How to Get a Job at Amazon’s HQ2 if You Really Want It

Amazon is invading Queens, New York and Arlington, Virginia with thousands of jobs and societal disruption. Here’s what you need to know before you join the Jeff Bezos empire.
January 10, 2019, 5:00pm
Amazon HQ2 illo by George Wylesol
Illustration by George Wylesol

Like that jolly old man from the North Pole, Jeff Bezos came around this past holiday season bearing gifts. The presents from Amazon, however, were only for very specific towns, and strictly in the form of “compensation for the value you will be creating for them with your labor.” These are also known as jobs. Perhaps you’d like one!

Between their two new HQ2s in Queens, New York and Arlington, Virginia—along with the smaller Operations Center of Excellence in Nashville—Amazon will be delivering about 55,000 new jobs starting in 2019. While the corporate behemoth has been mum about the specifics—other than that they’ll begin accepting applications in early 2019–one way to get a sense of what jobs they’ll be looking to fill is by examining trends at their HQ1 in Seattle. There, according to Business Insider’s examination of self-reported salary data by employees on the job site Glassdoor, a data engineer can expect a salary around $101,000, while a business intelligence engineer or software engineer can snag $108,000 a year. Not shabby!

But Amazon won’t only be hiring software programmers. If they’re like current trends in other tech companies, they’ll be hiring almost a 50/50 split between tech and non-tech roles, for the obvious reason that once you make the technology, you still got to find a way to sell it. “Once the core technology is built, they don’t need to hire as many engineers as they grow,” Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at GlassDoor, tells me. “Amazon’s next stage of growth [necessitates] jobs that aren’t as scalable as software engineers.” These jobs will include recruiting manager ($115,000), economist ($124,000), and finance manager ($126,000). In all, Amazon says the average wage of the new HQ2 jobs will be $150,000, about $90,000 more than the $61,000 median household income in the U.S. Maybe this is money you would want!

How to ace your application for a job at Amazon HQ2

Despite granular differences in the necessary skills to get you past the resume filtering stage of the hiring process—Amazon says they care more about how a candidate thinks or what they’ve worked on in the past, as opposed to where, or even if, they went to school—the steps to get any of their jobs is relatively straightforward. Amazon, in fact, outlines the entire thing on their website, where they even have tools to help you along the way.

“After applying, some candidates will be invited to participate in an online assessment—a set of questions that provide a sense of a candidate’s hard and soft skills, specific to the role they applied for,” said Meghan Reibstein, Amazon’s Student Programs Leader, over email. “We then typically run virtual interviews with Amazonians from a variety of roles and teams, which help students get to know Amazon better.” During these interviews, virtually or in-person, candidates are peppered with questions and scenarios to get a sense of your problem-solving skills. (Quora can be a good resource if you want a sneak preview at software engineer test problems like, “in a file there are 1 million words, find 10 most frequent words in that file,” and “find an element in a rotated array”—whatever that means.)

Amazon has a whole guide for how to get through these interviews as well. “We don’t just want to know what candidates have accomplished, we want understand how they think and what they’ve learned,” Reibstein says. In the guide, Amazon has a list of behavioral questions that they may ask, things like “describe a time when you took the lead on a project.” They also recommend that applicants answer interview questions in a STAR format, breaking down their answers by explaining the situation, describing the task they needed to accomplish, detailing the action(s) they took, and wrapping it all up with the result. It’s a storytelling tip to keep respondents on task. The guide also details the dress code (“comfortable and casual”), while mentioning that some of the offices are dog friendly, so let them know if you have allergies.

Amazon will presumably have other positions at their HQ2s, like janitorial or cafeteria workers, which will not be paid nearly as lucratively. These roles are predominantly contractors, meaning that their hiring process is outside of Amazon’s purview. However, this thread on Indeed might give a sense of how janitorial workers feel Amazon treats them at their various distribution centers throughout the country; it runs the gamut from “[t]he job was fun and had plenty of opportunities to do things” to someone claiming it was a “very violent work place and they did nothing to stop it from continuing including alot of bullying from other employees.” For folks angling for these blue-collar jobs, one tip that seems reasonable is befriending your higher-paid, white-collar co-workers, so that when it comes time to unionize, they’ll have your back as you take on a corporation that’s long fought such efforts. Just something to keep in mind!

But do you really want to work for Amazon?

This seems like a fine time to get into the thorniest question when it comes to applying for an Amazon job: Do you really want to work there?

Chris Bloomquist is head of talent acquisition at Viri Technology, a recruiting firm based a few blocks from Amazon’s HQ1 in Seattle. Bloomquist says that having Amazon on one’s resume is certainly a valuable signifier to future employers. “In the Seattle tech world, it’s like a meal ticket,” he says. “You survived for a couple of years, you’re probably doing work on tech that’s relevant, doing modern things on the cloud, doing modern things with scalability, A.I., all the relevant buzzwords.”

But this credit isn’t free. “Here’s what you’re going to have to give up: Your life for awhile,” he says. “It’s dog eat dog. If you’re highly competitive and you don’t need to be in a kumbaya environment, Amazon is great.” Maybe this is your kind of scene!

But there’s another aspect to consider before working at Amazon H2, and that’s your role in the inevitable displacement that will be taking place. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” Bloomquist says. “The tech workers don’t have a problem. It’s everyone else.”

For the 25,000 jobs going to Arlington, Virginia, where the median household income is more than $100,000, the effect will perhaps be less dramatic than what the 25,000 jobs will do to the borough of Queens, New York, where it’s $62,008. For a glimpse of how those new, high-paying jobs will economically terraform the borough, give DW Gibson’s The Edge Becomes the Center and Jeremiah Moss’ Vanishing New York a read. Both are kinda like lenses you can pop on that will provide the correct context through which you will see the extraordinary gentrification that will be taking place because of the company that you maybe want to work for. “I’ve lived in Seattle for 16 years, and at first, it was in the sleepy, edge of downtown,” Bloomquist says. “Now it’s the core of it because Amazon took over.”

If enough truly affordable housing isn’t built to offset the influx of money into the region, other effects may occur. Landlords will use everyday harassment and procedural techniques to kick out poor tenants to make room for you, which could boil over into societal frustration and occasional protest actions, or maybe just eye-rolls or cold-shoulders at the bar when you tell people where you work. Fair or unfair, you’ll get the blame. “What happens is you get tons of brand new infrastructure, restaurants, nightlife. But housing prices are to the point where, how the hell can you be a barista in downtown Seattle?” says Bloomquist. “They can’t drive an hour [to work] each way.”

Another thing that will likely happen is your own dollar won’t go as far as you expected, as $15 cocktail joints and boutique grocery stores—and the landlords looking for their cut—push out the once-affordable mom-and-pops. This is because, when you arrive with your new job, the economic dynamic will change. That’s kind of the point, and why cities made such embarrassing gestures to lure Amazon in the first place. The introduction of the HQ2s will, as Bloomquist puts it, be “putting a lot of young people with stupid money in one area. It sounds great, but causes a lot of problems with inequalities.”

Ultimately, this is where you’ll have to weigh the potential of a high-paying (albeit, high-stress) job with the company’s more problematic place in today’s world.

While Jeff Bezos compensates his tech workforce reasonably well, Amazon has a troublesome track record when it comes to its blue collar staff; in 2018, The Guardian found numerous cases of warehouse workers unable to do jobs after workplace accidents who, subsequently, were left homeless. Even the way in which Amazon was awarded the sites for their various HQ2s is indicative of the power massed by the tech behemoth; the entire spectacle was essentially local governments jockeying to subsidize displacement-causing gentrification with money from their own taxpayers. And, of course, Amazon’s growing monopolistic ownership over every form of commerce will have inevitable and irrevocable negative effects for how economic competition is supposed to work. By working for the Amazon blob—that is to say, choosing to trade in your labor for their money—you’ll be adding, however subtly and granularly, to their claim on ownership over the world.

Just something to think about before sending in that C.V.!

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Correction: This story was corrected on January 15 to clarify the time period for when Amazon will be hiring employees for its HQ2s.