Want to get a job at Amazon? You might want to consider whether you have the right personality-type first. According to a deep-dive on the company in The New Yorker, Amazon recruits for very specific people — and an interest in books isn’t required.
Instead, Amazon is looking for a particular type of high-powered quant-geek. The kind who, it sometimes seems, have few social skills.
This is the key quote (emphasis added):
“The key to understanding Amazon is the hiring process,” one former employee said. “You’re not hired to do a particular job — you’re hired to be an Amazonian. Lots of managers had to take the Myers-Briggs personality tests. 80 per cent of them came in two or three similar categories, and Bezos is the same: introverted, detail-oriented, engineer-type personality. Not musicians, designers, salesmen. The vast majority fall within the same personality type — people who graduate at the top of their class at M.I.T. and have no idea what to say to a woman in a bar.”
Those quants have done well, of course. The company has $US75 billion in sales, of which The New Yorker says no more than 7% is from books.
But not everything quants have applied to book sales has been a huge success. Writer George Packer makes the case that Amazon’s staff deliberately ignored the writerly, creative sensibility of the publishing world in the belief that numbers alone would hold the key:
According to Marcus, Amazon executives considered publishing people “antediluvian losers with rotary phones and inventory systems designed in 1968 and warehouses full of crap.” Publishers kept no data on customers, making their bets on books a matter of instinct rather than metrics. They were full of inefficiencies, starting with overpriced Manhattan offices. There was “a general feeling that the New York publishing business was just this cloistered, Gilded Age antique just barely getting by in a sort of Colonial Williamsburg of commerce, but when Amazon waded into this they would show publishing how it was done.”
It didn’t always work:
During the 1999 holiday season, Amazon tried publishing books, leasing the rights to a defunct imprint called Weathervane and putting out a few titles. “These were not incipient best-sellers,” Marcus writes. “They were creatures from the black lagoon of the remainder table” — Christmas recipes and the like, selected with no apparent thought. Employees with publishing experience, like Fried, were not consulted. Weathervane fell into an oblivion so complete that there’s no trace of it on the Internet. (Representatives at the company today claim never to have heard of it.) Nobody at Amazon seemed to absorb any lessons from the failure. A decade later, the company would try again.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.