring it pays to measure twice and only cut once.

The same is true in hiring. If you don't have good measurements, you can't make good decisions. 

To get good measurements you need to use the right tools and measure the right things. If you're unsure what to measure and how to measure it, then you're not ready to hire. Which brings me to the next thing I learned at Amazon...

Don't compromise

There are lots of areas in life where compromise is good. Hiring is not one of them. 

When it comes to who you work with you should be very picky.  As Jeff Bezos bluntly put it,

"I'd rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person."

There are lots of reasons for this. Hiring mistakes cost time and money. They're damaging to morale. They're hard on the psyche for all involved. 

And most importantly, they're avoidable. It's almost always better to not hire at all than to hire the wrong person. 

Final thoughts

Hiring is really hard. I've interviewed 1000s of people in my career, was a Bar Raiser at Amazon, and now run a company that helps other companies hire. I am still learning new things. All the time. 

Developing a core competency in something like hiring is necessarily a process of continuous improvement. You have to practice, practice, practice. You have to seek the advice of experts and you also have to do original thinking. As a company you have to invest in training, goal setting, tracking performance, and holding you and your team accountable. 

It's not easy. But it is worth it. 

(And don't just take my word for it. Check out Jeff's thoughts on hiring in his letter to shareholders in 1998.  Amazon had just grown from 600 to 2100 employees. In the letter he lays out a simple framework for making hiring decisions that was the basis for the Bar Raiser program.) 

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