29 May 2015 16:18 IST

'We want people to solve customer problems: Amazon HR head

Raj Raghavan, director of HR at Amazon India, on what they look for in prospective hires

Raj Raghavan, Director of Human Resources at Amazon India was present at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) HR Tech Conference held in Mumbai recently. Raghavan, who comes with a rich human resource management experience in companies like Amazon, GE and Ford, gave a talk at the conference on 'Journey of HR's transformation'. He spoke with BusinessLine on Campus (BLoC) on Amazon's campus recruitment strategy, among other things. Excerpts:

Amazon recently made headlines as one of the top recruiters (in terms of numbers) from top Indian business schools. How important is hiring from colleges, strategically, for you?

For us, college recruitment is very important and we hire for verticals across the company.

Amazon in India is like a mini Amazon. We have a large technology development centre, we have operations that support the India business, we have the cloud computing for India business, we have Kindle devices, Kindle content in India. So it's a significant part of the global company and campus recruitment is the key. We do two types of recruitment from the universities — one is technology recruitment, for which we hire computer scientists for skills that are fungible. Then, we go to B-schools — it can be for our global programmes such as Pathways or for positions for our India-specific programmes. We also offer a lot of internships, and our intent is to mostly hire those people who have done internships with us. They get a good sense of our culture and peculiarities. We also do industry hires, big ones and this will continue to happen.

How many people did you hire this academic year?

We don't talk numbers, but we hired 40 per cent more than we did last year. We also do specific things with B-schools. Like the ACE-Challenge for B-schoolers. It is case study-based competition we have been doing for four years now. We don't necessarily roll out offers at the end of it but people do get the first interview opportunity.

We have a strong bias towards people who can solve customer problems. As a company, we are customer-centric and work backwards. It is very important to do whatever it takes to make the customer feel good about shopping with Amazon.

Amazon hires based on job description or a person’s potential. How are these two aligned within Amazon? Which is more important?

Neither actually. For us, it's about working customers backwards not skills forward. There is a big difference between the two. Usually, everyone will have a job description but, that’s not the case. One ends up doing more or even less than what is in the job description. What I mean is, we don't hire for a skill, we hire because we want to solve a customer problem. That's a significant difference from hiring a top-notch professional or skills person.

What are the qualities you look-for in a freshly minted B-school graduate while hiring?

On our Web site we have Amazon's 14 Leadership Principles. These leadership principles are very specific, written by Amazonians , and each word gets deliberated very intensely. We use these principles as a lens to hire people. Some of these principles collide with each other also, but for us it is about 'customer obsession'.

What we normally tell B-school grads is to try and understand what these principles mean for Amazon. It can be a cliché to say, ‘we are customer-centric’, but Amazon wants to be 'earth's most customer-centric' company.

What kind of environment one can look forward to when one gets into Amazon?

Non-political, very focused, intense, customer-oriented, problem-solving and somewhat peculiar. I have been with Amazon for four years now, and I like Amazon. We want to get things done, yet we want to think long term. There's a lot of fun stuff - as we say, we want to work hard, we want to have fun, and we want to make history.

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