Roy Exum: The ‘Bar Raisers’ At Amazon

Friday, January 10, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’m a huge believer in Amazon, especially since hundreds of its 110,000 employees work at the huge distribution center here. When CEO Jeff Bezos recently announced the giant distribution company would one day employ drones to deliver packages, I thought it was great, although his scientists obviously know very little about the dogs that prowl in my neighborhood.

Now comes a story in the Wall Street Journal that one of Amazon’s most innovative tools in hiring people are the “bar raisers” who actually hire the upper-level employees at the vast chain of logistics, tablet manufacturing, and television production centers located in about half of our United States. A bar-raiser is an Amazon employee who, in addition to his regular job, interviews potential candidates – after the hiring process begins -- and screens out anyone who might be a misfit.

What is unbelievable is that the vetting process is all voluntary. A bar raiser does his or her job and then, for no additional pay, interviews a candidate for two to three hours in an effort to assure Amazon is getting a quality person who will fit in and become a long-term employee. “We want to be as objective and scientific in our hiring as possible,” Susan Harker, the vice president of global talent acquisition, told the reporters, and explained the bar-raisers often find out things previous interviews did not disclose.

Further, a bar-raiser can veto any candidate without question, even if the potential employee doesn’t work in their field of expertise. The “upside” is that a good bar-raiser is in a position for speedier promotions but some employees decline the role, saying time constraints and the fact there are so many applicants is too big a headache.

Last year Amazon added 30,000 new employees and has more than tripled its workforce in the last three years. While 75 percent of the workforce is warehouse jobs where the hiring process is more streamlined, the top 25 percent of its heady employees are almost all subject to bar-raisers because Amazon’s technology and development centers, for instance, require some of the best and brightest minds in America.

The story quoted John Vlasrelica, a former human resources executive who now owns his own company. “You want someone who can adapt to new roles in the company, not just someone who can fill a role that is vacant. It can be an expensive process because it takes so long, but think of how expensive it is to hire the wrong person.”

The Amazon “process” calls for the bar-raisers to not “just hire the best they see; they are willing to keep looking for the right talent.” That is why Amazon interviewed about 75,000 people to make 30,000 top-tier hires.

John Sullivan, a professor at San Francisco State, told WSJ that the rigid interview process signals Amazon is a demanding place to work with a lot of pressure. “If a job seeker feels like they want to run away from the building screaming after the interview, that’s probably a good sign they don’t belong there.”

* * *

AS EXPECTED, DENNIS Rodman apologized profusely for his idiotic tirade in an interview that took place during his “basketball diplomacy” in North Korea. He said he was sorry he “embarrassed so many people,” but the truth is the clown has been an embarrassment for most of his life. "I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dream of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It's not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It's not an excuse, it's just the truth.” And that is why America’s news media should totally ignore the one they call “The Worm.”

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FORMER VOL CARL PICKENS, who was somewhat of a troublemaker at the University of Tennessee before he played nine years with the Cincinnati Bengals, was found hiding in his attic on Sunday when police officers arrested him on charges of domestic violence in Gwinnett County near Atlanta. He last played in 2000 with the Tennessee Titans. Pickens was released on a $2,000 bond.

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A TROUBLESOME ANALYSIS on CNN says a survey of 21 colleges revealed 7 to 15 percent of athletes admitted to big-time universities cannot read at the college level when they are recruited and enter school. In records submitted by the University of Georgia, for instance, 7.5 percent of the athletes scored below 400 on the reading portions of the SAT exam, including 22 football players. At Clemson 15 percent were not “college literate” when they enrolled in school.

* * *

STATE REP. SHERRY JONES (D-Nashville) will introduce a bill in the Tennessee legislature soon that will authorize prescription sales of marijuana in the Volunteer state. Other states are allowing medicinal marijuana, too. “It is just simply a matter of being rational and compassionate,” she said, “It would apply to only the most severely debilitated people … children suffering a hundred seizures a day, people on chemotherapy, people with multiple sclerosis … people with a plethora of diseases.”

* * *             

HOW ABOUT GABRIELLE Giffords, the former Congresswoman from Arizona? To celebrate the three-year anniversary from when she was severely shot and six others were killed outside a grocery store by a madman, she went sky-diving on Thursday and told the Today show she hasn’t ruled out running for office again.

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