Do you ever wonder if all the stories you hear about the “Microsoft interview” are true? Go ahead and type “Microsoft interview” into your search engine...you get a lot of results (definitely including pages from 2 of our most prolific bloggers: Chris Sells and Robert Scoble).

Well, it wasn't that long ago that I was a candidate, flying in from Chicago for my interviews with Microsoft. I remember the anxiety of picking out the right thing to wear, trying to remember to make the appropriate amount of eye contact, etc., etc., etc. It's enough to drive someone crazy! 

So I thought I'd provide some tips and recommendations...some from my own experience and some I've heard from others.

Let's start with your arrival on campus. Chances are, you are coming to building 19 first (don't sweat it if your first interview is with someone in another building). It's likely you are going to see a bunch of somewhat nervous looking folks in the lobby (and maybe a few confident looking ones too). On any given morning, our lobby activity can range from busy to frenzied. Give yourself plenty of time to get here so you aren't in a rush (and keep in mind that consutrction traffic, especially during the summer is almost a certainty). If you have not already filled out an application, you'll be asked to fill one out now (preferably before your first scheduled interview). As far as dress code, I would recommend whatever puts you in “interview mode”. We care more about what you say and do than what you wear, and you'll find that most of the folks you meet will be dressed pretty casually. You can't go wrong with a suit (Chris Sells mentioned that it shows respect for the company you are interviewing with and I agree). For men, if you just can't wear a tie, slacks and a sport coat are good. For women, suits, dresses, pants and blazer...all good.

Your first interview should be with a recruiter. This may be the recruiter that phone interviewed you or perhaps another recruiter. This is a real interview. Recruiters at Microsoft are responsible for making sure we hire the right people so you need to take this interview seriously. If you have already spoken to the recruiter by phone, they may spend the time clarifying some remaining questions and preparing you for the interview day. They may conduct a full in-person interview. This person sets the tone for the rest of your interview day. They can also answer a lot fo questions for you, about the job, the interview process or what kind of follow up you can expect after the interview.

Next, you are likely to take a shuttle to your next building. Sometimes candidates visit a few buildings during the day, depending on how dispersed their interviewers are. Shuttles will usually be waiting outside building 19. These are “Recruiting Shuttles” that will take you, the candidate, right to the next building. Other shuttles on campus pick up employees for meetings. It's OK to relax a little here. Most likely everyone on the shuttle is in the same situation as you. The shuttle drivers can even fill you in on the weather (it does not rain all the time) and things that are going on across campus (like pick-up soccer games on the sports fields). If you need to change buildings during the day, your interviewer or the receptionist will assist in getting you onto the appropriate shuttle.

When you get to your building, you need to ask the receptionist to call your first interviewer (if you are running early, feel free to hang out for a bit before having the receptionist call the person). You can definitely do dome interesting people watching in the lobby. If for some reason, the shuttle got you there a little late, don't worry about it. We'll try to keep you as “on time” as possible during the day but sometimes it's just not possible. It certainly does not reflect badly on you if the shuttle is late.

Each interviewer will come to the lobby and bring you to their office or a conference room, then deliver you back to the lobby at the end of the interview. If you need a restroom break or something to drink, you should feel comfortable mentioning this (we try to remember but sometimes we are so excited to see you we forget).

So what happens during the interviews? Well, all the speculation you see online about puzzle questions really pertains more to technical interviews, specifically new grad interviews. The reason they use puzzle questions for those interviews is that they are interviewing people that are potentially smart (or even brilliant) but don't have a lot of work experience. So puzzle types of questions help the interviewer see how the person thinks without there having to be a lot of contextual relevance (most of us have seen manhole covers or lightbulbs, right?).

Here's the types of things I think you should expect from a Marketing interview at Microsoft:

-Someone, if not everyone, will ask you “Why Microsoft?”. No we are not trying to stroke our collective ego by seeing how much you want to join our club. The bottom line is this: we do really cool stuff here and we work hard. We also devote lots of resources to developing people. We want to focus our time and energy on the people that are motivated to do what it takes to be successful at Microsoft. In return we offer some really great long-term opportunities for folks.

-There will be some of the “walk me through your resume” kinds of questions. We'll want to know what results you were responsible for, who else was involved, what kind of impact you made, what motivated job moves. You should feel comfortable walking any interviewer through your background. When doing this I would try to gauge how much detail the interviewer wants. Are they asking you for a 5 minute overview of your background or do they want details of where you have done specific things at specific employers. Don't be afraid to ask what level of detail they are looking for.

-You will be asked some questions so the interviewer can get a sense of your exposure to, and understanding of, the industry or customer space. If you are working on a specific type of technology product, your interviewer might ask you to walk them through customer segmentation of that market and why you or your company decided to focus on the market segments that you did. You'll probably get a lot of “how?” questions here. If your resume states that you drove increased revenues, we want to know how. Established strong partnerships...how? Worked across multiple organizations...how?

-You'll almost definitely be asked some case study questions as well. I generally see 2 types of these questions: one type that are relevant to the industry space you work in (the aim is to understand your industry exposure AND some core skills like strategic thinking) and second are case studies that aren't specifically relevant to your industry but assess some functional knowledge (for example, you might be asked how to market a specific consumer product to a specific audience). So in order to perform well on these types of questions, there are a couple things I can suggest:

          -make sure you understand the question. Don't be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Know the goal of the business scenario you are solving for.

         -we often tell people to “think out loud“ and I'm not sure that is the best advice. How about “think out loud but in a structured way“? We want to see how you approach business problems, to understand the steps you go through to make a recommendation. Don't be afraid to challenge assumptions or recommend something out of the ordinary. If you are a visual person, use a white board or a piece of paper to map out your strategy.And don't feel like you need to blurt out an answer right away. Work your way through the business problem analysis.

        -Know what you know and know what you don't know. In the course of your analysis, be clear about information you know versus assumptions you are making. If you don't have all the info you need to make a recommendation, let us know what research you would do or where you would go to get answers.

Some other tips/recommendations about the interview day in general:

-you may be offered coffee/tea/soft drinks throughout the day. I don't know about you, but caffeine has a serious effect on me. If you tend to be nervous in interviews, you might want to try some decaf. In all the soda coolers, we have something called “Talking Rain“ which is basically fizzy water and a good alternative to all the caffeinated stuff (as long as the bubbles don't bother you).

-We do feed people if they have a lunch interview scheduled. Feel free to ask your recruiter if you have a lunch interview on your calendar for the day.

-It's always a good idea to bring some extra copies of your resume, just in case. All interviewers will have a soft copy, but sometimes it's in .txt.

-Don't forget to ask questions of your interviewers. For example, what is their role, if you took the position how you would work together, other groups that the organization collaborates with, what challenges they see in the indsutry space. etc. As much as we are interviewing you, you are also interviewing us and we want to make sure you get all the information you need to make the right decision.

-Your recruiter will let you know if you need to meet with them at the end of the interview day. Don't read anything into it if the recruiter does not meet you at the end of the day. Sometimes, we don't know when a candidate will be finished interviewing for the day and it's really hard to plan around that.

So what can you do to prepare for your interviews at Microsoft?

-spend some time on our website and other websites getting to know our business as a company and the business of the group you are interviewing with. During your interview day, you will probably be asked your opinion about certain business decisions we've made as a company and you want to be as informed as possible. Know who our competitors are and our approach to marketing in that space and don't be afraid to express your opinion (and back it up).

-read the job description ahead of time, but be flexible if things change during the day. Often, we find that an interview candidate is better suited to another position and therefore will make changes to the interview schedule as the day progresses.

-As I mentioned, each interviewer will most likely bring you back to the lobby after your interview with them. If for any reason, you don't know where you are supposed to be, feel free to call your recruiter or the reception desk at building 19 (the receptionist can help locate the appropriate recruiter to help you).

-get a good night's sleep. If you are flying in for interviews and you have time to do it, you might want to make the drive to campus so you know where you are going the next day (if you have a rental car) or ask the front desk of the hotel how long it will take you to get there by cab.

-Take some time to enjoy yourself and look around. Could you see yourself working here? We hope so!

If you have other questions on Marketing interviews at Microsoft, let me know.