For the first article in our mini-series on working in Luxembourg we interviewed Georgina Yellowlees of Amazon to find out more about the company's operations here, and the career opportunities at hand.
Yellowlees is Australian by birth but has lived in Luxembourg for seven years, before which she lived in London. We met Yellowlees, who is Amazon's EMEA director of talent acquisition, for an interview Amazon's offices in the Grund in late 2018. She offers the friendly and outgoing first impression of a driven but down-to-earth character, very much in line with the corporate values she would later tell us about.
The reason for the interview was to find out what Amazon, the 11th largest employer in Luxembourg, actually gets up to in the Grand Duchy - and get the inside scoop on how to land a job with them, for those seeking a change in career.
Amazon Luxembourg - the basics
Before delving into what the company does, we asked Yellowlees to tell us a bit about the operational side of things in Luxembourg. For instance, how many employees do they actually have?
"We're around 2000 people in Luxembourg at the moment, and have lots of postings for growth. I think we have hundreds of roles posted with a continued focus on Luxembourg as the hub," said Yellowlees. The employees come from over 100 nationalities across Europe and indeed the world.
She also noted that Luxembourg is Amazon's EU headquarters, which means that they host a range of different business operations within the country - ranging from their retail business, to operations, devices (including Kindle and Alexa), and AWS (Amazon Web Services). In other words, the range of activities undertaken in the Grand Duchy is certainly broad.
Luxembourg is notoriously good at attracting large international companies. Some put that down to favourable tax arrangements, but Yellowlees provided a rather different rationale. To her and Amazon, the advantages go beyond the financial, starting with the purely geographical:
"It's the heart of Europe so that helps in terms of, for us, we're across so many different countries within the European market. It is actually accessible for us to be able to move across those countries. For instance, I have teams in 30 different sites across 10 countries within Europe. [...] We also have that fulfilment centre network which we're able to drive to through Luxembourg."
Yellowlees also highlighted the quality of life in Luxembourg, and the ability to attract talent from elsewhere:
"The other point is because it has become much more of a hub for diversity and expats, and people are attracted to living in Luxembourg. The Luxembourg government has put in a lot of effort into making Luxembourg an attractive place for people to come, and for families to live in, so I think from a family perspective it's a super location. In terms of schooling, the safety that you get within the Luxembourg environment, very good benefits when it comes to healthcare, so all of those different advantages I think make Luxembourg a great location for any organisation, and I think I'm quite privileged to have lived here for a long time as well."
She also sees value in the oft-bemoaned smallness of Luxembourg as compared to some of the other, perhaps more obvious, choices:
"I also quite like the fact that it's not a Paris or a London where you have to commute, so I think from a personal lifestyle you get much more out of life in Luxembourg and hours back."
Getting a job - what they look for
The job market in Luxembourg is competitive, so we wanted to find out what some of the big employers look for in their candidates. A common issue is language in the Grand Duchy is the abundance of languages spoken, which can sometimes be a hindrance for those of us who are not linguistically inclined. According to Yellowlees, that's not so much an issue at Amazon:
"The main language is English because we are an American organisation, so we do expect all management to speak fluent English and you do need to be able to write in English. We do put people through writing courses as well: We do how do you write a white paper at Amazon, or how do you write a PR FAQ at Amazon within the English language. But we are also very aware that English may be some people's third language, fourth language, and so how do we cater for diversity within that and cater for the fact that there are multiple different languages within the organisation. And maybe they can't express themselves as well in English or the written format, so how do we support that within the organisation so that it doesn't hinder their career growth."
What they look for in a candidate also depends on the role in question, of course. There will be different eligibility criteria depending on the position you are applying for, and some will require specific expertise (such as in tech, HR, or finance). Beyond that, the focus on Amazon's 14 leadership principles, says Yellowlees:
"In the end we have [...] the 14 leadership principles at Amazon. All our interviews are based on those leadership principles. So they are seen as competencies, and when we interview we interview against those to understand do people have a 'bias for action', where in their past have they shown 'think big', how do they show 'learn and be curious', for instance, so those are kind of the behavioural elements that we look for through the interview process."
Once you're in - career and training
Continuous professional and personal training opportunities can be crucial when it comes to developing your career - both within the organisation, and should you opt to move on to a new career in the future - so we wanted to find out more about the training the offer at Amazon:
"I have a programme management team in my organisation, and as part of that they all get PRINCE2 training. They do both internal and external training, so we have our own learning and development organisation and they will work on areas where it could be coaching for development, it could be leadership, it could be skill set based. We also do opportunities for underrepresented minorities, so we have forum where women might want to work together or learn from one another, or be in an environment where they feel safe to talk about things that may cause them issues. I think the other thing is that life ebbs and flows, and sometimes work is very important and sometimes personal life is very important, and Amazon is very conscious of how that works, so providing opportunities to people when things like that occur is very important to us in terms of being very human as an organisation."
There may be other training options available as well, such as taking on another language, but Yellowlees explained that this comes down to the priorities of the specific business you work for:
"Some businesses will support bringing in external language, some won’t, they may support more around coaching and development or going off and having a career coach, for instance, so it is also up to your manager as to what they would like to focus on in terms of your development."
She further explained that this is part of Amazon's philosophy of focusing on strengths:
"At Amazon we also tend to focus on strengths, so it's more of a superpower focus and not everyone is going to be super at every element of their job. In the past, and again at more traditional organisations, you focus on developing your development areas, but how far is that actually going to get you? So we want to focus on developing your strengths so that they do become superpowers, and then you can continue to move around that way."