Amazon’s Best Offer
Having completed her summer internship at an Amazon Inc. site in Kentucky, Gabrielle Totten was starting her first year in Clark University’s accelerated MBA program for undergraduates during the fall of 2018, when her phone rang with a number from the 206 area code. With no idea who it was and assuming it was likely a “robo-call,” she let it go to voicemail. Fortunately, the caller left a message. It was a human resource officer at Amazon headquarters in Seattle offering her a full time position upon graduation.
“I was thrilled,” Totten said while joking that she probably should have picked up the call. “Before leaving my internship, my boss informed me that she thought I did a great job and because of that, she was going to recommend me for a full-time position. The Seattle managers were impressed with the reviews I received and with the work I completed at my site, so they offered me the job.”
With an interest in human resources and organizational management, the dual management/psychology major was fortunate to experience both with a position in the HR department of a large Amazon fulfillment center (FC). Totten was certainly busy. Much of her job was hands on — walking the fulfillment floor, getting to know the employees and helping to address any questions they had. Being fluent in Spanish, she was of particular help to Spanish-speaking employees in translating their questions and issues for management. One of Totten’s primary responsibilities was to conduct what Amazon calls, “Seek to Understand” conversations, or STU’s. These are conversations that entail a human resource member speaking with associates on the floor about their job performance.
“In some STU’s, we would simply provide positive feedback when associates were meeting and exceeding expectations,” Totten explained. “In other instances we would address areas of concern that operations managers had identified or that our data system caught.”
Amazon’s vast use of data at her FC is one thing that surprised Totten, even within its human resources department. It wasn’t simply about culture; nearly everything, she noted, was quantifiable and measured. “I knew Amazon would be very numbers-based, but I learned a lot about how to successfully use data to a greater extent in organizational management. I was struck by how incredibly efficient every aspect of business functioning was at Amazon. ”
The largest part of Totten’s internship involved addressing a problem plaguing the Kentucky FC site. With a recent influx of employee applications from Somalia, the site did not have solid systems and documentation in place to help these particular associates, as it had with the English and Spanish-speaking employees. As a result, many Somali applicants and associates were failing safety training and tests, and thus otherwise qualified people were not hired or forced to be terminated. These terminations cost Amazon money, hence Totten was tasked with identifying ways to aid these workers and ensure their safety on site.
In short, Totten conducted independent research to evaluate internal FC procedures and the site’s utilization of outside resources. She provided her supervisors a few courses of action and, to her surprise, was given the liberty to implement them.
“Ultimately, I provided ideas for new techniques that the site integrated — and still continues to integrate — into its daily functions,” Totten said. “With my changes, the site will see a potential recovery of approximately $200,000 annually.”
Totten touts her Clark University courses and experiential learning opportunities as “instrumental” to her success at Amazon. From working and leading across cultures, to the lessons taught in her operations class, she felt at ease in the huge, successful company. However, it was the research experience she had gained in the classroom that proved to be the most important aspect.
“The research experience that I gained at Clark in both MBA and undergrad courses was ultimately what allowed me to see success,” she says. “The project I did over the course of the internship required me to complete research and then synthesize those findings in a real world way to make impactful recommendations. This process is one that I have completed a multitude of times within my management major.”
With a job at Amazon waiting for her immediately upon graduation, Totten can focus on her schoolwork and finishing the MBA program with one less thing to think about. She’ll start at Amazon as a Senior Human Resource Assistant, although she isn’t sure at what location yet, and is looking forward to the start of her career.
“I am very interested in organizational management and the psychology of the workplace,” she adds. “Ultimately, I hope to go into consulting – either organizational change management consulting or human capital consulting.”
By Meredith Galena
Communications Specialist, Academic Adviser
Graduate School of Management