Interviewing at Microsoft

Interviewing at Microsoft

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I am frequently asked about the interview process at Microsoft, and although I’m usually more than happy to relate my individual story and provide some general tips, I can’t provide nearly the insight that two of our recruiters, Gretchen Ledgard, and Zoë Goldring (both responsible for the JobsBlog) provide in this 20 minute Channel 9 video. You’ll hear them talk about dress code, pre-interview tips, the actual interview day, logic questions, coding questions, what we’re looking for in people, whether or not you need a degree, etc. This is the first of at least two video segments to be published, so expect a second part sometime soon. On a related note, Chris Sells maintains a page about Interviewing at Microsoft that is worth reading. And for those who haven’t heard my Microsoft interview story, read on…

I always thought that I would either work for myself or for Microsoft. After being an independent consultant for many years, creating the industry’s first uninstall application, the first nationwide movie showtime web site, working at Donnelly Corporation for exactly a year (to the minute), and lots of other mildly interesting things, I decided that it was time to send in a resume. I knew that Microsoft received thousands of resumes each day (according to Gretchen, we now receive around 6,000 per day), so I knew that I had to do something that would show my passion for the company, my “out of the box” thinking, and grab their attention.

You know those life sized celebrity cardboard cutouts that adorn the occasional geek office? I decided to build a cardboard cutout of me and send it along with my resume as the “model Microsoft employee.” To figure out how large it could be, I visited the FedEx office and asked for the maximum dimensions for something shipped next-day air. Although I don’t recall the exact numbers, it was something like 170 inches for combined length and girth. Not only did I want it to be as close to actual size as possible, but I wanted it to make a splash when it was delivered to the HR department in Redmond. After all, how many next-day air packages have you received that were much bigger than a standard letter?

So, I had some professional photographs taken of me holding a mouse and keyboard and had it professionally printed and mounted on foam core. Using a cardboard celebrity cutout that I purchased as a template, I proceeded to remove the extra foam core and create the folding flaps that would allow it to stand on its own. Then, I created an advertising slick sheet that would accompany my package that explained the model Microsoft employee and how I was obviously a perfect fit.

Of course, I still spent a lot of time polishing my resume, and it served as the “meat” of my job application. The cardboard cutout was simply a way to get noticed among the thousands of resumes that are received by the company each day. After sandwiching everything between two sides of a cardboard refrigerator box and carefully taping around the edges, I managed to squeeze it in my car and take it down to the local FedEx office. The FedEx employee that helped me was fascinated by the story behind the contents of my package and proceeded to measure the length and girth with a small chain he kept behind the counter. Boy, was it close. I had neglected to consider the thickness that all of that foam core and cardboard would add to the measurement, and I barely squeezed by. Whew!

About two weeks of stomach churning passed before I finally received a letter from Microsoft in my mailbox. It was a personal note from the Vice President of Human Resources, and he was writing to say that in all of his years at Microsoft, he had never seen a resume quite like mine. He was impressed that I was able to make my job application stand out (no pun intended), and apparently, it was the talk of the whole department (he had it standing outside of his office). He went on to say that my resume would be added to the database and considered for all open positions (I hadn’t applied for a specific job code). He wished me the best of luck and hoped to see me as a future employee.

I never heard anything else from Microsoft about that resume, and it didn’t end up getting me a job (surprise, surprise). However, I was proud of the fact that I had tried, and I cherished the letter that I received as a response. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find that letter, or I’d post a copy of it right here. If I do manage to dig it up, I’ll be sure to update this post.

So, there must be another interview story, right? I mean, I do work for Microsoft, so there has to be more! Of course there is, but it’s not quite as interesting as this one, and it has a much better outcome. The funny thing is, a lot of people have confused this story with the fact that I work for the company, so I often hear that “you’re the guy who sent the cardboard cutout to get the job, right?” That’s when I smile and proceed to tell my story.

Update: I was able to find the photo I used to produce the cutout...I look pretty silly. I haven't found the letter yet, but I think I know where it is.

Update #2: I found the letter! I'll scan it and add it to this post later tonight.

Update #3: I've added the scanned letter below.

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  • How much did creating a foam cutout of yourself cost?
  • Brant:

    Frankly, I don't remember the individual costs, but overall, including shipping, the whole thing cost me somewhere around $600. Yes, that's a lot of money for a job application, but I had so much fun doing it, the money didn't matter.
  • So, where's the cutout now? If it's still around you should send it around to different places on the MS campus like "Flat Stanley" (http://flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca/).
  • That's a great question, Mark...I don't know. I'd guess that someone eventually threw it out, but frankly, I have no idea. Does anyone in our HR department remember seeing this?
  • Can you imagine what type of mail microsoft must be getting (or will get) now thanks to your blog post?
  • Great link from Scoble to a story about a gentleman trying to get a interview with Microsoft. Very cool read....
  • Michael-the VP of HR sits in a different building than staffing so it could be over there...hpw long ago was this? I'd be happy to research the whereabout of it.

    I've never heard the story, though so glad you are sharing it! I recruit for marketing in case anyone wants to send their life-size cutout or marketing action figure to me ; )

    Unfortunately, I haven't received anything odder than a fruit basket (the guy did get hired but not because of the fruit)


    Heather Hamilton | Senior Marketing Recruiter

    Microsoft Corporation | 425.706.2312

    heathham@microsoft.com | http://weblogs.asp.net/heatherleigh

  • Heather:

    The letter is from Mike Murray, dated July 28, 1998. I don't know if Mike is still around...I couldn't seem to find him in the address book.
  • Hi Micheal,

    Similar to your story, I am one of the aspirant IT professional willing to work for Microsoft and since from years finding the better ways to work for Microsoft.

    Your story temps me to do some thing new to take up your approach for getting into MS :) Just kidding !!!


    I hope you now working for Microsoft !!!

    By the way, can I see your resume or the way it was presented? If you dont mind you can send it to my ID....

    k_hsemar@hotmail.com or k_hsemar@yahoo.com.

    All the best for your futur endeavors... Hope i will meet you @ MS when I get a chance to work.

    Thanks,
    Ramesh
  • Interviewing at Microsoft You know those life sized celebrity cardboard cutouts that adorn the occasional geek office? I decided to build a cardboard cutout of me and send it along with my resume as the “model Microsoft employee.” To figure out how large it could be, I visited the FedEx office and asked for the maximum dimensions for something shipped next-day air. Although I don’t recall the exact numbers, it was something like 170 inches for combined length and girth. Not only did I want it to be as close to actual size as possible, but I wanted it to make a splash when it was delivered to the HR department in Redmond. After all, how many next-day air packages have you received that were much bigger than a standard letter? Now that's a story. Click the link to see a picture of it....
  • I suspect that you may have shown too much initiative. While good companies value the exceptional and innovative employee, the need is freater for workers who simply do as they are told.
  • Hi Michael - this is such a great story. I, too, have never heard about this, but i'm also on a mission to see if your likeness still exists. I'll let you know if I uncover anything!!
  • Gretchen:

    When approached, use terminology from .NET, C#, or Doom 3 to lure it near. Beware, however, of its extremely flat personality. :-)
  • Mike... I had heard this story many a time, but never realized that it was you.
  • Great story.

    I had read a PASCAL program which reverses the contents in a file, whose line was like this:

    if Not EndofFile then flipit()
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