What Microsoft Seeks In MBA Hires

Picture time for Microsoft interns.

P&Q: Could you give us an overview of your MBA recruiting, interview, and onboarding process? What are the steps that students should expect? How can they make a good impression and stay on your radar?

Sarah: We’re actually moving away from on campus engagement. That’s not to say we’re not going to campus, but we’re looking for other ways to be more inclusive and make sure everyone has a fair shot at learning about Microsoft and engaging with us. We’re going to be doing more virtual presentations. We’ve also specified that all candidates must apply through the Microsoft.com/university website. We still do a little bit of on campus recruiting, but more of what we’re going to be doing is digital engagement and digital connections to connect with prospective candidates.

I encourage students to go to the Microsoft website and learn about our mission. Read employee profiles and the jobs blog, which is a great way to learn about the different job functions. So do your research and start engaging with the recruiting team early on.

Process-wise, applications are reviewed by recruiters. Those candidates who stick out, based on the qualities we discussed earlier, would be invited to a first round screen. That is typically done with a representative of the function to which they are applying. If they are interviewing for marketing, for example, they will meet with a marketing professional. We will be assessing them for the general competencies we are seeking. As we mentioned, prior experience is not required and the interview will cover how you think about and have done things and will include a lot of behavioral questions.

That feedback is then returned to us, where we evaluate the application and the feedback from the interviewer. In the MBA space, we are matching candidates to specific opportunities, so we really want to make sure we are learning all that we can about the candidates. That way, if we bring them back for a final round interview, they are people who are excited about the work and the team will be excited because they showcase the skills necessary to be successful.

Maria Sharapova in an HBS classroom with Microsoft’s Simran Sachar

After the first round screen, there is the final round interview, which typically takes place in our headquarters in Redmond, Washington – and sometimes a local office depending where the role is.

Diego: I would make sure they have created a Linkedin profile. So many recruiters across the industry are searching on Linkedin. I’m not saying that because Linkedin is part of Microsoft. It just that it has become a global recruiting tool.

Sarah: With search engine optimization, the best way to get on our radar is having what we are going to be looking for in a particular role. Using technology to your advantage, technology for good, is definitely important.

I also think seeing that charisma and passion that’s unique to them is really paramount. Even in a cover letter, I can sense it. Making those connections between their skills and coursework and what Microsoft is doing is also important. One of the challenges for a company like Microsoft is our size, scale, and scope. MBAs might say, ‘I did that in a company of 100 people.’ You have a skill set, but we want you to be able to connect that to how can you scale that. When you have billions of people on the planet, it’s no longer a 1,000 people in the audience – it’s the global population.

We also want to see people be humble – and part of that is asking questions. Ask questions of the interviewer throughout or to seek clarity. Don’t be that know-it-all and come in with the conviction that I know what I’m saying and this is my stance. Listen to what is being said, digest it, and then come up with a position.

Diego: Just like learning and curiosity, I think communication is so important. If the candidate is articulating how they’re going about solving a problem – even if they get the answer wrong or don’t come to a solution that we’re looking for – they become someone who’s interesting to work with if they communicate the thought process and rationale. This idea that an interested person becomes an interesting person is very strong at interviews at Microsoft. We want to know how interested this candidate is. If we throw a problem at them in an interview, how interested are they? Do they stop at the first answer or do they go on to another possible answer.

We don’t ask any deep questions. There is nothing in the process where we are trying to trick you or anything like that. It is a very straightforward process.

Sarah: That makes us unique compared to our peers. We don’t care how many tennis balls you can fit into a 747. For us, it is, how can we increase the sales of Xboxes in a certain region?

Diego: We want to know how a candidate will approach the problem. I like to bring in a real problem that we’re facing as a test to see if this is someone I’d want to work with on this problem. So stay open. Stay curious. Communicate.

P&Q: Give me an example of an MBA student who really impressed you in the recruiting process. What did he or she do that really got your attention and why was it so fitting with Microsoft’s mission and culture?

Sarah: Our process is pretty intimate in that we get to know them more and better.

Diego Rejtman and Sarah Eytinge

There was one who asked thoughtful questions. This individual had another offer and was comparing them. It goes back to that entrepreneurial spirit we have. We would go back-and-forth and he would talk to different people and come back with thoughtful questions about how he could make this-or-that part of my role at Microsoft. We came to an unofficial agreement that part of his job would be that he could take on these additional assignments and would have permission to use part of his work day to go to “The Garage,” which is a hub of innovation here. He accepted the offer and it is so fun to see this employee be successful at Microsoft. Within a year of starting in a marketing role, he joined the Microsoft Ventures team (the company’s own internal investment firm), which is a very highly sought-after team within the Microsoft ecosystem…particularly for MBAs.

He was able to do this by doing the same things he was doing in the interview process: connecting with people and positioning himself for success. People know him and are excited by him. That constant curiosity pays off.

Diego: I’ll give you another example that happened last week with a Masters student in engineering. The candidate was waiting in our lobby. We have this beautiful Surface Studio computer in the lobby and the Paint software was open. This candidate, in addition to being an engineer, is an artist. With her fingers, she made an amazing portrait and left it there in the lobby. I actually went out of my way to learn who she was. We ended up having a conversation on the nature of art and science. We now have a replica of her drawing on our lobby wall. This is one example of someone who is eclectic and not afraid to show us her passion.

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