Bar Raisers ensure the process of hiring remains at an exceptional standard both for AWS and for candidates.

Industry Perspective: Hiring and developing the best

Bar Raisers ensure the process of hiring remains at an exceptional standard both for AWS and for candidates.

Jonno Southam leads Venture Capital (VC) business development for Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Europe and is part of a global startup team, focused on helping VC backed customers achieve their long-term growth plans. Jonno is also an Amazon ‘Bar Raiser’, a role dedicated to maintaining the high hiring bar, and which supports the Amazon leadership principle of ‘hire and develop the best.’

What is a 'bar raiser'?

Bar Raisers are dedicated Amazonian’s who receive extra training in the interviewing process to facilitate debriefs and determine if the candidate would raise the bar in terms of talent at Amazon. They are part of the hiring process for a candidate’s interview ‘loop’ but are not the hiring manager and are not on the hiring team. They are motivated to hire well rather than hire fast and facilitate the decision making process to ensure only candidates passing an interview loop demonstrate that their past achievements will build upon the quality of the existing team and have a long-term impact at AWS. Bar Raisers ensure the process of hiring remains at an exceptional standard both for AWS and for candidates.

Does becoming a bar raiser require dedication?

Dedication to the bar raiser program is critical as it involves a rigorous selection process and can take up to a year of training to qualify. You have to be driven and have a fundamental understanding of Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles, which our entire hiring process is based upon. When I applied for the Bar Raiser program, I’d been at AWS for two years and had completed hundreds of candidate interviews. I am particularly passionate about getting bar raising people into the business, but equally, I believe in ensuring the right outcome for the candidate. This Bar Raiser program is a mechanism within AWS to ensure this.

But its been entirely worth the commitment?

Absolutely. Learning to become a Bar Raiser allows those involved to develop a broad range of hiring skills, such as competency-based interviewing, teaching others to interview better with the goal of getting the right hire each time.

Amazon is known as customer obsessed, so is this how you approach the hiring process as well?

The key component of our hiring process is Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles. They are at the core of our culture, and we use them for hiring, employee development programs and to help us maintain a shared vocabulary so that we stay focused on what it means to be an Amazonian. All 14 Leadership Principles are all equally important, and candidates are first introduced to them during the interview process. Customer obsession is one of the Amazon leadership principles, and since we view all candidates as customers, the candidate experience is of utmost importance to us, and we’re laser-focused on ensuring that their experience is a positive one, even if the candidate does not get the job.

What important lessons have you learned about your experience working with startups from your 6-year tenure at Amazon?

Firstly, a lot of startups I work with face hiring challenges in that they often struggle to get the skill set and right cultural fit for their business. This is a challenge for organizations of all sizes, but for startups, it is fundamental that their first employees are Game Changers because they set a high bar for hiring and developing the best people for all future hires.

Secondly, we see a real opportunity for startups to use cloudnative applications to scale their businesses globally as Fanduel and Deliveroo have done. Using cloud-native applications such as Amazon DynamoDB for non- relational database workloads or Amazon Kinesis for processing big data in real time, startups can focus on building scalable, secure and cost-effective infrastructure from the start, enabling them to focus on what matters most to their business, rather than on unseen infrastructure legwork that has historically been a barrier to growth. Startups are then able to focus on building innovative products and services that deliver value to their customers but can also double down on hiring great people.

How does AWS help build better products that will help customers scale?

At Amazon, we use a process called ‘Working Backwards’ where you start with a customer problem and work back to get a minimum set of requirements that make it very simple for customers to understand and eventually adopt. We start by writing a press release, and an FAQ document that combined provides both a simple way to describe what the product does and the specific detail of the questions customers would generally ask. We also define the customer experience by telling a story of how the product will solve their problem and lastly, write a user manual to define how customers will use it. Having these documents to present to trusted customers and other internal stakeholders help us clearly communicate what we are trying to build. A good example of two services that we’ve launched as a direct result of many customers’ requests is Amazon Redshift and Amazon Aurora, database solutions that make it simple and cost-effective to store and then analyse data.

How can startups develop a strategy that enables a 'Game Changers' hiring process?

By moving to the cloud, you can refocus your capital on hiring great people that really help differentiate your product and business. At AWS, we are passionate about educating early-stage startups to build secure, scalable and agile cost-efficient infrastructure from the very beginning. We encourage all startup customers of all sizes to engage with us to request an architecture review and consider adopting the AWS Well Architected Framework which provides a consistent approach for startups to evaluate architectures and provides guidance to help implement designs that will scale with your application needs over time.

Finally, what are your tips for getting bar raising 'Game Changers' on board?

Firstly, the interview process should be structured, measurable and data-driven but also well understood by the hiring team. You need to be able to benchmark candidates against current employees in similar roles, not other candidates, to measure the hiring bar of the candidate.

Second, understand your culture and values before you start making great hires. This requires that Founders take the time to define and clearly articulate their culture. The backbone of the hiring process at Amazon is our 14 Leadership Principles. We interview candidates by asking for examples that demonstrate impact in the context of these principles.

Third, every candidate is a potential customer or future employee, so you want them to be a great advocate for your business whether they get the job, or not. If they don’t get the job, you want them to be clear on the reasons why so that they’ll come back to you in the future as a candidate for an alternative role or as a customer.

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