Sample Microsoft Phone Interview

Here's a true (and funny) sample phone interview from "Bob" (not his real name):

One evening I decided to cruise Microsoft's online job openings database. Lo and behold, I found a job that sounded interesting (developing SDK material in support of their roll out of CryptoAPI and other security technologies). Off my resume went and about two weeks later, I got a call from someone at Microsoft HR, wanting to know if they could do a phone interview the following week... Sure, no problem. At the appointed hour, the phone rings and I answer. It's a lady from HR to do the interview. We cover some background, where I went to school, degrees, the stuff at the top of the resume, et cetera. Then she asks me about my current employer. I tell her I work for the DoD. Then the fun begins...

Q: DoD who?
A: Department of Defense, part of the U.S. Government.

Q: Oh, I don't think I've heard of them. What do they do?
A: (Long answer here referring to the Federal Governs, Department of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, civilian employees [I am civilian], Computer Security research, yada yada yada. She's taking notes.)

Q: How many commercial products have you shipped?
A: None.

Q: None? I thought you said you had developed software and products.
A: I did, but none of them are "commercial." You asked how many "commercial products." I work for the Government, we aren't commercial, QED.

Q: Who did you say you worked for?
A: D-E-P-A-R-T-M-E-N-T O-F D-E-F-E-N-S-E.

Q: What did they do again?
A: (Repeat above.)

Q: OK. What would you do if you were given 2 weeks to do a project that you knew would take 3 weeks?
A: Tell management that it's a 3 week job, estimate how much I can get done in 2 weeks, give 110% and crank out as much as possible.

Q: But what if they want it all?
A: Tell them to give me more people on the project and we'll give it a shot.

Q: You can't get more people, you have to do it with the team you have. What else would you do?
A: Well, then I will tell management that its not all going to get done and make sure that they are kept aware of the minute details and get as much done as possible.

Q: OK... (very non-committal). How many commercial products have you shipped?
A: umm, None. (Repeat above.)

Q: Oh yeah, OK. So, according to your resume, I see you have done team management and software development. What are you doing now?
A: (Tell her about research project into using Windows NT to its fullest security potential and trying to figure out what to do to make using it even better.)

Q: So what are you actually producing with this research?
A: Research papers.

Q: For who? Who's going to read them?
A: Microsoft for one, at least I hope they read them, Netscape, Sun and anybody else who picks up the proceedings where they might be published. Plus we intend to publish on the World Wide Web.

Q: Oh, so you don't really have a customer?
A: No, err Yes, err whatever. I have a customer, the Government. I am my own customer.

Q: Oh. How many commercial products have you shipped?
A: (By this time I've clued in that this lady wants to check off a check box on a form in front of her something fierce! But I'm getting REAL annoyed. Repeat above, again.)

Q: What do you think of deadlines?
A: Deadlines amuse me.

Q: Oh! What?
A: I do research, I don't have deadlines or schedules. You can't mandate creativity.

Q: Oh, I see. Do you have any questions?
A: Not right now.

Q: Do you have any concerns?
A: Yes, this thing about deadlines. I'm not sure I can handle going from working for the worlds biggest non-profit organization to a commercial software company. It's a big switch.

Q: Non-profit organization? Who did you say you worked for?

That's pretty much it. You can just imagine how much I was expecting a job offer from Microsoft.

Interesting note for your Interview Tips, I talked with the engineers at Microsoft that I have occasion to work with now and again. They suggest that my first and biggest mistake was sending my resume to Human Resources. They said I should have sent it to them, since they would have been the people I would be working with anyway (and probably interviewing with if I had survived the HR weed out). My "unqualified" status gave them a chuckle, since I had been providing review and feedback on their designs for over a year. So anyway, now I have to wait at least a year for my name and resume to drop out of the database. They think that black mark might be highly insurmountable right now.

A few months later I was at Microsoft as the guest of one of their chief architects (or some such title... he reports to a VP directly). I told him that I had interviewed with Microsoft, but that I wasn't qualified to work there (he chuckled). I said, "There was one question during the interview that I'm still not sure what the correct answer is. What would you say the correct answer to 'What do you think of deadlines?' might be?" He replied, "I have no idea." I answered, "I can tell you its not 'Deadlines amuse me.'"