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The hardest interview question a top Amazon recruiter asks—and how to answer it

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It's nearly impossible to anticipate all the questions you will be asked in a job interview. Though some questions typically remain the same across the board, such as "Tell me about yourself" and "Why do you want to work here?" employers will often throw in trickier prompts, designed to better assess your work style as well as your problem-solving skills, to narrow their candidate pool.

Amazon senior recruiter DJ Cabeen tells CNBC Make It that there's always one question that trips up job applicants — but if you answer it well, you will make a lasting impression. 

Cabeen asks each candidate he interviews the same question: "How have you used data to influence teams, define your strategies or build something new?" Amazon is a detailed, data-driven company, but "it's surprising how few people use good, solid data to back up their work," Cabeen says. 

Even if you're applying for a job that isn't data-driven on the surface, having metrics that back up your skills, such as revenue numbers, manager feedback and customer traffic, will help you stand out in an interview.

One of Amazon's leadership principles, "Dive Deep," captures this attention to numbers: "Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ," Amazon's jobs website explains.

Asking candidates this question helps Amazon hiring managers determine how well someone fits this leadership principle, and how data factors in to their decision-making. "We want to know exactly what kind of results were achieved from a work experience or project," Cabeen explains. "Give us hard numbers and percentages: how did you save the company money? Did you save your co-workers time?" 

Before any interview you should reflect on your previous work experience and find moments throughout your career where you have leveraged data to achieve a goal, Cabeen recommends. "Find those numbers, write them down and make sure you come prepared to the meeting with that information if you really want to impress the interviewer," he says.

Another trap potential hires fall into is giving incomplete answers to questions related to data and problem solving, Cabeen adds, focusing on the solution rather than explaining the issue and how they conquered it. "We want to know more about the situations you found yourself in and how you progressed through it: what kind of roadblocks did you face? What kind of stakeholders did you have to engage with?" he explains. "Then we want to hear the results." 

If you're worried you don't have solid data, because you're coming from an unfulfilling job or because you've been without work, don't panic. Think about what the work you've accomplished or lessons you've learned throughout the pandemic, and how they've made you a stronger, smarter person.

"Showcase what you're running to, not what you're running away from," Cabeen says. "What have you taken from that experience that you can now use in this job? There's teachable moments in every life circumstance, no matter what you've been through, you can bring all kinds of valuable experience to the table."

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