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MBA Recruiter Interview: Dee Clarke, Amazon

MBA Recruiter Interview: Dee Clarke, Amazon main image

Amazon has disrupted many things — from the humble book store to grocery shopping and perhaps soon healthcare.

It has also made its mark on MBA employment, becoming a lead recruiter at business schools around the world, from Europe’s HEC Paris and London Business School to the Fuqua School of Business and Stanford GSB in the US, to CEIBS in Shanghai.

The ecommerce company hires some 1,000 MBAs each year, usually on a three-year leadership development program that includes rotations in two business areas.

Many MBAs join Amazon via its summer internship scheme, in which they work on a real project with broad scope that is reviewed by the company’s senior leaders.

Dee Clarke, head of Amazon's EMEA student program tellsTopMBA.com what students can do to stand out from the pack, secure a coveted job at the company, and why business schools need to place technology more prominently on the curriculum.

Why do you value MBA-holders?



Amazon has been hiring MBA students for the last 10 years, and in Europe for six. As our employee base has grown, hiring MBAs enables us to identify talent quickly.



We value MBAs at Amazon because they’re adept at tackling our biggest problems. They also bring a global mindset and international experience, which is ideal because we need adaptable, global leaders to support our work internationally.

How have MBA graduates made a tangible impact?



We hire MBAs into a three-year program that includes rotations into two areas of our business, in our consumer, video or device teams for example.

By giving MBAs experience in a variety of business areas, we seek to ensure employees have a broad experience and different perspectives. This supports our long-term growth and grows our leadership bench.

When we rotate MBAs, we try to put them in suitable areas, but because our business changes so quickly, it can be difficult to guarantee they’ll start in any specific area. The movement between teams creates a productive kind of friction and develops their ability to transfer skills.



Part of our work with MBAs includes internship hiring, where we set real-life projects that Amazonians have submitted. MBAs will tackle real-world challenges over the summer; some have been adapted to become projects within the business. It’s an amazing opportunity for MBAs to contribute to real projects with broad scope that are reviewed by our senior leaders.



Do you value MBAs because they can work with clients overseas?

While Amazon is a global organization, we’re also customer-obsessed, which means regionalization is vital – we must be aware of social, economic and cultural nuances of different international markets.



MBAs can add real value because they tend to come from diverse backgrounds. They may add language skills, or an awareness of different customs that can be invaluable when we’re negotiating with local partners.



The majority of our MBAs are also hired into one of seven European locations – Berlin, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Munich or Paris – so we want people who are open to moving to different locations around Europe.

Do you feel your MBA hires have a willingness to learn and adapt?


MBAs have a willingness to learn, and that’s essential because we prize continuous learning and curiosity throughout their Amazon career. 



Amazon has a few set ways we approach things, in terms of our internal frameworks, so adapting to these requires a certain flexibility of thought.


In general, we like to see MBAs be more adaptable because flexible knowledge and transferable skills are essential for a long-term career. We find some MBAs arrive with strong pre-conceived ideas about their career paths, but given Amazon’s fast changing environment, new businesses are launched frequently and MBAs that succeed at Amazon embrace change.

Do you feel your MBAs understand the implications of technological disruption? 



The MBA curriculum in some cases is heavily focused on case studies and core modules in finance, business and other key functions. However, we would like to see learning shift towards the big challenges and opportunities all companies are facing, not just tech companies – for example big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.



We appreciate it can be difficult to adapt to emergent trends. However, there are ways for students to be proactive in bolstering their learning. MBAs might want to consider setting up extracurricular activities, like bringing in external speakers, peer teaching and bringing in alumni.

A candidate who goes the extra mile to supplement their technological learning will always stand out. Our MBAs come from a range of backgrounds – military, NGOs, engineering – so we don’t expect a pure tech background, but there are ways to add value to your application. Ideally, it’s a natural interest; you may have taught yourself coding, taken part in an SQL elective, or been a leader in the tech club.



Any other advice for MBAs?



Amazon’s interview process is designed to enable us to hire at scale while also making the process transparent for applicants. 



I would definitely recommend getting under the skin of Amazon’s Leadership Principles – we use these every day, whether we’re recruiting or developing our people, or deciding the best approach to solving a problem.



I’d also recommend applicants arrive with strong examples of previous work, as we sometimes find examples are too small in scope. Remember, MBAs are hired at the same level as somebody with extensive work experience in a similar field. We’re looking for examples of solutions to complex problems that have been applied at scale.

Skills can be transferred across any sector or background. We've looked for correlation in terms of whether successful candidates come from any given industry or sector – but there’s no pattern!

Any other value you see in MBAs? 



Working with MBAs allows us to take the pulse of how the next generation are thinking about the workplace, engaging with academia, what they want from careers and how we can continue to adapt as an organization.



In recent years, we’ve collaborated closely with academics and individual professors, partnering with them to build our knowledge and to feed into their teaching. For example, we’ve partnered with the London Business School on lectures, case studies and leadership speaker series. Those partnerships have huge value for us, and we hope we add value in return.



We believe MBAs are really well-placed to help us tackle the challenges Amazon faces as an organization, both on a day-to-day basis and long-term.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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