Seen lots of talk lately, about what the Microsoft interview entails (puzzle questions, white board drawings, etc.). My sense is that people are trying to do 2 things: 1) prepare for the interview and 2) control their nerves by knowing what to expect from their interviews. Well, I can’t do too much about the nerves part except tell you to breathe, get a good nights sleep and take it easy on the caffeine. But I can tell you how to prepare for the Microsoft interview.
1) Know your resume. Before you say “duh”, let me tell you what I mean. Most people with a current resume wrote it a month or 2 ago. In fact, many people today, including myself, keep their resume up to date (never know when you are going to need it for a speaker bio, etc.). Sometimes you can look back on something you have written and wonder what you were thinking; what was the actual point you were trying to make by wording things the way you did. If you are using bullet points, have a little snippet of dialog in your head to explain in a little more detail (as I’ve said before, a resume is a teaser….you shouldn’t try to explain it all on paper). Easiest way to do this is to take every bullet point and ask yourself “how, why and who”. OK, so let me give you an example. Let’s say I am a product manager and the first bullet point under my current role says “ Managed product roadmap, providing clear product and feature strategy for company’s X product”
How- (How did you do it? What made you successful?) I acted as team lead, owning the roadmap for X product. As we were evaluating potential opportunities in the server space, I noticed that this market was underserved and pitched to exec management a product that would…
Why- (why is your work important to the company)-this opened up a new market for us and allowed us to increase sales of existing products by demonstrating…
Who (who else was involved and what was your relationship to them?)- I worked closely with corporate research on a market segmentation strategy, then engaged directly with our filed sales organization to develop key customer scenarios. I worked with my team to prioritize these scenarios and then engaged with program management to determine a time line for delivery. Then I led the effort to work closely with dev to create a PRD that was delivered 3 weeks ahead of schedule.
OK, it’s clear I am not a product manager, but you get the idea here. This exercise is especially important when you list achievements and/or results. An interviewer may not ask a lot of questions about some of the more mundane responsibilities listed. But if you state some kind of accomplishment, even if just out of curiosity, you’ll be asked how you accomplished it. Working well in teams and across orgs is super important here so always be thinking about who else was involved. Knowing who to tap or collaborate with is more important then knowing how to do all the work yourself. And keep in mind when answering that your interviewer may want more or less detail. You have to gauge this based on how they ask the question and their body language. But if you have them a quick snippet, you could ask them if they want more detail on X,Y and Z. This keeps you from explaining in depth about Z when they are really interested in Y.
2) Know your space. If you are working in a certain technology market space (business intelligence, security or server for example), it’s a good idea to see what is going on in the competitive environment if that is not something that you have checked out recently. Folks in marketing and product management here really know their space and expect that you know yours. So you should know your top competitors in your space, their strengths and weaknesses, how you are positioned against them, etc. (see below for some research recommendations)
3) Know our space. Specifically, do some research on the product space that the Microsoft position sits in. A great place to start is analyst reports (I would look at both industry analysts like Gartner and Jupiter–for reports , blogs and press releases– and also financial analyst like Merryl Lynch). This is where I start when I’m going to recruit in a new space. Use some research tools like Hoovers or just google the heck out of it. Look at the websites of some of our competitors and also Microsoft.com (there are product links off the main page targeted at potential customers, press releases, and more product info off of our PR site). This will give you a sense of the taxonomy used around this product and how we are positioning the product.
4) Anticipate questions. This is what I did and you might call me a big nerd for doing it or just a little crazy. I tried to look objectively at my background and predict what questions I would be asked. Honestly, I was asked a lot of questions other than what I wrote down, but it gave me sense of control going into the interview and was kind of like a positioning exercise. My answer to the basic questions of why I wanted to work at Microsoft and what I would see myself doing long term reinforced what I saw as myself as someone on the leading edge of recruiting who likes challenge and change. Dare I say that I feel I did an effective job of “branding” myself?
5) Come with questions of your own. Listen, every interviewer is going to ask you if you have questions. Have some. It can be kind of awkward if you don’t have any. Some of your questions to the interviewer can be kind of personal (”what do you find most challenging about the position?”, “how does Microsoft compare to other companies you have worked for”, “how much of your time is spent in meetings?“) and some general (”what is the potential career path for someone coming into this type of role?” “What is the hiring manager’s style” “what is the culture of the team?”). Get your more important questions answered at the front end of the interviews so you can save some for later. You can recycle the personal questions, if needed, but be careful. Interviewers do compare notes and if you ask the same thing over and over, they will know. Also, make sure that the person hasn’t already addressed the question during the interview. Your questions show your desire to make a good decision and show that you take your interviews seriously.
6) Don’t get too wrapped up in the puzzle questions. We don’t do many puzzle questions on the business side (that’s not to say you won’t get any). The questions we do are more case study oriented and focused on marketing. The work you do to understand your space and the product space you are interviewing in will serve you well. But here’s the deal…there are about a bazillion different case study questions out there. You can’t really do much else to prepare for them other than maybe reviewing some b-school cases as a warm up; just to get your mind in the right mode. We want to see how you think in answering these questions so know that you have to walk the interviewer through your analysis and recommendation (did you look at the right things, did you make a solid recommendation). But I think if you look at too many websites full of Microsoft interview questions (almost all are aimed at tech candidates), you are going to freak yourself out for no reason. Notice, I am not linking to anything here…
7) Know why you want to work here. We know that you wouldn’t come here to interview unless you wanted to be here. But consider this an exercise in restrained enthusiasm and articulation. Every single interviewer is going to ask you. The thing is, we are all pretty stoked to be here (and I am saying this after being here 5 years even!) and we want you to be too ; )
If I think of some more prep exercises, I’ll add them. Anyone else have good ideas for preparing for interviews?