What Microsoft Seeks In MBA Hires

Microsoft interns building camaraderie on a sailboat cruise.

P&Q: What kinds of skills does Microsoft anticipate needing in the coming years that the company may not possess now?

Sarah: I mention this earlier and it’s a good point to reiterate. We are a huge company, but in so many ways we operate like a startup, so it has that entrepreneurial spirit and vision. Even with the entrepreneurial education that students are getting in their MBA programs, I do see this as a skill that will be increasingly important as we work to innovate fast – this idea of failing fast: trying something, failing, learning from it, and growing. This entrepreneurial mindset, this growth mindset, is something that we are going to need more as we continue to innovate and move forward.

Diego: I’d also like to add this idea of empathy. It is an amazing skill because we have this mission to empower the whole world. We can only do this if we understand the world, if we walk a mile in everybody’s shoes. Empathetic leadership is something that is really needed. I remember when we were working on the Xbox One, we had more than a thousand people working on it. We needed collaborative skills – all the soft skills like communication – or what is known as emotional intelligence EQ. More and more, artificial intelligence and machines are able to do the other stuff, but the human empathy is something we need as much as we can get.

P&Q: What advice would you give to students who have their hearts set on working for you? How can they enhance their job prospects?

Diego: I really want people to show me who they are. It is funny because they can talk to me about their GPA, but I want to know who they are and what their mission is in life. What is their career going to be about? When people talk to me about their deepest passions, all of their expertise comes out.

Booth MBA Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s CEO

Sarah: Being genuine and authentic is something we want in the process. When it comes to the tactic – how to get on our radar – the first thing is to engage with us. Find the recruiters on our website (www.Microsoft.com/university). Or, connect with them via LinkedIn. Showcase your curiosity. Do the research and reach out to people. We don’t expect you to know everything about Microsoft – you don’t need to be a know-it-all. People who’ve been here 20 years are still learning. Show you’ve invested in the leg work.

Diego: Everything is out there. If you go to the internet, you can find articles on everything Microsoft stands for and is doing. My question is, Are these candidates curious enough to read these materials and form an opinion on it? Many times, they don’t. When I engage in conversations with them and introduce new concepts, I’m wondering, Are they incorporating this new content? I’m trying to figure out if they are learners. So I’ll throw out a new concept to see if it comes back later in the conversation? Do they stick with their monologue – their pitch – or are they dancing with me? Are they having this conversation with me where they are learning?

Sarah: MBAs can be so prepared, buttoned up and (to a fault) scripted that it comes off as disingenuous. We want to see you be your authentic self. In every interview you have at Microsoft, something that is going to be asked is, “Why Microsoft?” People will talk about how they remember their first computer when they were five years old. They have this beautiful story woven in – and we love storytelling – but it has come to the point where it’s not genuine because we’ve heard that story. We want, ‘What about Microsoft makes you passionate about exploring our space?’

Diego: Microsoft will be a platform to achieve what they want. How are they going to use this platform at their disposal?

P&Q: Recruiting can be a two-way street. What has Microsoft done to make itself more appealing to MBA candidates?

Sarah: In terms of what we’ve been doing with MBA recruiting specifically, we’ve created an MBA Business Innovation Challenge. We’ve gone to various campuses to pitch a question that is stemmed from a real problem that our teams at Microsoft are facing. In other words, ‘Here is a problem that Microsoft is facing; help us find a solution.’ It’s a product development “hack”, if you will. What that has done is help students see that these are some pretty cool challenges that Microsoft has been a part of. We did an IoT (Internet of Things) Business Innovation Challenge two years ago. Last year, it was a critical marketing question: How do we encourage legacy customers to migrate over to Windows 10? That is a big issue that our marketing team is dealing with. So we pose a question to students and ask them to put on their thinking caps and help with that. That has been a way we engage with candidates and help them see that those are some of the interesting things you would do if you worked there.

We have over 2,500 interns in Redmond, Washington during the summer time. Around the world, we have 4,000. In Redmond, what we’ve done in the MBA space is we’ve created our own MBA intern experience. Microsoft is the best, hands-down, compared to any other MBA internship program in the world. What we’ve done is give a focused narrative to our MBA interns, with special events and networking opportunities. We bring in senior leaders like Brad Smith, our president and chief legal officer, and Amy Hood, our CFO. They dedicate their time to engage with these MBAs and show them what it is like to be a leader at Microsoft. MBAs are top of mind to them. So this creates a community of talent among the 125 MBA interns we host every summer.

Another thing Microsoft does that has people excited is our annual hackathon in the summer, which coincides with the summer internship. It is the largest hackathon in the world and it allows people, again, to come in and dedicate their talent, thoughts, and energy towards a project that they are passionate about. There have been some great results from the hackathon. We just released a new Xbox Controller. Three or four years ago, a team of interns, including a few of our MBA interns, looked at how we could make the Xbox more accessible to military veterans who’ve lost limbs. These are real tactical problems that people can solve. That ability to really lean in and be innovative, even if it is outside the day-to-day job, makes Microsoft appealing.

Microsoft sailboat cruise

Diego: In terms of tactical engagement – how we demonstrate to students how Microsoft is appealing – I go back to Microsoft as a platform where you can have a meaningful career. Most of our MBA candidates have multiple offers.The money is more-or-less the same. What you can do at Microsoft – because of our mission of empowerment and our view of Microsoft as a platform for you as an employee – you can have a career full of meaning. Money is not enough. You need meaning and a professional legacy. At Microsoft, that is something that is very real.

P&Q: If an MBA was weighing an offer from Microsoft and another firm, what would give you the edge?

Diego: I have a lot of respect for these other companies. They are all great places to work. All of these are companies that people join at will. What I would say is, come to Microsoft if the mission speaks to you. If you like to learn and empowering the world and others speaks to you, then you are the right person to come to Microsoft. Look at the Microsoft mission, what we stand for, and our culture. If you want to come in and not just be a consumer of that culture but be a producer, you should join us to go empower others. I don’t want them to buy something they may not want. We want people to stay here. Our values speak to a lot of people, Gen-X, Millennials, and Generation Z too. At Microsoft, It is not about you being cool, but it’s about you making others cool. And that’s cool! Only come if you want to be part of this mission.

Sarah: What would give us an edge is our culture. It’s our best asset. I believe MBA stude nts get excited not only about joining a place where they are aligned with the mission, but they believe in the products and are in an environment that supports their career development and personal growth.

Sometimes, MBAs get the tunnel vision of, ‘I need to do this role’ or this job title. Don’t get me wrong: the actual role is really important. Sometimes, a candidate will turn us down because another firm will provide a role that more specifically matches their post-MBA goals. Knowing that MBAs change jobs early and regularly, it is more about finding a company that fits with your own mission and culture. We are seeing that MBAs at Microsoft are, within a year, changing roles and teams. They can hop, skip, and jump around. That’s not unique to Microsoft, but I would caution MBAs not to choose a company for that first perfect role. They end up being a little disappointed in the process. I do urge MBA candidates to find a company that matches their mission.

Diego: I would urge students to think about, Do you believe in the direction in the company is going? It is a long career.

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