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I’m Microsoft’s Head Of Talent: Here’s How To Get Hired

Microsoft gets about 2 million applicants a year, but your best chance to stand out boils down to five simple strategies.

I’m Microsoft’s Head Of Talent: Here’s How To Get Hired
[Photo: LIVINUS/iStock]

Imagine landing your dream job at a major tech company with a degree in literature, and without knowing a single line of code.  Or even being on the autism spectrum and going through an interview process designed to work with your particular style of thinking and communication.

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The company that facilitated both  is Microsoft. With Satya Nadella at the helm since 2014, it’s generated more than $250 billion in market value, but he’s also led its workforce of over 126,000 employees to adopt a “learn-it-all” curiosity that emphasizes soft skills alongside technical wizardry. This cultural shift put Microsoft on Glassdoor’s recent list of best places to work, according to employees.

The move toward emotional intelligence has seeped into Microsoft’s recruiting and hiring practices, too, according to Chuck Edward, Microsoft’s head of global talent acquisition. “There’s been an extra emphasis on transforming our workforce over the last three to five years, given the company’s transformation,” he says. “And there’s no better way to bring fresh new ideas and skills into the company: Our leaders and hiring managers are hungry to bring in talent.”

Edward says that internal initiatives like inclusive hiring training and unconscious bias training set a tone with managers. “This is the best time to really open up who you look at,” he explains, especially because “if [employees’] skills match the labor market and our customer base, we are all going to win.”

Recruiting efforts and job openings have garnered 9 million visitors to Microsoft’s careers site each year and draw about 2 million applicants annually. If you want to stand out among the masses, Edward offers an insider’s perspective on how the interview process works.

First, LinkedIn

In addition to resumes coming in to be considered, Edward says there are hundreds of recruiters all over the world mining data, particularly through LinkedIn, which the company recently acquired. “There’s a lot of talk in the industry about AI and bots, but I don’t see them replacing recruiters anytime soon,” Edward contends, and Microsoft’s human recruiters are doing the heavy lifting using LinkedIn and other tools as a primary way to find talented people with the skills they’re looking to add–who may not even be actively seeking a new job. The key to be discovered is to brush up your skills bucket and make sure to highlight projects or career development experiences that showcase your continual learning on the job.

Focus On Learning

The next step in the process involves a Microsoft recruiter who does an initial screen of a candidate. Edward says this is a traditional behavioral-based screening with questions designed to look at the candidate’s technical aptitude if they are going for a tech job, or other aptitude if it’s a role in a different area of the company. At this point, the recruiter is looking carefully to see if the candidate displayed leadership behavior in the past and if they are curious. Edward underscores that a key cultural attribute at Microsoft is curiosity and openness to learning. That includes how they recover from mistakes, and how they show grit and resilience.

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Study The Culture, News And Trends

Edward notes that a good candidate who passes the initial screening will be asked back for between four to seven in-person interviews with a number of people.

It’s at this stage that they need to be mindful of how they might fit into Microsoft’s culture. This will become evident when it’s the candidate’s turn to ask questions of the interviewer, he says. And it helps to have done a dive into the company’s career pages to get a snapshot of the culture and the current state of the business. “Questions like what are the biggest challenges or what keeps you up at night aren’t bad, but they’re really safe, and you could apply them to any company,” Edward explains. They’re also so broad that it’s impossible for an interviewer to offer anything specific. That’s why he recommends doing some homework on recent news and trends, too. “When the interviewer gets taken to a different place because the candidate is pushing them to be better with their questions, we enjoy the mental exercise,” Edward maintains.

Think On Your Feet

Edward says there isn’t a company-wide policy to ask oddball questions like, “When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?” But he says there are still some hiring managers who may use them to see how a candidate thinks on their feet. “Past behavior is the best predictor,” he says. “Things that feel like a mind game are not job-related.” Edward says that overall, it’s more important to Microsoft’s hiring managers to see a candidate demonstrate a self-awareness of what they are looking for in a new job, and why they might find it at the company.

“It starts with how well you know yourself before you walk in,” says Edward. “You can’t discover it in the moment.” If a candidate is well-versed on where they’ve excelled and where they’ve struggled, they can demonstrate confidence, conviction, and humility, even if they are a little nervous.

Opt For Nervous Instead Of Over-Rehearsed

Edward observes that it’s better not to rehearse answers too much in an effort to combat interview jitters. He says that while colleges in particular do a nice job of holding mock interviews for students looking for their first job, their responses can become too rote with such practice.

Nerves are “not a big deal,” he says, especially for recruiters and hiring managers who are used to seeing thousands of candidates. “The interview process is still very human,” he underscores, so it’s best to own it. “The minute they say that the interviewer [will probably] say, we want you to do your best,” says Edward. So take a breath, or a sip of water and be self-aware. “The further people probe, the more you have to think on your feet and be vulnerable and transparent,” he explains. Over-preparing won’t work if someone asks a follow-up question.

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In the end, Edward notes that if you’ve made it through the prescreen and the in-person interviews, you’ve been selected from among thousands of others. “Don’t underestimate that you are already good.”

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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