Amazon lowered the hiring limit and some employees don’t like it

  • Amazon has gotten rid of bar-raising interviews for some positions in recent years.
  • Barbell lifters have been a part of Amazon’s culture for years. They are full-time employees who interview job candidates who apply for other teams.
  • Some employees have complained in recent years about the lack of growth and engagement of those raising the bar.

In its quest to expand as quickly as possible, Amazon has ditched its famous “up the odds” process for some job interviews, effectively lowering the hiring bar ahead of the recent layoffs, Insider has learned.

Bar raisers have been a unique component of Amazon’s rigorous hiring process since its early years. These people interview job candidates for corporate roles — while holding permanent positions elsewhere in the company — and have the ability to veto any hiring decisions. Their goal is to serve as “objective third-party advisors” during interviews and assess the cultural fit of individuals.

But last January, Amazon began removing bar-raisers from interviews for entry-level software engineer candidates out of college, according to an internal memo seen by Insider. Some other non-engineering entry-level jobs have also gotten rid of bar lifters from interview loops in recent years, according to three people familiar with the move, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. The startups are still providing advice on initial hiring decisions and interviewing senior executives, these people said.

The change is due in part to Amazon’s rapid expansion, which has seen its workforce nearly double since the end of 2019 to more than 1.54 million employees. The promoted hires, who are usually top-tier and must go through a rigorous training process, have not grown at the same pace as Amazon’s overall employee base, making it a burden to meet the job’s interview load, one of the people said.

By not raising the bar for some mostly entry-level positions, Amazon shortened the hiring process and was able to hire more aggressively. That, in turn, has reduced the quality of talent in those positions, said three employees involved in recent hiring processes.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy alluded to the hiring problem last week, when he announced 18,000 job cuts, the largest in the company’s history.

“This year’s audit was more difficult given the uncertain economy and the fact that we have been hiring rapidly over the past few years,” Jassy wrote in a letter to employees.

In an email to Insider, Amazon disputed that the role cuts were related to the Bar Raiser program, but declined to confirm whether the company has removed the bar raising process for certain positions. A spokesperson said the Bar Raiser program is still used in the “vast majority” of recruitment processes.

Amazon’s hiring spree has put their job creation program under intense pressure

The people who raise the bar are usually chosen from among the best in the company and are considered a badge of honor, but it is a voluntary position that does not include any additional income. Only about 1% of Amazon’s total corporate workforce merits the title, people familiar with the program told Insider.

But in recent years, as Amazon has embarked on a major hiring spree, those who have risen through the ranks have found themselves under intense pressure to conduct more job interviews. Because these people still have day jobs in various roles, such as sales or engineering, the effort to be lifters has only intensified, leading to a shortage of lifters, according to People.

To address the issue, Amazon has eased the requirements for ranking up in recent years, one of the people said. However, the bar lifter population has not grown as fast as the overall labor force. Many have become inactive or taken a break from the role because there are no requirements to hold the position.

This is a contentious issue dating back at least 3 years, according to an internal email thread seen by Insider. In January 2021, for example, a group of claimants complained about the small number of claimants relative to the overall employee base and the lack of engagement of many of them.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy moves his hands on stage at the GeekWire Summit.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy speaks at the GeekWire Summit.

Dan DeLong/GeekWire



Internal data at the time, collected by one of the scalers, showed that only 6% of scalers hit their target of two interviews per week, while the remaining 94% only averaged 1 or less interviews per week. At the time, Amazon had 5,001 workers, raising the bar from a total of 1.2 million employees (which includes warehouse workers). That ratio remained largely consistent until last year, one of the people said.

“Yes, we need to increase the total number of BRs as a percentage of Amazons,” one person wrote in the email thread, referring to those raising the bar.

The current bar lifters are overworked and disengaged

Others expressed concern about overworked or disengaged bar raisers causing a potential talent drain at Amazon. One person in the 2021 email series said that “Amazon’s hiring bar was in question” if those raising the bar didn’t meet the company’s standards.

“We could double/triple BRs in the next 6 months, but the quality has to stand out which I doubt given the passion, time and effort that can be put into recruiting,” the person said.

Some have blamed Amazon for not giving them more recognition for their work for the inactivity of the ladder builders. Climbing the scale is considered “volunteer” work and does not count as “real work” during performance reviews, they argued.

“Bar Raisers tend to live a double life of performance management while treating Bar Raising as a side hustle that we have to make time for. BR contributions should be part of our overall contribution to Amazon as a company, with no boundaries between the two worlds,” one of the people wrote.

The pandemic tech boom has prompted many tech companies to go on a hiring spree. This of course made it difficult to hire talented employees. For Amazon, the second largest private employer in the US, it’s only gotten harder to raise the hiring bar.

In fact, an Amazon employee asked about the issue at an internal meeting in 2019, which was reviewed by Insider. The employee asked if Amazon would ever have to change its expectations to hire someone better than 50% of those in similar positions if it got too big. Amazon’s head of human resources, Beth Galetti, said that Amazon’s hiring bar “gets higher and higher” and that “we’re all growing and developing every day.”

Perhaps the bigger implication of doing away with salary interviews, even for some positions, is that Amazon is moving further away from the core parts that have made it so successful.

Some employees are calling it the arrival of “Day 2,” invoking founder Jeff Bezos’ mantra that Amazon should always embrace a fresh, risk-taking “Day 1” mindset, as Insider previously reported.

“Overall, Amazon’s excellence and level of expertise has declined,” said one of the people who spoke to Insider.

Do you work at Amazon? Do you have any advice?

Contact reporter Eugene Kim via the encrypted messaging apps Signal or Telegram (+1-650-942-3061) or email ([email protected]).

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