One of the things I’m working on for this blog is to write posts that address my own personal FAQs — questions that people always ask me and I end up having to answer repeatedly. Now I’ve come up with the fabulous solution: I’ll just point them at my blog! At Penn, one of the best resources for interview advice is fellow classmates that have interviewed and I have already given advice and helped several friends prep (as well as having been given advice to). 🙂

My Interview at Microsoft

I interviewed for Microsoft as a college hire in early October/December 2005. I went through a first-round interview for the position of Associate Product Manager through on-campus recruiting. My campus recruiter basically took me through certain behavioral questions (see earlier post about how I tend to prep for a behavioral interview), asked me “Why Microsoft?”, and posed a few easy marketing questions.

For this initial interview, I came prepared with one Microsoft product that I was really excited about and would like to work for. I personally chose MSN Spaces. 🙂 I also developed a list of things I think they are doing right, and things they are doing wrong with suggestions on how to improve them. An example of a marketing question that I encountered is, What Microsoft product do you like, Why?, How would you improve it? How would you market it? Another marketing question that I was asked was, if BillG gave you all his money and said you could start a company on campus, what would you create and why, and how would you market it? To a certain extent, a fundamental understanding of marketing seemed important but it also seemed like a “fit interview” — trying to determine whether or not you are excited, curious and passionate about technology and interested in working in Redmond.

Something like 4–6 weeks after that, I was invited for an interview at Redmond for the Search Marketing Specialist position instead of APM. Since then the position has been retitled to Search Media Strategist. This was great — Microsoft pays to ship you out to Seattle, gives you money to eat, and it was a great opportunity for me to see my boyfriend and family. I had a pretty decadent weekend of eating at Ruth’s Chris, Cheesecake Factory and Salty’s on Alki. I have to admit I’m somewhat of a foodie.

My interview took place at Red West at 12pm. Generally, you don’t get the names of people in your interview loop, but my recruiter actually provided me with the first three names. I spent the morning looking over the Microsoft Careers website, reading some background articles on search that a professor had sent me, and also Googlestalking all my interviewers to see whether they had anything interesting about them online.

I knew Microsoft was a “casual” workplace (they always show up to recruit in jeans), but I went to my interview in a suit anyway because I figured this was a business role. I don’t know what the norm is but my guess is nice business casual would also be acceptable.

Interviews either take place in a stationary fashion — you sit in a meeting room or empty office, and your interviewers come to you — or traveling fashion — you spend the day traveling around to each person. I had a stationary interview. They put me in a little office and I went through 6 interviews by the end of the day. I was pretty exhausted because 12–6pm is actually 3–9pm. Being a nocturnal college student pays off!

Each interviewer asked me questions around one or two topic areas (I figured this out by the end of the interview). They were roughly mapped to the Microsoft Mission & Values. For instance, one interviewer might be evaluating me on two buckets, my communication skills & ability to escalate, while another may be asking questions around my technical knowledge and knowledge about the product. In my case, I didn’t have any of those infamous Microsoft brainteasers or hard puzzles. I was having a great time having interesting conversations with people. One of my MBA mentors who interned and later signed on for Microsoft gave me the advice that the great thing about Microsoft interviews is that they are happy when it becomes a conversation and not a straight Q&A. They definitely have to cover certain topics, but having a back-and-forth conversation is encouraged and liked.

I’m glad that I had spent the morning and the flight to Seattle preparing lots of questions about adCenter, MSN Search, and group/culture at Microsoft because then I had an opportunity to ask lots of questions from each interviewer and get their particular insights. Since I didn’t know a lot about the SMS position when I interviewed, I thought this was a great opportunity. Each interviewer spent about 45 minutes talking with me and answering my questions, then left for ~15–25 minutes. I used the time to gather my thoughts, come up with any follow-up questions, and also took notes on what I had talked about before. From what I’ve been told by people who have interviewed at MS, in the gap between the interviews the person that interviewed you communicates to everyone else in your interview loop about your interview with them and also makes a hire recommendation. The implication of this is that they know what you already talked about with the people that you interviewed with before, and they also may have asked that interviewer to follow up.

All my interviews were relatively relaxed which is a contrast to some consulting ones that I’ve been through (ahem: formulaic Accenture interviews!) They were pretty amused that I had Googl-uh, MSN-Searched my interviewers beforehand. My first interview was with my internal recruiter. My second and third interviews were with Search Marketing Analysts (SMAs). My fourth interview was with a Lead SMA, my fifth was with a manager, and my sixth (AA) was with a director. What I’ve heard and read is that if your first few interviews lead into a no-hire recommendation, you get sent home early because it doesn’t make sense to occupy busy higher level people with candidates that aren’t getting a hire recommendation. The AA — As Appropriate — interview is usually with some high-level person who makes a final check on the candidate. It was a relief for me because in my AA, the director walked in and straightaway told me that I’d had a unanimous hire recommendation. We then had a great discussion about effective HR recruiting practices, the ongoing strategy of MSN Search, and he asked me a few questions.

Questions that are pretty easy to prepare before you go are: why Microsoft? and then why this group/position in specific? For a college hire this is pretty important because we are at some point going for just “a job” without any clearly articulated reasons for understanding why we are pursuing it. It was a good exercise for me to think through this question especially since my other career interest was relatively different (consulting) and it helped me determine where to sign on in the end.

I walked out of my interview around 6pm, celebrated with a nice dinner and movie, and relaxed the rest of the weekend before flying back to Philadelphia. It took them a while to formally make the offer, but I knew I had landed it. The SMO organization generated several questions for me, and I used them also to keep in touch with the org while I was waiting on paperwork. I had all these questions answered, had an offer made, and after a bit of negotiation accepted the job! As a college student, I was really glad to be all set with the job decision in December for August. Knowing 8 months in advance that you have a job makes for a chill final semester.

One observation that I have of this interview versus other interviews is that a lot of the interviews documented online seem to be focused on what happens in a technical role, ie if you are interviewing for SDET, SDE or PM. I got no puzzles, and I didn’t even have to do the product manager style interviews of whiteboarding or making presentations. This primarily seemed to be a fit and behavioral interview, but it might also be because I’m a college and not experienced hire. I’m writing this post from the perspective of what I knew before the interview and the immediate responses afterward. This is an amalgam of asking people I know questions, reading blogs, and general information you can find from googling.

Ada Chen