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Preparing for interview loops

As usual, the views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and do not necessary state or reflect those of Microsoft.

This is part two of this series and you can look at part one here to get caught up.

Today, we will talk about getting ready for a hiring loop, which is basically a three-step process consisting of a resume submission, a tech screen and interview.

Step 1 (Resume)

This is advice was originally intended for any company, but to allow me to be more creative, I am going to approach it as it you wanted to apply at Microsoft since that is a pretty recent experience in mind. 😉

If you are ready to apply, I strongly suggest that you consider using a Microsoft email address, such as from Outlook or Hotmail. Most companies like to see loyalty for their products, for example think of how GM would feel if you should up in a Ford or Volvo wanting to be a GM mechanic. It may not be the message that you want to send sub-consciously. Again, as noted yesterday,  all teams are different and some could care less, but I would play it safe so it does not even become an issue down the road to determine a tie breaker between candidates. Let’s be honest here, this whole process is about winning points for a team to make a decision on deciding the best candidate. I am sure that all of us want to be delivering a great message to help us obtain our goal.

Before you submit your resume, take a moment to consider what you want it to say to a person evaluating where you would make a good candidate. If you are going for a contract or vendor role, then a traditional resume will work in most cases. This type of resume is where you list your jobs and a few bullet points that describe your functions. In fact most recruiters can only operate with that type of resume.

However, if you seek a career at Microsoft, then I recommend that you look at doing a Situation, Action and Results (SAR) type of resume that focuses more on your abilities with quantified results. In my opinion, this format allows you to quickly point out to a hiring decision maker that you are more than capable of their requests. A great place to start for some great interview tips is looking at this video from Brent Ozar called Resume Tune Up. They look at resumes from a manager’s perspective as they glance at a resume to determine if a candidate should be in the hiring discussion. I like the approach that Brent and his team take to show you a before and after effect with resumes. They start off with the resume as it was submitted and then show you how they would submit it after making some changes.

Resume Do’s and Don’ts

Do…

  • Focus on writing about your accomplishments in quantifiable terms. For example, “worked as test lead on three major product launches” or “increased sales in my division by 125% during FY98.”
  • Spend more time highlighting your relevant experience, as opposed to all previous work experience.
  • If you include an objective, make it straightforward, concise, and related to the job you are seeking.
  • Include your name, phone number, and e-mail name at the top of your resume. Managers or HR contacts may not have access to the Address Book when they need to reach you.
  • Provide a chronological view of your background, including dates and positions held. This does not necessarily have to be the primary focus, but most hiring managers prefer that this information be easily accessible.
  • List your educational background. This should be near the bottom for an experienced candidate.
  • Be concise. Keep your resume to one or two pages.
  • Use bullet points to describe your key skills, projects, and accomplishments. Ideally, keep each bullet point to one line.
  • Provide sufficient white space so that key skills, projects and accomplishments can be easily identified without having to read the entire resume.
  • Be clear as to how you used a technology if you list it. For example, “knowing VBScript” is not the same as “created a Web site using VBScript” and providing the URL.
  • Spell out acronyms and explain code names. Not everyone is aware of all projects and their components.
  • Print it out and have someone else proofread your hard-copy resume. The Spelling checker and grammar checker do not catch everything, and you see typos more readily on paper than you do on-screen.
  • Have your resume available both as a Word document and in ASCII text.
  • Please be sure to scan your resume for viruses.
  • If you are changing job functions or trying to stretch into a position that is quite different from your current role, include a summary of accomplishments at the top of your resume.  This summary should outline 5 to 10 reasons why you should be interviewed for the position. This takes time, but is an essential part of a targeted job search.
  • Indicate whether or not you are open to relocation.

Don’t…

  • Send out a resume with typos, misspellings, or grammatical errors.
  • Include salary or level information.
  • Indulge in long, detailed paragraphs.
  • Spend too much time on graphics or cool fonts.
  • Include extraneous information such as, “references provided upon request” or personal information.
  • Laundry lists of job duties, skills, or classes are not the best means to present your skills and background. Most hiring managers are not going to take the time to read through a long list of information.

SAR Resume

The SAR resume highlights your greatest accomplishments in relation to the position you are targeting.

Advantages
  • Immediately highlights your strengths.
  • Extremely flexible.
  • Maximizes your chances of catching a reader’s interest.
  • Easy to adapt to the targeted position without sacrificing quality.
  • Permits you to display originality in your ideas and manner of presentation.
  • Enables you to lead the reader in the direction in terms of specific skills and accomplishments.
  • Permits you to describe yourself in better marketing terms.
Disadvantages
  • A good SAR resume takes skill to put together.

This is an example of a traditional resume:

This is an example of a resume in the SAR format :

Step 2 (Tech screen)

Look at the job description and see what skills they are looking for as an applicant. Make note of those and before you beginning preparing, look back on your career. You really do not want to come into a Microsoft interview prepared to play trivial pursuit, instead you should come in with the mindset that you are a leader who a good deal of experience. For example, if someone asks you how you does DNS work, instead of just saying it does this and it does that… take a moment to say to yourself, “It depends, what am I being asked to solve?” Then as you remember real life experiences, then you could say, that you can explain how it works in a perfect world and how it works in a real world keeping in mind how TTL’s can impact your changes. (ELB traffic for the wrong host)

The point that I am making is that you answer should not only reflect what you know, but it should also highlight what you have learned from previous mistakes or over sights (like the different TTL’s example listed above) that will demonstrate both knowledge and experience. Another good thing to do is after you answer the question, take the extra step of talking about where you got that knowledge and point to it on your resume. For example, when I was at Amazon, I saw the TTL impact with ELB’s on a daily basis (before they made their current changes with the IP pool) and I will call that out and also some issues that I saw with this at Rackspace. This gives the interviewer a sense of where you been and what you learned, plus it gives you a both a chance to have a normal conversation. That is a key point in an interview that I feel many people miss when answering questions.

An interview to me should feel like a good first date. I am comfortable, plus feel like I am talking and learning about the other person. I also want to know if we want the same results and would want to be together. Most of all, I just want to enjoy the moment and be entertained with the conversation. I do not want to feel intimidated, abused or any other negative feeling. I want to leave there with some desire to talk with them again.

Step 3 (In person interview)

Your interview should be the same message as your tech screen, but here you have more of a chance to elaborate on concepts. It is real important to pay attention to the discussion and find ways to share knowledge of past experience and exhibit your passion. I would find ways to look expand a conversation to help the interview process get a good handle on me. For example, if they asked me what tools would I use to troubleshoot network connectivity… I would not just list the tools and be done with it. I would start off with a few tools, like ping/tracert, and then explain that I use them and what information it tells me. Then I explain a few scenarios where I used them in a previous position (or two) from my resume and where I ran into issues, like a network that drops ICMP traffic. (Where I had to use a TCP based version of those tools) Then I continue doing that with each tool. It tells the interviewer that I have knowledge, plus I know what to expect and that I also have regular experience with these tools. It opens the door to allow them to see how you think and what you have been doing.

Again, the goal of any conversation to keep it interesting so both parties want to contribute, plus it takes the awkwardness off both people. It gives that opportunity to talk naturally and not focus on words on a piece of paper or stay in question mode. A normal conversation tells people so much more than a multiple choice test. 😉

I have been in interviews at many different places, where it did not go so well and I ended up spending a lot of time playing trivial pursuit or brain teaser questions. Needless to say, that did not leave either one of us in a position where we really wanted to talk with each other. It is much better at that point where both you and the hiring team are looking forward to their next interaction with you. Remember the 3 dates from my example yesterday? It is much better to leave knowing you have something to look forward too and be waiting to talk with them again.

As usual, I hope this information helps you wherever you decide to pursue a career. 😉

 

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One Response to “Preparing for interview loops”

  1. Thank you Scott! Your suggestion is great!

    I like the part of introducing the tools (I never realized that I can introduce this way). Thank you so much!

    April 22, 2013 at 8:44 PM
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