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Navigating Microsoft’s employment opportunities

Have you ever wanted to work at Microsoft Corporation, but was a little taken back by the process? One question that I have received a lot is what is it like to interview with Microsoft or what the environment is like or the sheer amount of contractors, etc. Some people have expressed interest in these opportunities and asked me on the best way to proceed.

Please note that the opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of Microsoft.

As usual, I pause before answering most questions (saying to myself “it depends“) by looking at what are you looking to achieve here? What is your background? Basically, I need to know what I am solving for you before answering that question. Dealing with those questions a few times with some friends, I thought I would give some of my experience, in case others may have a question or two. I will do a two-part series on this topic, which again is based on my personal experience and my own opinion. The first article os on what opportunities can be available, i.e. roles and the second blog will be more toward the “loop” process.

There are 4 types of roles offered:

FTE: Full Time Employee (aka Blue badge) is a vested employee who receives benefits and stock options from Microsoft. If you are seeking this avenue, you should have the focus of wanting a career and not trying to fulfill a position.

Intern: Normally for college students to allow them to get some experience and a feel for a career at Microsoft. They are not vested, but they enjoy a good number of perks like a FTE.

A dash (aka A-): Contractor who can work at Microsoft for a year (365 days) and then is terminated. They will need to take 100 days off before trying another contract position. This is a shorter window for you to leave a good impression. (Part of a measure to prevent future law suits)

Vendor (aka V-): Somewhat like the contractor, (mentioned above) except you could work in this role for many years. It is seen as an outside company that has obtained a statement of work to perform a role or task for Microsoft.

Both the contractor and vendor roles are also known as Contingent staff, which means that there is a risk that employment can end rather suddenly for various reasons. (Budget, fit, etc.) It should be noted that most times, Microsoft will only pay for contracts one year at a time to allow them flexibility in changing things to fit their needs. This is a very dynamic environment and you need to be able to deal with change easily to succeed here. Microsoft is not really a place where things are allowed to be static and never change. Things move at a good pace and there is tremendous opportunity to be a part of that.

Now that we have the roles covered, let’s take briefly about the environments. I want to stress that Microsoft is very complex and has a lot of moving parts. Keep in mind that this is the company that designed Active Directory  so it will be a very mature design. (Personally, I have yet to see another environment as massive)

Since this is Microsoft and they have a lot of partners, you will see most, if not all, hardware manufactures represented at Microsoft. (i.e. HP, Dell, Lenovo, EMC, NetAPP, etc.) Be prepared to see a lot of servers and network devices in action in a lot of different environments. You will see production, pre-production environments (called stage in most other companies that I have been in) and many test (or dev) environments. There is a lot of things to manage and the best way I can sum it up best is to be prepared to take a few months to get to know all the moving pieces. I have been at a lot of big companies in my career. From my memory, you could take all the infrastructure of Amazon, Dell and HP/Compaq combined and it would still be small in comparison to Microsoft. It can be a bit overwhelming as you get started to develop a feel for how big environments are configured. No worries, just remember that Rome was not built in a day, so allow yourself a few weeks to learn things.

So, what is the point of why I called out the hardware environment?
You should consider your background and how would your resume tell a hiring manager that you can handle these complex environments.

Let’s talk about the other (and more important) environment at Microsoft… the teams and people. A quick search on the web will show you that there are about 94,000 employees. It is a large number and as expected, there will be a very diverse background and culture of people. With that being said, this is the first company that I have joined where each team has the potential to be radically different. You could be in the same building and have everyone in the same department, but one side of the building will have much different personalities. Most companies of this size that I have been in (Amazon, Dell, HP, etc.) you may see different personalities, but for the most part you could generalize the type of person. For example, support personnel could be very friendly and follow very similar troubleshooting methods. Granted I am not saying everyone did the exact thing, but you could easily follow the logic. At Microsoft, it is hard to describe, but people are really different and you may be caught off guard by the way people may think about resolving issues.

The point that I am making is that every time is very unique and has different needs, so a title of Systems Engineer will not mean the same job responsibilities for teams. Some teams may look at a Systems engineer like a Windows Admin, where another team sees it as a Project Manager or Developer Ops. This can make it a challenge when you interview, since most job postings for System Engineer will have the same words for what they are seeking. Do not be alarmed or worried, just do your best to find a position that interests you and if things change if you make it to an interview, oh well. Not all interviews will mean offerings and keep your head up that things happen for a reason, plus things have a way of straighten themselves out over time.

A bit of advice, if you want to work at Microsoft and are having trouble getting a group’s attention or having difficulty with the tech screen or interview loop. My suggestion would be to look into going after an orange badge as a contractor. Yes, it is a risk and you have to respect the fact that you will be Contingent staff, which means that there is a risk that employment can end rather suddenly for various reasons. However, it will give you an opportunity to see what the environment is like and a chance to see if you would enjoy the team. This option will also allow you a chance to determine if your skill sets are enough to do the job or if you need to grow in other areas. Most importantly, it gives you a try before you buy approach and a lot of the contractor companies do also offer regular benefits.

If you are not able to take that route, then you should be prepared for some tough screening that will focus on both knowledge and experience. In most cases, you should count on a full day interviewing and have at least 5 different people talk with you to determine different aspects of the hiring process. During this process, they will look at basic things like fit, skill set, desire, etc. Keep in mind that all teams are different, so they will drill you in different ways, Some teams like using brain teasers and some like asking real tough questions to help them evaluate you.

Do not look at this process as having to be right or wrong in your answers, but instead pay attention to what they are asking you. A good answer in most situations is to ask a question to confirm what they are asking you to solve. You want to be able to demonstrate that you can comprehend and you get bonus points when you do the following:

  • Think on your feet to solve problems on the fly that are new to you or ambiguous in nature
  • Provide answers to simple question, but also elaborate more details and point to your resume where you performed that function
  • How engaged are you in the conversion and do you look for opportunities to insert yourself in the discussion

If you go to an interview like it is a test, that is seeking right and wrong answers, then you may want to reconsider your approach. Taking the lead in answering questions is always good, but also adding other details like what you would use certain tools and in previous experiences is huge. Ask yourself this question, which candidate would you hire?

  1. Answers all questions correctly in a swift manner, but we have 10 minutes at the end where we do not speak and leave the process earlier
  2. Answer most questions correctly, but misses a few and we spend 10 minutes talking about other interests
  3. Answers every question and relates it to previous experience and takes the time to take me over his career as we discuss certain technical skills that helps me paint a picture of their growth.

If you have a hard time choosing candidate C, then look at it from a dating perspective as seen below:

  1. Answers all questions about themselves, but does not try to extend the conversation and seem to be more interested in the TV or menu than you
  2. Answers your question and says a few things that do not seem to add up, but does make an effort to keep talking with you
  3. Answers and stays highly engaged in your conversation and looks for a chance to start-up new topics with you

In the above examples, we have the first person, who is listening to you and just reacting to you, but is no making no effort to connect with you. Even though they answered all your questions does not mean they provided you with a good vibe. It would not surprise me if you had to leave early that they would not be more than willing to take that opportunity to leave and not have any plans to get back in touch with you. The second person was engaged in the conversation and tried to add to it, but it is clear that there is not a lot of common ground to keep the conversation slowing. It seems a bit awkward and not as comfortable. The last person was on the same page as us. They wanted to keep talking and had a lot of interests in us. If we had limited time to spend with only one person, most of us would pick the last person, because we felt more comfortable and we could not get enough of them. They left us wanting more, because we both had a desire to keep sharing the conversation.

If you want the job (or the date) the best thing you can do is leave the people involved wanting more from you as you walk out the door. You want people to look forward to hearing from you and the sooner they can fulfill that desire, the better it looks for you. It is always nice when we are being actively pursued instead of waiting for them to contact us back.

As usual, I hope this information helps you.

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    July 31, 2013 at 5:03 PM
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