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Why Companies Like Amazon Embrace the 3-Question Hiring Rule

Inc. logo Inc. 6/30/2020 Jeff Haden
Amazon Holds News Conference © Getty Images Amazon Holds News Conference

According to the Amazon founder, make sure you ask yourself three simple questions before you make every hiring decision.

Jeff Bezos -- and by extension, Amazon -- is known for many things. Building a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of a flywheel. Drones. Turning an ancillary capability into Amazon Web Services. Maintaining relentless expansion.

But what Bezos doesn't get credit for is his ability to hire smart, effective people.

Even though, in his 1998 shareholder letter, Bezos said, "Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success."

Like all businesses, Amazon is only as good as its people.

Which is why Bezos went on to list three simple questions all Amazon employees should ask themselves before making a hiring decision:

  1. "Will you admire this person?"
  2. "Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering?"
  3. "Along what dimension might this person be a superstar?"

The Power of Mutual Admiration

We all want to work for more than a paycheck. We all want to work with and for people we admire and respect.

And to work with people who respect and admire us in return.

"If you think about the people you've admired in your life," Bezos wrote, "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."

That sense of connection allows us to feel a part of something bigger, to feel a sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that turns a group of individuals into a real team.

Feeling a true purpose starts with knowing what to care about and, more important, why to care -- and caring starts with respecting, and feeling respected by, the people you work with.

The Effectiveness Multiplier

"We want to fight entropy," Bezos wrote. "The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company five 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!'"

Forget about finding a stereotypically well-rounded employee. If you could pick only one attribute, what would you choose as the most important skill or quality a great employee needs to have to succeed in the position?

Maybe it's attitude. Or interpersonal skills. Or teamwork. Or maybe it's a specific skill set.

Whatever it is, that attribute is what the employee you choose must possess. Training can fill in the gaps, but that's the one attribute you truly need.

Hire the person who truly excels in the area you need most -- because their talent will help raise the level of performance of the people around them.

The Superstar Factor

The best employees are often a little different: a little eccentric, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor.

"Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us," Bezos wrote. "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!'"

People who aren't afraid to be different -- who aren't afraid to be superstars -- naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo.

And they often come up with the best ideas.

The people Bezos has hired and, by extension, the people hired by people hired by Bezos, and the people hired by them ... those people made Amazon the company it is today.

Your people make your business what it is and what it will become.

Make sure each hire is someone you will admire, who will raise the bar, and who brings a little magic to your organization.

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