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Jeff Bezos’ Hiring Strategy in Amazon’s Early Days: The ‘Anti-Pitch’; Rather than tell prospects how happy and amazing Amazon is, Jeff Bezos would tell them that “it’s not easy to work here.” It had a powerful, intended effect — there was no disillusionment over what Amazon was when the prospect eventually joined. Those who chose Amazon in spite of the anti-pitch knew what they were getting into, and had in fact self-selected for the challenge. Amazon became known as a company whose engineers were intense and elite.

Jeff Bezos’ Hiring Strategy: The ‘Anti-Pitch’

WALTER CHENIDONETHIS BLOG AUG. 23, 2013, 3:36 PM 2,580 1

Today, the competition for top tech talent is as fierce as it’s ever been, and without a high-performing team, it’s tough to survive. It makes sense that such intense competitive pressure drives startup founders to pitch their company to prospective hires in ever more grandiose terms, exaggerate how well their company is “crushing it,” and make their culture sound like the happiest place on earth. How else can you stand out to a top candidate who’s considering offers from all of the hottest companies? It’s counterintuitive, but Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos takes a totally different approach to hiring: he gives prospects a hiring anti-pitch. Rather than tell prospects how happy and amazing Amazon is, Jeff Bezos would tell them that “it’s not easy to work here.” Even in 1997, during the dot-com boom, Bezos’s anti-pitch was stark and to the point: “You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”Bezos’s anti-pitch certainly made it tough to hire in Amazon’s early days, and it frustrated his management team who were desperate to staff up.

But it had a powerful, intended effect — there was no disillusionment over what Amazon was when the prospect eventually joined. Those who chose Amazon in spite of the anti-pitch knew what they were getting into, and had in fact self-selected for the challenge. Amazon became known as a company whose engineers were intense and elite.

Moreover, it turns out that negative information can actually make a pitch more appealing, and the anti-pitch is a technique that some salespeople recommend. Stanford business school professors Baba Shiv and Zakary Tormala have even observed what they call the “blemishing effect”, where negative information about a product “may actually strengthen a consumer’s positive impression.” The contrast provided by receiving negative information about something accentuates the positive information even more.

Although the blemishing effect doesn’t take place in all decision-making circumstances, the anti-pitch tactic is also an expression of a company’s commitment to transparency and practice of appreciating context rather than jumping to simplistic conclusions.

The right candidates for a company value a conversation around the whole truth and appreciate that eye-opening window into not just what problems may exist but how they can contribute and help. What’s more — with an anti-pitch, you’ll stick out from the hiring crowd.

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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