One of Jeff Bezos’s former employees at Amazon recently shared the story of her job interview with the company’s founder and former CEO. Ann Hiatt, who landed a job interview with the billionaire businessman during the relatively early days of Amazon’s existence in 2002, shared with CNBC two questions Bezos asked her when she met with him twenty years ago.
Hiatt explained that she grew up in Redmond, Washington, which is not far from Seattle, where Bezos had headquartered his company. Hiatt applied for a job as a junior assistant fresh out of school with no prior experience, no relevant degree, and no contacts amongst the retailer’s employees.
Hiatt was shocked when her application was met with an invitation to interview at the company. Following a marathon of interviews with employees working in the senior role of the position she was vying to land, Hiatt was contacted after months of silence and informed that she had made it to the final interview. Unbeknownst to her, that interview was between her and Bezos.
Jeff Bezos only asked her two questions at her job interview, but they left a lasting impression
When Hiatt met with Bezos, he told her that he only planned on asking her two questions and that the first question was a little bit of a mental challenge.
The former CEO said: “I want you to estimate the number of panes of glass in the city of Seattle.”
After an initial pang of terror, Hiatt got her bearings and began to consider the questions. After accurately guessing Seattle’s population, she began to work with Bezos on the problem, considering every context in which glass is found, moving between one’s home or apartment, through public space and transit, and in workplace or educational settings. Hiatt figured that the answer had to be some average of all of those places, and Bezos fastidiously did the math on a whiteboard in the office.
Bezos finally looked up and told Hiatt: “That looks about right.” It was now time for his second and final question: “What are your career goals?”
Hiatt said that she felt Amazon was an innovative company filled with people that cared immensely about their work and the growth of the company. Even though she didn’t have experience in the position she was applying for, she wanted to challenge herself and learn from the employees at Amazon, absorb their tenacity and ambition, and evolve from the experience.
Bezos offered her the job immediately and worked closely with her from that point on. Hiatt says that, in retrospect, she can see that Bezos was interested in testing her bravery and ability to meet his challenge, ignoring any insecurity about whether or not she might be unprepared. Those qualities can be more important than any skill when starting out.