Becoming a Bar Raiser

Becoming a Bar Raiser

So today I graduated from Amazon's internal training program and became a Bar Raiser. This is something that I've thought about doing on and off for something silly like 2 years, but at the end of November last year I decided to sign up.

My time at AWS has had a constant thread of team growth and expansion. When I started at AWS I was part of a team of 5 - one of which I'd actually referred before formally starting (my manager!). In the first year, we grew the team to 8. After 3 and a bit years, the team had blown out to over 20, and then split into multiple teams. By the time I left RDS, I'd filled 14 positions as a hiring manager and done around 110 interviews, almost all of them for my team or peers. Along the way, I'd continually been "encouraged" by a few of the bar raisers in tech-focused roles in Sydney to sign up. Given how much I sometimes struggled to find a bar raiser for my interview events, I'm sure this was a bit of a stitch-up designed to reduce their interview workload. A few of the bar raisers I talked to said they really enjoyed. Two of them adopted a model of only bar-raising for international hiring junkets events, where you do ~40 interviews in an intense week of nothing but hiring. Most of them warned me that bar-raising took up a lot of time, and it required constant "calendar protection" to prevent every gap being filled with interviews.

Despite the warnings, and not being able to exploit the junket path, with some itchiness to introduce some change in my role at Amazon at the end of last year, I finally decided to take the plunge. I chatted to a friendly bar raiser who agreed to put me forward for the training program and off I went.

The standard process for the "onsite"1 round of Amazon interviews is 4-6 interviews, called a loop, after which each interviewer makes a yes/no vote, and writes up their feedback based on the Leadership Principles and functional competencies they covered. We then hold a debrief where a Bar Raiser guides the interviewing group through all the feedback, covering the strengths and any concerns about the candidate, and we make a final decision2.

The structure of the bar raiser training program is really very similar to the way we do interview training at Amazon. First, you shadow some experienced bar raisers throughout the interview and debrief process. Step two is to take the lead in the process, with an experienced BR shadow. Step three is flying solo on the interviews (not really challenging since you need to be an experienced interviewer before starting the BR training anyway) and only having your shadow for the debrief process. After each debrief, the experienced BR provides feedback on how you did, along with the strengths, and the areas for improvement. Throughout the whole process, you have a "BR Mentor", someone with a lot of experience as a bar raiser to help you parse all the feedback, and tie it together.

One of the best things about being a BR (and specifically the training program) is that your role is to be external to the hiring team, and you're also not required to be familiar with the role - your goal is to maintain the quality of the process and make sure that candidates exemplify the leadership principles. I've now interviewed Recruiting Coordinators, Construction Managers, Data Centre Engineers, Technical Account Managers, Program Managers, Solutions Architects, and Sales reps for roles all over the APAC region. One of the best parts of Amazon's interview style is that we essentially ask candidates to tell us stories of the awesome things they've done. Becoming a BR just means I get to hear awesome stories from a much more varied audience. The leadership principles stay the same, but the examples are always different.

The same idea goes for seeing how other hiring managers (and bar raisers) prioritise and balance the leadership principles and functional skills for their roles. Every debrief I'll ask for the key things for the role, things that we should pay extra attention to in the debrief. Hearing different perspectives on why certain things are more important than others has opened my thinking on how I weigh things for my team's roles. Also reading feedback from a broader group of interviewers (and the pressure of being the "leader" of the debrief) has pushed me to improve on the quality of my written feedback.

So now I get to cast off my shadow and start my Bar Raiser journey in earnest3. I'm looking forward to hearing more awesome stories from people (and if you're looking, we're always hiring).

  1. Now all virtual and held on video conferencing, due to COVID-19. 

  2. Yes, this is a big time investment in finding the right candidates. 

  3. With 5 interviews this week, and another 5 next week, I'm definitely not moving slowly 


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