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Interview prep

Students and graduates

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Overview

If you’re like most students we talk to, you want to know what to expect during your interviews and what we’re looking for in you. At Microsoft, interviews are a two-way street. We want to get to know you, but we also want to be sure you walk away knowing us too.

  • You’ll meet with your potential coworkers and team; you’ll typically meet for up to an hour each with three to six people during your interviews.
  • In most cases, you’ll interview with people on two teams within a single product group or two different teams working on entirely different products. We try to find the best fit based on the team's business needs and your own skills and interests.
  • You’ll have a chance to look around. We'll make sure you have time to see campus and get a feel for the area that may soon become your home.
  • Be open about your skills. Be upfront about what you do know and what you do not. If you don’t have the exact skill that an interviewer asks you about, don’t panic: part of the interview process is learning and dealing with ambiguity.
  • We’re interested in how your mind works. Be ready to show your thinking and explain how you came up with a solution to a technical issue, design question, or problem-solving puzzle; the process you use to arrive at an answer is even more important to us than the answer itself.
  • Interviews are a mix of behavioral-based and technical questions related to the position you are interviewing for. We are not trying to trick you, ask irrelevant questions or make non-data driven assumptions.

What to expect

Technical questions: If appropriate to your area of interest, technical questions will be asked that likely involve a technical discussion of projects you’ve worked on. Don’t be afraid to stand up and write code on the whiteboard, draw your solution, or ask questions for clarification.

Ambiguous situational questions: These questions can be hypothetical ("What would you do?") or reflective ("What have you done?"). They’re asked so you can show us what you’ve got. We need original, creative thinkers, and our interview process is designed to help us find those people. When in doubt, ask for clarification.

Process thinking questions: These invite you to verbalize your thought process as you work through a technical issue, design question, or problem-solving puzzle. Remember, it’s not always the end result we’re looking for, but the process you took to get there and your ability to clearly articulate it to others.

Project questions: Be prepared to talk about the technical and soft skills you demonstrated in previous internships and school projects. Anything you list on your resume is fair game.

Ask lots of questions

Your natural curiosity is one of your biggest assets as a potential hire. Thoughtful, insightful questions will show that you’re serious about making an impact at Microsoft. And if you don’t understand a question, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to clarify. Likewise, ask your interviewer about the nature of their work and projects you could potentially work on. We know candidates of your caliber have a lot of career opportunities, so we want you to be sure that a position with us is a great fit for you.

Recommended resources

Check out the official Microsoft Blog

Learn more about our business

Explore the Microsoft JobsBlog

Review the Microsoft Developer Network

How to prepare

  • You don’t need to dress up to impress us. Wear whatever makes you most comfortable. The people interviewing you are likely to be casually dressed, but we understand if you feel more confident in your power suit.
  • Make sure you have the fuel and rest you need to stay relaxed and quick on your feet. You may be nervous when you arrive, so while we have food on-site, consider eating a meal beforehand when you’re not quite so nervous.
  • Be ready to tell your story and to discuss your strengths, expertise and any experience that appears on your resume.
  • Come prepared with 3 to 5 meaningful questions for your interviewers. Questions demonstrate your level of understanding, your interests and your passions—and help you learn about the company. So don’t hold back.

Resume tips

  • Summarize your relevant education, experience, and projects. Skip the things that are outdated or irrelevant.
  • Highlight your accomplishments in previous jobs or projects, not just your duties or responsibilities. Everyone has job duties; it’s how you approached them and what you accomplished in carrying them out that makes you stand out.
  • Show progression. Whether it’s in school, leadership roles or your work, highlight how your experience has helped you grow.
  • Talk about related extracurricular or volunteer work. Just because you weren’t paid for it, that doesn’t mean it’s not important!
  • Include links to projects you’ve worked on. This gives the recruiter a better idea of how you put your skills into practice.
  • It’s okay to use more than one page. That said, be sure your summaries are succinct and relevant—and your most important information appears on the first page.
  • Make sure your resume and contact information is completely up-to-date. To be safe, also include non-school contact info so we can reach you on breaks or after graduation.
  • Be honest. Paint the best possible picture of yourself, but don’t exaggerate. And proofread for typos and errors—more than once!
  • If you send your resume in Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx), make sure to turn off "track changes".

Best practices

  • When answering your questions, use frameworks, so you can structure your answer in a cohesive manner.
  • Be yourself and enjoy the interview.
  • Our interviews are less question/answer and more conversational.
  • Yes, we want to know how you think and what are you passionate about, but we also want to see your personality.
  • Some interviewers like to interrupt and ask questions—go with the flow and don’t panic.
  • Know the dress code. A lot of candidates ask whether they should be in their formal interview clothes or dress like Microsofties, so that they can show they know our culture. While very few people at Microsoft wear suits, it’s better to be safe than sorry and dress more conservatively.

Position-specific interview tips

Development (engineering)

There are two primary roles within this job family: Software engineering and program management. Read on to find out more.

Software engineering

Software engineering (SWE) roles require coding. Be ready to code, a lot! Brush up on your object oriented languages, as our interviewers love to ask questions related to linked lists, loops, arrays, and pointers, etc. We’ve found the best coders ask a ton of questions before writing code and consider the consequences of every line. Think of the pros and cons of each solution, and once you decide to move ahead with a solution, be ready to explain why you chose that approach. And most importantly, be sure to test your code before you say you’re done!

Before the interview

  • Review data structures and algorithms and make sure you know the characteristics of data structures, e.g., when to use them, their time and space complexity, trade-offs, etc.
  • Review basic concepts from computer architecture (caches, branch mis-prediction, pipelines, etc.) and operating systems courses.
  • Practice working through some coding problems that you haven’t seen before, as this is similar to the technical parts of the interview.
  • Think about how you would test mundane items, like calculators or staplers. Be sure to classify your tests (i.e., border cases, common functionality, stress, security, error checking, etc.).
  • Look at some code you’ve written in the past, then write a tool to test your code.

During the interview

  • Discuss coursework, projects, and work experience in specific terms.
  • Demonstrate your technical knowledge (e.g. programming, design, or test).
  • Discuss the most challenging project you completed in specific terms, including: project scope (goals, customers, accomplishments, and complexity), technical skills you applied (gathered customer requirements, designed, programmed, or tested), technical tools you employed (C, C++, C#, VB, SQL, Assembly), and what you learned from your experience.
  • Ask clarifying questions before writing a single line of code.
  • Don’t try to optimize your code before it’s finished. Get a working solution, then go back and improve it.
  • Your ability to categorize the various test cases you come up with is key, so structure really helps.
  • Try to come up with as many cases as possible. Even when you think you’re done, push a bit harder and think of a couple more. And please get creative—there are no cases too extreme!

Recommended resources

Box, Don. Essential .Net, Volume I: The Common Language Runtime. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2003.

Brooks, Fredrik. The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering. Addison-Wesley Professional, 1995.

Cormen, T.h., Leiserson, C.E., Reivert, R.L., & Stein, Cliff. Introduction to Algorithms. McGraw-Hill, 1990.

Gallagher, T., Jeffries, B., and Landauer, L. Hunting Security Bugs. 2006.

Howard, Michael & LeBlanc, David, eds. Writing Secure Code. Microsoft Press, 2001.

Kaner, C., Bach, J., and Pettichor, B. Lessons Learned in Software Testing. John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Kaner, C., Falk, J., and Nguyen, H.Q. Computer Software. 2nd ed. International ThomsonComputer Press, 1993.

Maguire, Steve. Writing Solid Code: Microsoft’s Techniques for Developing Bug-Free C Programs. Microsoft Press, 1993.

McConnell, Steve. Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction. Microsoft Press, 1993.

McConnell, Steve. Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules. Microsoft Press, 1996.

Myers, Glenford. The Art of Software Testing. John Wiley and Sons, 1979.

Patton, Ron. Software Testing. SAMS Publishing, 2000.

Sistowicz, J. and Arell, R. Change-Based Test Management: Improving the Software Validation Process. Intel Press, 2003.

Tanenbaum, Andrew. Modern Operating Systems. 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, 2011.

Viega, J. and McGraw, G. Building Secure Software: How to Avoid Security Problems the Right Way. Addison-Wesley, 2001.

Web resources

Review A Course in Blackbox Software Testing (Academic Version), Fall 2001

Review An Introduction to Scenario Testing

Review Leading-edge Software Testing and Development Services

Review Software QA and Testing Frequently-Asked-Questions Part 2

Review Teaching Domain Testing: A Status Report

Program management

A Microsoft program manager (PM) has the rare ability to balance strong design skills with a talent for planning and organization. That said, PM interviews can include an abundance of challenging design questions.

Before the interview

Things to keep in mind:

  • The customer
  • Good design vs. bad design
  • Good software vs. bad software
  • Have examples and be ready to explain why
  • How would you improve or add to a feature/product?

    For the improvements/additions you suggest, why do you think it hasn't been done already?

    What are the technical difficulties that might arise?

    What are the tradeoffs involved?

  • What would you do if you suddenly had your deadline moved up 3 months/or your project's budget was trimmed?

    What features would you decide to keep and which would you decide to cut?

    How would you communicate to the developer that spent 2 months working on a feature that their feature was not going to be included?

During the interview

  • Expect problem-solving questions, so be sure you understand the question and the clues; and feel free to take a minute to think about the problem.
  • You can also expect a few coding questions, like linked list reversal.
  • Be comfortable asking clarifying questions before jumping in.
  • Strong PMs are great communicators, can collaborate and influence across groups, and have great interpersonal awareness.

Recommended resources

Design of everyday things (Donald Norman)

Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things (Donald Norman)

Software Project Survival Guide (Steve McConnell)

System Analysis, Design and Development: Concepts, Principles and Practices (Charles S. Wasson)

Information technology (IT) & operations

Microsoft Information Technology (MSIT) keeps Microsoft running. Professionals in this job family must have a strong combination of business acumen, management skills, and technical expertise. The most common internships and full-time positions in MSIT are IT Software Engineer (SWE), IT Program Manager (PM), and IT Solution Manager (SM).

Before the interview

  • Explore the opportunities within MSIT and learn how you can launch your career straight out of college.
  • If interviewing for an IT SWE position, brush up on your coding skills and computer architecture knowledge.
  • Understand the Information Technology space, review key business cases and be familiar with the latest technologies.
  • Think of new problems and imagine design challenges you may face.
  • Explore strategies for analyzing client and partner business needs, and for translating these into requirements for a solution.

During the interview

  • Show us your passion, intellectual capabilities, and problem-solving skills. Be ready to talk about your school projects and work experience.
  • If you are applying for an IT SWE position, be prepared to code and provide an efficient solution to the problem at hand. Be ready to come up with interesting testing scenarios, test cases and creative approaches to problems.
  • Ask clarifying questions and, when presented with a design challenge, consider: How would you improve the design of a product? How will you tackle a complex scenario in a timely manner? How will you manage multiple projects while keeping momentum?
  • For IT SM jobs, be sure to analyze cases from different angles: What is the vision and scope of a project? Is there any risk involved?
  • Be prepared to be challenged and defend your position.

Marketing and Finance

Marketing and Finance interviews are a bit different than developer or technology interviews.

Before the interview

  • Do your research. We are looking for people who want to work at Microsoft and are passionate about technology.
  • Read tech blogs such as Engadget, TechCrunch, and others so you’re up on the latest trends and events in technology and Microsoft’s latest news.
  • Connect with alumni at Microsoft to learn more about our culture and life at Microsoft. Be prepared to talk about a Microsoft product or your favorite technology product.
  • Practice your responses to interview questions:

    Describe a situation where you had to work with multiple teams in a collaborative way.

    Give an example in which you applied a creative solution to a tough problem.

    Recount an occasion in which you had to deal with a difficult person or team.

Frequently asked questions

What is the most common mistake you see applicants make?

For University Recruiter Anthony Rotoli, it’s the key details that people seem to forget most often: "It’s simple really, but leaving your graduation date, or other important information (phone number, email) off of your resume. Graduation date is very important for us to get a sense of about how far along you should be in school. Contact information is important for…well…us contacting you!"

Beyond the initial application process, Anthony notes that candidates can sometimes block their own path to success. His advice to avoid this? Be yourself: "Applicants will sometimes approach the interview process with what they think an interviewer wants to hear, and they’ll try to make sure they fit the mold they’ve imagined we’re looking for. Bad mistake! The best thing you can show us during interviews is the real you. I always encourage folks to approach each interview like a discussion with a current co-worker or teammate. Don’t try to demonstrate some skill you have only a rudimentary understanding of—talk about what you know, and let your passion shine through!"

Who will I be in contact with before I arrive?

You’ll meet with several different people throughout the interview process. They all work together to make the experience a great one for you, but each has a unique role to play.

  • School recruiter: Your school recruiter represents Microsoft on your university campus. You might have seen him or her at a career fair, presenting information about Microsoft or interacting with various student groups. Sometimes, you’ll hear from your school recruiter prior to your visit, just to wish you well and make sure you’re all set for your trip. If you don’t hear from your school recruiter but have questions you’d like answered, just check out our Find a Recruiter page to connect directly.
  • Interview scheduler: Your interview scheduler, who works for our vendor, SourceRight, will contact you via e-mail about your travel arrangements, interview date, and expense reimbursements. He or she is your go-to person for questions about your interview logistics.
  • Campus recruiter: Your campus recruiter is based in Redmond, WA. He or she will work with you during the final round of your interview process. This includes making sure your interview day runs smoothly, following up with interview results, and working with you as you make a decision about Microsoft, if you receive an offer.

When will I know which groups I’m interviewing with?

Your campus recruiter will let you know which group(s) you’ll be interviewing with on your interview day. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of the specific teams you’ll be meeting with. You won’t be evaluated on how much you know about the groups.

When should I plan my trip?

Positions fill quickly, so it’s good to make plans as early as possible. Your interview scheduler will email to confirm an interview date and send you instructions on how to book your travel arrangements. Please respond to them as soon as you can.

Will I have free time during my site visit?

The maximum length of your interview trip is three days and two nights. If you’d like more time, just email your interview scheduler and let him or her know your circumstances so we can look into extending your stay.

May I bring my significant other?

You’re more than welcome to bring a companion, but we can only reimburse travel expenses for you.

What if I need to change my interview date?

After your interview date is confirmed and your travel has been booked, we prefer not to change your schedule unless there is an emergency.

When will I know the results of my interview?

In most cases, you should hear back from your campus recruiter within one to two weeks of your interview. Please let us know if you have other offers with deadlines pending; we’re flexible and are always happy to work around your schedule.

If I receive an offer, how long will I have to make a decision?

Your campus recruiter will work with you to determine a reasonable timeframe, but typically you’ll be asked to make a decision within a week (internship candidates) or two (full-time candidates).