Jared Wymer: Life at Amazon

Jared Wymer: Life at Amazon

Constantly Improving Work Habits

One of the first things I heard in grad school was: Get used to B’s instead of A’s. And I had a knee-jerk reaction to that. But you know what - I’m pretty OK with high B’s now, and solving cool problems with cool people for a really cool company. So you just need to decide what trade-offs you’re willing to live within your life and divide and conquer.
— Jared Wymer

Jared Wymer is a Program Manager for Global Talent Management at Amazon. Jared started out by enlisting in the Marine Corps, where he served for eight years in logistics, supply chain management, and intelligence, while also pursuing and receiving an undergraduate degree and MBA. Jared transitioned from the Marines into a Ph.D. program, working concurrently in finance and as a Fellow for the Department of State. Since that time Jared started his own consulting company, Wymer & Associates, and joined Amazon. Jared is currently one year away from obtaining his Ph.D.

The top takeaways from this episode are:

  • Amazon - Jared talks about working at a fast-paced, top technology company like Amazon. He discusses interviewing tips and advice on finding the right job for you.

  • Improving your working habits - being in Global Talent Management, Jared has a few tips for any veteran on how to grow, improve, and stay ahead.

  • Education - Jared talks about getting a Ph.D. while working full time, and advice on higher education.

How would you describe what you do at Amazon to someone on active duty?

Program Management is similar to most NCO's responsibilities - a go-between for people aligned with a certain program: how you promote someone, a piece of software, event planning, etc. In general, it's aligning with one of these things and bringing together the users of the product and the team responsible for it, and helping it come off without a hitch. It’s a lot of stakeholder management.

Talent Management specifically handles promotions, performance reviews and a lot of your experience with the company once you are hired.

Take us through leaving the military to now. What do you want listeners to know?

Build your network while on active duty - talk to people who leave before you do; people at universities you're thinking of applying to; people who have jobs you admire. I didn't get into Amazon through a traditional recruiting process - it was through a friend of a friend, where I emailed my application directly to a hiring manager. This has happened several times. This was true of my first job out of the military, which was in finance. Keep talking to people and take every moment you have to think about where you might want to go and where it is possible to go.

Figure out how to talk about what you did within the military - get comfortable telling your story in a way a civilian can understand. Peers and your network can start to teach you the vocabulary and how you want to talk about your experiences. Storytelling is very important.

Networking can get a bad connotation in the military. Can you talk us through how you think about it?

Networking is rarely about me - it's about the person I'm speaking with and what value I can add to them. Things your network can help you to figure out include: where to move after the military, back home or somewhere else? What degree/school/certification is right for me? What do they like or dislike about a certain role?

What drew you to Amazon initially and what do you love about your job now?

It was the right place and the right time - there was an opening available at the right time for me. Amazon has many of the positives from the military - there is a high standard for everything and it pays to be a winner. Amazon does not have much red tape - you're encouraged to run fast and people are willing to take risks on you. Many Marines are offered jobs after they get out that don't take advantage of their full skill set. Amazon is the opposite of this. They understand where you've done and where you want to go. If you can prove yourself once or twice, they will make BIG bets on you.

It's also a great example of the importance of narrative - everything they do is based on an overarching vision document. Nothing gets done without a vision document. You synthesize where you want to go and how you want to get there.

What advice do you have for people looking to apply to Amazon?

First off, you should be familiar with the STAR interviewing method (situation, task, action, result). Make sure you have examples from your experience, what you did, what was the outcome, who did you do it with. You should be able to talk about your resume in 2-3 different ways in this STAR format.

Amazon, similar to the military, is very serious about their leadership principles. You can research them easily online, but every interview is structured around these leadership principles. Veterans sometimes shy away from "name dropping" or referring to leadership principles directly, but people love it when you do this.

There is a whole new veterans initiative at Amazon. You could apply at Amazon.com/jobs, but it's hard to make it through this way. The link below in the Resources section is much better. It goes directly to teams of military-specific recruiters, most of whom are veterans or military spouses themselves.

As someone who works in Talent Management, what career advice do you have for veterans a few years out of active duty? How can they succeed and move forward in their current roles?

People at Amazon move at the speed of Amazon, and there is a lot of ambiguity in each role. The #1 best thing you can do is - regardless of role or company - have a framework that reduces the ambiguity you're feeling. It will make you more happy and content, and will also help you move forward when you do have an ambiguous situation.

An example would be 3-4 conversations where everyone is brought together, and they decide as a group which action items are dropped from the communal list, and which are given priority. A timeline is established with all major deliverables and milestones, and 5 minutes of conversation around each milestone is re-grounding everyone in where they are in the process, and what steps are involved between different parts. It leads to a lot more collaboration and identifying potential faults.

Tell me more about pursuing a Ph.D. while working full time:

Working full time while pursuing a Ph.D. is difficult. One thing that helped me is creating lists of people who could provide honest feedback, people who could provide empathy, a career board of advisors, and a list of people who are my social support. Throughout the Ph.D. process, I viewed a part-time or full-time job as a way to continue to network and have a social circle outside of the Ph.D. process. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when your life is just in one bucket, and it’s always been positive for me to work as well as pursue the Ph.D. I have two brothers who have done this as well.

We have all had to make a decision between grades or research and having great professional experiences at the same time. I think any negatives are outweighed by already having a job, having exponentially more business contacts, a loaded resume and getting to apply what I learn as I learn it. I get to bounce what’s in the book against what I experience in the real world.

What advice do you have for veterans considering pursuing a Ph.D.?

Service 2 School was in their nascent stages when I was looking into grad schools. They are awesome. Whoever you are and wherever you are looking to go, they are a huge resource you should definitely take advantage of. I still help a few people every month through S2S, mostly helping rewrite statements of purpose for admissions.

Any grad school or Ph.D. program is going to seem like a lot. Don’t be afraid to call people or schools directly. I found so much information by calling the universities I was applying to and professors I would work with. It provided incredible insight as well as an inside track to admission. It was great to hear from the professors what exactly they’re doing, what their specific goals are, and what programs are available. Many school websites are not updated as frequently as you'd expect, so it's important to get the info first hand or from sites like TheGradCafe.com. The program I actually got into wasn’t even on the website.

For grad school in general, it’s really important to look beyond your immediate goals. Understand if this is where you want to end up, or if it is a stepping stone to something else. As always, think 2-5 steps ahead so you can stay ahead of where you want to go.

I always like to leave the last question open-ended. Do you have any last thoughts or words of wisdom you would like to share with our veteran and active duty listeners?

A lot of the time we don't talk to each other about our successes and failures, and our time in the military can feel like high school rather than getting to know people on a deeper level. Talk to each other about the highs and lows, whether it is professional, educational or otherwise. In doing this you will also come across people who tell you something cannot be done. Be your own myth busters.

Veterans have a lot of qualifications and this can make things scary and ambiguous - we don't know how to tell our story or brand ourselves. Get out there, talk to people, get out of your current circle to figure out what you want to do and how to talk about your past. It can be very cathartic to talk through what you’ve been through in your time in the military, what it means to you, and what it should mean to someone else.

Celebrate the small things in your life. When you're a young military member, celebration may seem to be just about going out drinking on a Friday night. As you get older, intentionally celebrate the small wins - you got a job, redid your resume, got into a program, met new friends. This gratitude can really help you navigate times of transition and uncertainty in life. Intentionally take time to reflect on the positive things in your life.

About the Author

Rick is an active duty U.S. Navy instructor pilot currently stationed in Corpus Christi, TX. He holds engineering degrees from the U.S. Naval Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After earning his wings of gold as a U.S. Navy Pilot, Rick served four years as a P-3C Patrol Plane Commander and Mission Commander, including deployments to Europe, Africa, and East Asia. 

He enjoys cooking and spending time with his wife and young daughter, and can recite several Paw Patrol episodes from memory.