It felt like a first day at school. Jeni Dunk felt a mixture of excitement and nerves as she met "classmates" at the table where one was a baby clothes buyer, another worked in marketing. Dunk, introduced herself as a manager in finance operations while the large group waited for their orientation to begin on their first day at Amazon.

Dunk still remembers the excitement of her first day, years later. Today, she brings that same energy to every interview she conducts as a Bar Raiser, a program that empowers Amazonians to serve as objective third-party advisors during the interview process."For many candidates, the interview process is their first introduction to the company. It’s fun to be part of their journey," said Dunk. "I think about how I felt nine years ago, having that initial interaction with the interview team. I want to share that with candidates and kick-off their experience with Amazon in a positive way."

There are more than 3,300 Bar Raisers at Amazon who volunteer their time to contribute to the interview process. They are outside of the Human Resources and recruiting organizations, in roles ranging from product managers, and software development engineers, to marketing specialists, and everything in between.

The goal of the Bar Raiser program is to bring diverse and unbiased points of view to interview loops and, in an effort to fuel innovation at Amazon, help make sure every new hire is stronger than 50 percent of their would-be peers in similar roles. Amazon believes leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion – and Bar Raisers are a mechanism the company uses to ensure hiring managers stay true to that commitment.

“The role of a Bar Raiser is unique because we’re completely focused on making hiring decisions for Amazon, not for a specific team or role. Our ability to maintain a long-term vision – rather than focus on an immediate hiring need,” said Annie Groeninger, a software development manager and Bar Raiser. “With each hiring decision, I help make sure that I continue to work with the most brilliant people in the world. I’m looking to hire people I can learn from.”

Becoming a Bar Raiser

Bar Raisers are nominated by their manager, peers, or other Bar Raisers. They then complete extensive training on Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles. The process includes shadowing veteran Bar Raisers for multiple interview cycles over the course of several months. Training takes anywhere from three months to a year and is designed to be flexible with employee work schedules. “We’re aiming for quality over quantity, which means we don’t put a time stamp on the process,” said Katie Anderson, a Bar Raiser program manager. “Everyone who comes through the program is different. It may take 20 interviews for one person to graduate and 40 for another.”This training program is valuable even for the most experienced interviewers, according to Groeninger, who entered the Bar Raiser program after completing 800 interviews as a hiring manager. “It was eye-opening to switch roles and be the person shadowing another interviewer and learning their techniques. Throughout the training process, I interviewed candidates for roles that I had no experience interviewing for before, which was challenging and fun. I was also able to interview alongside many different Bar Raisers and get diverse perspectives and feedback on my interviewing style,” Groeninger said.

Once certified, Bar Raisers have three key responsibilities

  1. Assess candidates for the role and their long-term success at Amazon
  2. Coach hiring managers to ask questions during interviews that align with the most relevant Leadership Principles and competencies for the role
  3. Ensure an open, accurate, and fair evaluation of candidates.

Bar raisers are especially important during the evaluation stage. At the end of the interview loop, they facilitate debrief conversations to help the panel of interviewees figure out if the candidate is the best hire for the company and for the role.“The interview debrief is where I can really help drive a hiring decision,” said Groeninger. “I’ve learned some key questions that get hiring managers to really think about the role and the decision. Some of my favorites to ask are, ‘What does Amazon miss out on if we don’t hire this person?’ and ‘What about this person makes you want to work with them?’”

Supporting hiring managers

Bar Raisers capture a holistic, data-driven picture of each candidate, helping to eliminate bias and ensure that hiring managers identify the strongest candidates.“The Bar Raiser program avoids having one person make the hiring decision. For me, as a hiring manager, it helps eliminate the voices in the room that dominate everyone else’s or the habit of looking to the most senior person in the room to make the decision. Instead, the Bar Raiser facilitates a transparent conversation and drives everyone to consensus,” said Caley Anderson, a senior marketing manager in Amazon Music. Anderson, who is also a Bar Raiser herself, thinks Bar Raisers can be especially beneficial for new managers who aren’t as familiar with Amazon’s interview process.“Bar Raisers can help construct interview loops and identify which Leadership Principles need to be addressed,” said Anderson. “After the interview, they can be extremely helpful ensuring that the hiring manager has everything they need to make a decision and that they’re not being swayed by one voice.”

Connecting with candidates

Bar Raiser Groeninger has interviewed more than 1,300 people over her 12 years at Amazon. While she doesn’t remember every person she has interviewed, there are a few who stand out.“It’s really inspiring to recognize top talent, hire them at Amazon, and then follow their careers. For example, I was so proud that one candidate I interviewed had gone from an entry level software development engineer role to two levels above within five years,” Groeninger said. Her favorite story, however, happened earlier this year.“Two years ago, I was in Croatia at a hiring event and interviewed dozens of people. Just this year, in June, I switched teams and realized that four of the people I interviewed in Croatia were on the team in Vancouver, B.C. that I was joining,” she said. “It’s funny how things work out.”