What do I look for in Microsoft hires?

I have often been asked by professionals and students – “What do you look for when you interview a candidate for a job at Microsoft?”  There is abundant information on the internet regarding Microsoft interview questions. Regardless of the questions, the foremost attribute I look for is passion – passion to solve hard problems, passion to use software as a way to build solutions, passion to make a difference, passion to make an impact and passion to succeed.  I feel that if one is passionate about something, one will find a way to make things happen.

In addition to passion, I also look for Integrity, Potential and Problem-Solving abilities.

1)       Integrity – I believe in empowering people to do their best.  This means giving them a lot of autonomy and freedom to be creative.  I ask myself – “Given autonomy, will this person to do the right thing for the company, customers and people they work with?” This is true both at entry and senior level positions.

2)       Potential – It is always great to find experienced candidates – candidates with deep expertise in their field. The dynamic nature of the software industry however, makes it imperative that a person has expertise in the ability to gain expertise, the “smarts” to be able to learn new technologies. I am a big believer in hiring on potential. Hiring on potential helps me optimize for the long-term.

3)       Problem-solving – I look for open and broad approaches to problem-solving.  I don’t make ‘Hire’ or ‘No-Hire’ decisions based on the candidate’s ability to solve a couple of interview specific problems. I tend to probe for general problem-solving skills, the ability to think out-of-the box and the ability to ask for help when appropriate.  


Comments (19)

  1. loc says:

    I think #2 should have been named "Potential & Experience", because "potential" is something you haven’t achieved, but have the capacity do it easily. When I first looked at your standards, I was like "easy money", but then I saw that you also want experience among the details. (Or, maybe I’m simply wrong having thought that "hiring on potential" means "no experience needed, just strong potential to excel at anything you do".)

    The first thing most hiring managers in Redmond asked me was past experience, and it just threw me off. I’d rather attack the problem solving first to get relaxed. Why haven’t them got creative and give me options? Does memorizing exactly what you previously did in the past help you excel in the next job? Yeah, it does make you look like you’re well-prepared for the interview, and that’s it. With that said, I will gain expertises, plus I will describe my past experience fluently and I will tell them about myself in one breath, if that’s what you guys like.

  2. Somasegar says:

    Hi Loc,

    Experience is very valuable. I don’t mean to know that experience is not interesting or relevant.

    However, sometimes if people don’t have the "right" experience, we tend to discount that instead of taking a bet and hiring "on potential".

    – somasegar

  3. loc says:

    I was just thinking that doing something and describing what you did are 2 different things, and at some point, I felt like I was judged based on how I described my experience, which was not so fluently. I thought a problem solving being the first one asked could break the ice and get me in a rhythm.

    Come to think of it, I wouldn’t take a bet either, if I were hiring people. Thanks.

  4. Bharath says:

    It is interesting to note that many MS employees echo a similar view. I like this consistency.

    A good post. Thanks.

  5. loc says:

    Bharath, if you like this post, this somewhat related news article also reiterate this view from Bill Gates (at the end):

    "In fact, we’re always on the lookout for somebody who loves software, but knows it so well they’re seeing how it can be applied in different ways. In an interview process it’s one of the best things to ask somebody about some problem that they’re working on that they’re passionate about, to see their depth of understanding and how they go about it, rather than asking them some very specific questions. You take the area where they have let themselves put a lot into it, whether it’s a big computer problem, or some problem in the sciences that they think software can apply to."


    He also mentioned about "natural interface", which is what had got me interested for years. This field is going to be good.

  6. Outside the box? This is where the rumours and reputations about Microsoft interviews come from <g>

    Cue Mount Fuji comments.

  7. Srikanth says:


    Great Post!


  8. Mikolaj says:

    Loc, if you built, say, a dog house and you cannot describe fluently (-ish) what you did, then what is your level of understanding of what you were through?

    The way you describe your experience can tell a lot about yourself. I suppose there is no way to fake that you have learnt much from that experience if you haven’t.

    Oh well, that’s at least my idealized view. I have yet to see someone on the other end of table, who shares this view 🙂

  9. Dave says:

    Re: "Does memorizing exactly what you previously did in the past help you excel in the next job?"

    Yes, it does. I think as creatively as the next guy. More so, I like to think. But if you cannot remember the details of previous work, you are going to re-invent every time you do a project.

    The ability to remember the details allows you to say: "Hey, we wrote this already on a previous project. Let’s pull that code, and spend our creative energies on the components that are truly new work."

    Particularly at a place like Microsoft, where the focus is to ship working code, being able to re-use previous work to speed up an existing project looks to me like quite a valuable skill.

  10. Jeff says:

    Hi, I just had to put in my two cents here. I’ve been going through some Microsoft interviews and the issue you are discussing comes up for me. I have had questions about Server2003. I successfully setup and managed a mid-sized business network with it. I maintained it for about a year and did pretty darn well for a geek who had never used it before. I got pretty good when encountering a problem at drilling into the interface and solving a problem in a reasonable amount of time. The problem I have is that its been 8 months since I last saw the software, and when someone asks me a step by step description of how I solve a given problem in Server2003.. off the top of my head… It’s hard not to sound like I’m doing a little fishing. I was used to just drilling in and finding it. I frankly didn’t have time to memorize every damn screen and what the name of it was. Some interviewers seemed OK with that. As long as you could adequately explain WHAT the general process is, and what you were trying to do – that seemed to satsify. Others though seemed pretty dis-satisfied that you couldn’t name every screen and sub menu! I mean, even if I do recall a specific screen, do I remember what it was called? or how I got there?


  11. Sunshine says:

    Excellent post!!

    BTW I like your Namaste!

  12. loc says:

    Mikolaj: I share some aspects of your view. At the same time, I still think that, given some requirements, budgets, and resources, I’ve always been able to build the best doghouses, yet I couldn’t describe the experience, cause I never really sat down to polishly document every detail in writing, and then memorized them thoroughly. (Well, not having done this would just show them that I come unprepared to talk to them, wouldn’t it?)

    Dave: I can’t recall that I have reinvented anything, because I guess that when I am working on a project and facing all of its particular details, it’s so much easier for me to remember similar details from past projects.

    Jeff: I haven’t seen those kind of interviews, but it’d be extremely rare to ask such specific questions in interviews. But now I’ll try to be prepared for situations like that.

  13. Mikolaj says:

    Loc: I once interviewed a co-worker-to-be. We went through these experience questions "so you have been doing xyz" "I have been doing xyz" "have you worked with abc?" "I have worked with abc". The answers were quick and dull, made me think I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t see things in a broader context. Then I realized that I have not asked a single high level question. So we started chatting about projects and I got to know what he otherwise wouldn’t have said. The pace was much slower, but the impression was much better. Otherwise he would have left me disenchanted, although his answers were exactly to the point and most were given on a single breath. As a software engineer I am not a seasoned interviewer, my dull resume questions will produce dull answers and I will be unhappy. It was actually me being unprepared for the interview, asking questions not in line with my expectations. If you memorize, you have a tendency to make memory dumps and they can totally miss the boat in such a case.

  14. Sean says:

    I make my living placing people and I am very good at what I do. I am reading all the posts with a great amount of interest.

    Here is some of the things I tell all my candidates.

    1. You have to be prepared to talk about anything that is written on the resume. Talk about it in a substantive way.

    2. Be prepared to answer very open ended questions. i.e. What is your biggest challenge or tell me about your project.

    3. If you don’t know sometime or don’t recall something just say so…no use in pretending or dancing around it. You need to give a sense of knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know.

    4. Be prepared to ask your own questions. Often you can reveal much about you know by what type of question you are asking.

    5. Be prepared for the questions that are completely not within the job description or something that seemingly has nothing to do with anything.

    6. Ask questions that are important to you to help you determine if you are going to take the position.

    The fact is that there are many people who are responsible for hiring but have no real idea about how to evaluate someone elses skills. They don’t know the right questions to ask, they often ask ambigious questions where there is more then one right answer. They pass on perfectly good candidates for reasons that make little sense.

  15. Bhasker says:

    I agree totally for being passionate about what you do .Sometimes intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.But as a student,the trick is how to be able to rally yourself to the point where you place yourself in a situation where you are guaged on the three points you have mentioned ,and then improvising on them after reaching a stage where you are notcied.I think that remains the challenge – juggling the visibility of yourself ,with that of your forms!

    Kee Clicking,

    Bhasker V Kode

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  17. S. Somasegar (or just "Soma," as we call him here) tells you what he looks for when he evaluates Microsoft