This year’s turbulent “pandemic economy” has created insecurity in the job market, hitting PR practitioners especially hard. There are, however, a few silver linings among these economic storm clouds. Despite the hiring freezes, layoffs, and furloughs we’ve seen throughout corporate America, Amazon has been “hiring like crazy” and “scaling fast,” Amazon Senior Recruiter DJ Cabeen said. The extensive list of PR openings at the mid-senior level has been a beacon of hope for out-of-work PR professionals and those seeking new career opportunities in 2020.
Before the year is over, Amazon aims to fill a variety of PR roles. Nearly all of Amazon’s many divisions — including corporate communications, Amazon Web Services, devices and consumer tech, studio publicity, and others — plan to expand their PR teams. The company has recently created a dedicated PR and communications page to house this multitude of job offerings. Amazon has no plans to slow down its recruiting blitz in the near future and anticipates a flood of new roles hitting the job market in 2021.
Amazon has more than 500 people working in public relations across the globe and, unlike in many companies, its public relations employees do not report into marketing. In fact, PR and marketing are largely separate at Amazon. This allows Amazon’s PR teams a direct line to internal business leaders. Whenever a new project is launched, PR is at the table from the very beginning as an integral part of the process. As a result, a strong sense of trust has developed between the PR and business teams.
Although PR jobs at Amazon are plentiful, so too are job-seeking public relations professionals. Anyone trying to get hired at one of these coveted positions will face stiff competition. So if you’re hoping to work in PR at Amazon, how do you make yourself stand out? If you’re lucky enough to secure a job offer, what’s it like to work in PR at Amazon? These questions were answered during the October 16 #FridayForum moderated by PRSA Silicon Valley Chapter Board Member Caroline James, and joined by three Amazon corporate employees: Senior Recruiter for Global Corporate Affairs DJ Cabeen, Director, Public Relations, Devices & Services Dawn Brun, and Amazon Web Services Public Relations Manager Elysia Nazareth.
The panelists’ remarks provided unique insights and perspective, while touching on certain common themes. The speakers agreed, for example, that Amazon applicants should back up their PR experience and achievements with data and metrics. Amazon is a company built around data and therefore its hiring managers value candidates who can describe how their PR programs were informed, shaped and evaluated by quantifiable metrics. Below are a few more memorable insights and pieces of advice from the panelists:
Amazon has a set of 14 leadership principles. According to Dawn Brun, the principles are not just “a poster on the wall, these are actual principles that we all internalize and they drive culture at scale here, which has allowed us to grow quickly while still maintaining a very high bar when it comes to talent and our work.”
The panelists agreed that Amazon applicants should know their own professional principles and consider how they align with Amazon’s principles, as well as the applicant’s work experience. For example, DJ Cabeen called out three specific principles — “Bias for Action,” “Dive Deep,” and “Think Big” — that he looks for when evaluating candidates.
The job application process
The first step in securing an Amazon PR role is to submit an online application. This portion of the process is easy to complete and takes fewer than 10 minutes. Amazon has a high volume of applications and thus it is advisable for job seekers to take some added steps to stand out. DJ says candidates who reach out to him on Linkedin are showing the “Bias for Action” leadership principle and he welcomes their initiative. It is important though, Dawn recommends, to be meaningful when approaching Amazon employees on LinkedIn. She says the way people interact with her on Linkedin likely mirrors their approach to journalists and internal business leaders. “Keep a high bar for how you communicate,” Dawn said.
Once a person’s application is in the system and they have been identified as a potential match for the role, the next step is an initial phone screen with DJ or one of his recruiting peers, followed by a phone interview with the hiring manager or a member of the hiring team if the person is still deemed a good fit. “Typically there are two phone interviews before the virtual panel onsite via video conference,” DJ said, adding, “candidates are usually in process somewhere between 4 – 6 weeks.”
Both Dawn and Elysia were initially encouraged to apply for their current roles by former co-workers who now work at Amazon. Incidentally, Dawn and Elysia also worked together on the HP account at Porter Novelli in their previous agency roles. While having a referral network is an effective means to be noticed and get your foot in the door, DJ said not everyone has to know someone.
Amazon is recruiting beyond Seattle
Dawn and Elysia both relocated to Seattle from other cities to work at Amazon. Dawn moved from Atlanta four years ago and Elysia from San Francisco three years ago. Today, moving to Seattle is no longer a requirement to work at Amazon. Opportunities outside Seattle are becoming more numerous with the spread of remote working and the opening of Amazon’s second headquarters in Virginia.
Working in PR at Amazon/Amazon Web Services
As well as providing advice on applying for PR roles, the panelists discussed what it’s like to work at Amazon and offered tips on how to succeed within the company. Dawn emphasized that, in terms of day-to-day work, “Ownership” is one of the most applicable leadership principles, stating it is crucial for employees to take control of their roles. She also says the most successful Amazon employees are people who will raise their own bar.
Dawn also remarked that one great thing about her role at Amazon is how incredibly rewarding it is to work on iconic products like Kindle and Alexa that people, including her parents and friends, have loved for years.
Elysia referred to the “Customer Obsession” leadership principle “as the foundational principle that ties back to everything we do” and added, “we keep a really high bar for quality of [media] coverage. This was one thing that stood out for me in my time at Amazon: we do focus on getting our message out there and the vehicles we use to do that, but even more so it’s making sure the messaging that is out there and the reporters that are covering us are doing so accurately. That is a big part of what we do every day,” she said.
Amazon team culture
The panelists agreed that Amazon’s employees are universally smart, and they have created a culture which is not competitive, but collaborative. Employees strive to grow by both supporting and pushing one another. The panelists also emphasized that Amazon values diversity, and always incorporates it in its hiring practices. DJ discussed the importance of looking beyond a resume in his recruitment strategies. “I’m interested in the intangibles that cannot be seen on the resume alone. This can present itself in different ways,” he said. Elysia added she loves Amazon and Amazon Web Services’ work culture, “It’s been really unique during this virtual time – everyone on our team has stepped up to bring our team culture to life in really unique ways whether that’s monthly happy hours to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries or just celebrations of little wins. We’ve had to get really creative but I think we’ve done a great job in maintaining what we love about working in the office together every day which is those one-to-one interactions and little team group interactions.”
In closing, each panelist offered some parting advice. Dawn encouraged listeners to always keep learning, to stay abreast of the latest technology and trends, and to be aware of Amazon’s existing products and services with new ones being developed every day. Amazon values people who show curiosity, she said, and who know that their education is never truly over.
Elysia said Amazon hopefuls should “identify a hole and learn how to fill it.” “If you position yourself as the solution to the problem,” she continued, “it’s difficult for the person to say no.”
DJ said it’s important to “Think Big!” Amazon is always looking for “those big crazy ideas,” so applicants shouldn’t be afraid to explore their imagination and develop new, revolutionary concepts.