August 13, 2003 interview

Robert Scoble on Interviewing at Microsoft

Robert Scoble (the Scobleizer) sent along his answer to a common question: What is it like to interview at Microsoft?

About dress code while interviewing at Microsoft. Yeah, I wore a suit and tie. Not mandatory (no one wears them up here) but I feel it still shows respect for the company hiring you, and for the interviewing process. And, it makes it so I never wonder if I under dress. Microsoft employees might joke with you about being overdressed, though. That’s cool. I’d rather that then have someone write me off cause I didn’t dress well enough. But then, I was also up for a job that required me to be in front of people, so I’d expect to wear a suit and tie on the job occasionally.

The process for me was:

  1. An exec asked me would you ever consider working here?”
  2. A one-hour phone interview with HR. They asked me questions to make sure my experience matched my resume, and also to make sure I wasn’t gonna embarrass them in the longer interviews.
  3. I passed the HR interview, so they flew me up to Redmond.
  4. My interviews started at 8:30 a.m. First interview was with someone else from HR. She explained the process, and asked a few more questions to ensure I was gonna be worth sending onto the first group.
  5. She gave me a list of three candidates, which would take me through lunch. She was pretty clear that if the three liked me, I’d get another list of after lunch” candidates.
Each interviewer would meet me at the lobby (Microsoft has a recruiter shuttle that’ll fly you around). I’d usually try to get a question in, like what role do you play here?” Just to get things going.

The kinds of questions you’ll get will vary, but I got a lot of questions about past experience, and some more fun ones how would you get Google to convert from Linux to Windows?” Other people have gotten questions like how would you sell ice to eskimos?” or how would you sell a pen to someone?”

If you’re up for a programmer job, they’ll ask you logic questions, and ask you to demonstrate that you can think in code on the whiteboard.

One guy asked me to explain the architecture of Radio UserLand on the whiteboard.

There’s an excellent book written on the Microsoft interviewing process called “Moving Mount Fuji.“

I also read Chris Sells’ Interviewing at Microsoft” site:

Some more advice: I came an hour early and took an early-moring walk around the campus. That helped me calm my mind down, and get into what it’s like being there. Also, it let me think about why do I want to work at Microsoft?” which was one of my first interview questions.

I brought my own water bottle. That saved awkward moments where interviewers would want to take you to the company refrigerators. It also makes it look like you aren’t there to take advantage of Microsoft’s largess. Try not to drink too much during the day. The temptation is to drink a Diet Coke on every interview. You can get a bit jittery by the end of the day.

I also treated everyone I met as an interview candidate. I have no idea if the recruiting shuttle drivers report back on their feedback or not, but why take the chance? Plus, the stories you hear are often good ones to tell later on.

They did interview me over lunch, by the way, and also took me to a Sonics’ game . I’m sure that was to get a feel for how I’d be in social situations. Behave, and geek out! (we only watched about five minutes of the Sonics’ game cause we were so busy talking tech).

I later found out that they usually have three to seven candidates fly up for each job and that flying up isn’t any guarantee of a job. A few friends have gotten flown up and didn’t pass muster.

My wife has interviewed here too and didn’t get hired. I think it’s solely on passion. Most of the people who work here are hard-core geeks and they like hiring other geeks. Anything you can say to demonstrate that you’re a geek and that you love playing with technology is probably a good thing.

Later I found out that the flyup interview is mostly to see if the candidate can fit into both the job, and work with the team. They figure you’re mostly qualified because you got that far. They’re just trying to make sure you’ll fit in at that point.

Don Box also gave me some advice: we want you to think, so think.” The way another friend of mine put it, is look like you think about every answer. Take a few seconds to think about it.”

My answer to the Google question? Acquire them.” Hey, it worked for Hotmail. (Seriously, then I followed that smartass answer up with a more serious one ) . Luckily I had spent a few hours with some of the kids who started Hotmail, so I knew what the pain points were in getting them to move their system from FreeBSD to Windows.

When did I know I had the job? At about 6 p.m., the guy who invited me up, told me I had gotten a job. Turned out I wasn’t appropriate for the job I was interviewing for (which he knew) and then he made a new job. It took a couple of weeks to get all the T-s crossed from that point. Other people don’t learn whether or not the got the job for a week or two afterward. It’s OK to ask at the end.

If you get walked to the door at lunch, though, you know you blew it somewhere. (Not many get walked to the door, from what the recruiting shuttle drivers tell me).

One last piece of advice: keep your energy up all day long. It’s tough. Hard to think straight at 4 p.m. after answering questions all day long. But, a lot of the decisions are made on does this guy get excited by technology?”

Good luck in your interviews!