Power Players

Jeff Bezos' job listing for Amazon's first hire: You have to exceed what 'most competent people think possible'

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Jeff Bezos published a job listing for Amazon's first hire in August 1994, and it's completely in line with the way Bezos runs his tech empire today.

Thursday, Bezos posted a screenshot of the job listing on Instagram.

"I posted our first job opening 25 years ago today, when I hadn't even settled on the name Amazon yet," he wrote. (The name at the time was Cadabra, a shortened version of the magician's expression, "abracadabra." After Bezos' lawyer said "Cadabra" sounded like "cadaver" over the phone, Bezos changed it.)

"Feels like yesterday," Bezos wrote, ending with the hashtag "#gratitude."

Bezos' listing said he was seeking "extremely talented" developers "to help pioneer commerce on the Internet." And with the same high standards Bezos requires today, he wrote that candidates should be able to build large, complex systems "in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible."

That exacting work ethos became an important principle at the company and helped Bezos build Amazon into a business that currently has an $866.3 billion market cap.

In his first letter to shareholders in 1997, Bezos touted his deliberate hiring as "the single most important element of Amazon.com's success."

"The past year's success is the product of a talented, smart, hard-working group, and I take great pride in being a part of this team. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success," Bezos said.

He continued: "It's not easy to work here (when I interview people I tell them, 'You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can't choose two out of three'), but we are working to build something important, something that matters to our customers, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about. Such things aren't meant to be easy. We are incredibly fortunate to have this group of dedicated employees whose sacrifices and passion build Amazon.com."

When I interview people I tell them, "You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can't choose two out of three."
Jeff Bezos
Founder and CEO, Amazon

Two decades later, Amazon's "high standards" were still a key theme.

"You're going to build better products and services for customers — this would be reason enough! Perhaps a little less obvious: people are drawn to high standards — they help with recruiting and retention," Bezos wrote in his 2017 annual letter, published in April 2018. "[I]t's part of what it means to be a professional," Bezos continued. And "high standards are fun! Once you've tasted high standards, there's no going back."

Amazon has been criticized for pushing employees to work too hard and in poor conditions. Amazon denies the accusations. In an industry leading move, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour last year. But still, the momentum to unionize has accelerated among some of the 650,000 employees around the world.

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