Interviewing at Microsoft: Part 3

As Anne promised, I received an email from one of the hiring managers, Chad, within a few days of my HR phone screen. We set up a mutually agreeable time for us to talk. After a few days of excruciating anticipation, the day finally came. Our appointment was for 2:00pm, but I was sitting at my desk ready for the call by around 1. I did the same thing I had done before the HR screen: I read a few posts on the JobsBlog, I reviewed my resume, and the notes I had taken throughout the process. The appointed time came and went, and Chad’s call finally came in about 15 minutes later.

He started by going into an obviously pre-prepared speal about the group, the problems they are trying to solve, and the positions that are available. This took a little over 10 minutes. The level to which this came across as “practiced” was kind of funny, and I even made a little joke about it. “Sounds like this isn’t the first time you’ve said that, Chad.” He laughed, obviously aware that it sounded like he was reading a telemarketer’s script. He asked me to describe my work experience that would be most relevant to the team, and I launched into an (equally practiced) “elevator description” of my time at Activated Content. (An elevator conversation is a 30-45 second promotional intro– the term was popularized by the venture capital community.) He seemed genuinely interested in this, asking me several questions about watermarking technology in general, and how I see it fitting into the overall content protection landscape. This got interesting primarily because I had to make sure I was describing concepts in sufficient detail to show that I truly understood them, but staying within the constraints of my non-disclosure agreement with Activated.

After a while, we started talking more about the role of a PM within the Microsoft organization, and he wanted to know what kind of experience I had in terms of conflict resolution, and getting disparate groups of stakeholders to generate a degree of consensus. I explained that in my role as an external consultant, I was very used to being in a position where I had the ultimate responsibility for the success of a given initiative, but no actual authority– my only influence was through persuasion, both overt and subtle. He seemed satisfied with this response, and we moved on.

Like Anne, Chad wanted to know if I felt I was prepared for a transition to a much larger company, and wanted to know why I wanted to make this kind of move. I explained that there were a number of reasons– first, my 30th birthday is coming up in a few days, and I am starting to desire more stability and predictability in my life. Also, I’ve always been the primary contributor (often even completing 90-100% of the work) on projects that were only interesting to a small group of customers, and that I was interested in contributing– even in a smaller way– to projects that had more of an impact on the world around me. Finally, I explained that being in positions in small companies was extremely randomizing, and I wanted to finally have a support system so I could focus on moving a project forward. This one seemed to strike a nerve… “How do you think Microsoft would be any different in that regard?”

I explained that, while Microsoft was similar conceptually to a collection of smaller companies– some established like Windows, and other very much like a startup, like the Mac business unit. However, they all shared a common infrastructure– there was administrative support, technical/IT support, and customer-facing support. Although there would be randomness, I wouldn’t be the guy that got the page when the email server went down, or when a customer couldn’t get connected. The majority of my workday could be focused on moving a project forward, which was something that I had not been able to do in the past. I explained that I understood that the higher degree of bureaucracy would offset the gains from the internal support, but that I felt that it would pale in comparison to the crazy atmosphere common in startups.

A few more questions followed, and at the end, Chad said “I’ll be frank, Joe– I’m really encouraged by what I’m hearing, and I think there’s probably a very good fit here.” The funny thing is that even this line sounded like he was reading it– it was almost as if he had a series of if/then clauses with different prepared responses. (I later spoke to a friend who had interviewed with Chad, and he revealed that Chad had used the EXACT SAME WORDS at the end of his phone screen!) Chad was a really cool guy– very articulate, and his questions revealed a deep understanding not only of the specific areas he was working on, but related technologies and concepts. He was obviously a busy guy, and I think that the “preparedness” of his interview style indicated a desire to ask similar questions in order to establish a “baseline” for interview candidates by conducting a similar interview with everyone.

Chad indicated that Anne would be in touch with me to set up a phone screen with a second hiring manager. (This is because I was applying for different positions under different managers.) I got an email the next day from the next hiring manager, Steve. He said that either before or after a 9-5 workday would work best for him, so we decided to have our conversation at 5:30 on a Tuesday.

On Tuesday, 5:30 came and went, then 5:45. I dropped Steve an email making sure that he had the correct contact information, and to let him know that I’d be around for at least a couple hours if he was running late. I got a response almost immediately– he was indeed running late, and promised to call in the next 5 minutes or so. A half hour later, the phone rang. :)

If Chad was practiced and seemed like he was reading, Steve was energetic and came across as excited and conducted his phone screen in a much more seat-of-the-pants manner. Where Chad’s questions centered primarily around the basic functions of the job(s) for which I was interviewing and the related technologies, Steve seemed more interested in my overall management style, my level of passion for technology, and my enthusiasm for digital media. (We had a great talk comparing and contrasting my iPod with my Personal Media Center, for example.) By the end of the conversation, I felt like Steve had a great idea of where I was coming from. We talked for about a half an hour, but it felt like 5 minutes… the whole time I was talking about things that are genuinely exciting to me, and the time just flew by– I practically forgot I was in an interview. In addition to making me comfortable, this got me even more excited about working on this team… and I think Steve realized that.

In the end, he let me know that he was going to recommend that I be brought in for an interview loop at the Redmond campus. He said I’d be hearing from Anne within the next couple days, and that he looked forward to meeting me.

Yet another step in the long, winding road had been completed. Of course, now would come the biggest step: the marathon interview. The next day, I got an email from Anne letting me know that I would be hearing from a “recruiting coordinator” to handle the logistics of my in-person interview loop.

(To be continued…)