Amazon is currently the second most valuable company in the world, and employs 5,50,000 employees across the planet. But just over twenty years ago, Amazon was a young enterprise, hoping to create a workforce which could serve its growing customer base. That’s when CEO Jeff Bezos had come up with a simple checklist to judge which candidates were good enough to work at his fledgling company.
In a letter to shareholders in 1998, Bezos laid out the rules that that all new Amazon employees would be evaluated against. “During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision,” he’d said. At that point, Amazon only had 2,100 employees. That would mean that the next half a million employees that Amazon has hired over the years have had to conform to these metrics:
• Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you’ve admired in your life, they are probably people you’ve been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I’ve always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.
• Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, “The standards are so high now — boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!”
• Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It’s often something that’s not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion (1978, I believe). I suspect it doesn’t help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: “onomatopoeia!”
Amazon appears to have stayed true to its edicts from over two decades ago. Even today, internal Amazon hiring teams are asked to evaluate candidates compared to its existing employees, and only candidates who’re better than the average Amazon employee in that role are finally selected. This ensures that the quality of Amazon’s employees gradually but continuously goes up — if each hired candidate is better, on average, than Amazon’s existing workforce, Amazon’s workforce improves ever so slightly with their hiring. And after you’ve grown your team from 2,100 employees to 5,50,000, the effects can really multiply over time. And the results are showing — Amazon’s market cap was around $15 billion in 1998 — it’s now nearly $900 billion.