5 Skills Microsoft Recruiters Look For (Aside From The Obvious)

[Welcome to I Want Her Job‘s Women at Microsoft Week! Today’s article is the first in a series of five that will help you find out what it’s like—and how you can—land your dream job at one of the biggest companies changing the face of business. Learn 5 skills Microsoft recruiters look for.]

So, you want to work at a technology giant like Microsoft? Wonderful! Figuring out where you can make the biggest impact in a job can sometimes be the hardest part. But what does it take to stand out amongst a mass of other highly-qualified candidates?

If you’re interested in a tech job, you already know that your hard skills need to be more than up-to-snuff. You also need a hefty resume, jam-packed with projects pertaining to your expertise and perhaps an internship or two. Aside from the obvious, what other skills do Microsoft recruiters look for?

I was given the chance to go behind-the-scenes when Microsoft opened the doors for I Want Her Job and a few other career reporters in June. My goal was simple: find out what the company looked for, so that when you apply, dear reader, you can be that candidate that clicks. Throughout the trip, I spoke with multiple employees about what they feel got them hired. I also picked the brains of multiple recruiters, asking them what they look for and what makes a candidate stand out. And through this process, five themes rose above the rest.

Want to know the secret sauce that will land you a Microsoft job? Let’s dive in.

1. Passion

Microsoft is a place where employees can change the world and make a difference. It’s a place where interns aren’t the ones carrying the coffee; rather, they’re doing what makes them tick—real work. When a Microsoft recruiter looks to find a candidate that fits the company culture, passion is key. This isn’t a company where you can show up every day and simply go through the motions.

“The biggest thing you won’t find on a resume is, ‘I enjoy building something that someone is going to use.’ And I think that’s the biggest thing I look for when recruiting,” says Mark Dixon, who recruits for the devices group.

The passion goes both ways. Recruiters at the company work hard. They dig deep to understand a candidate’s passion, as well as what drives that passion.

How To Stand Out: Microsoft encourages show-and-tell. Bring prototypes to your interview. Talk about your hackathon experiences. Most importantly, talk through a project you were a part of and don’t forget to share details of your contribution to that project.

2. Communication

In every job, communication skills are key. If you can’t clearly communicate your strategy, end goals and job processes, you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice. At Microsoft, it’s no different.

“Communication skills are huge,” says David Daniels, a member of the company’s university recruiting team. “Our interview process is set up so that an individual’s passion for a project is shown. You want to know the ones who really care about technology and those who can clearly explain why they care.”

When employees come to work at Microsoft, they already know they’re going to work with smart people. Recruiters share these peoples’ stories with candidates. “As recruiters, we need to understand the story of the team, where people come from, their experiences and their strengths and weaknesses,” Mark says.

How To Stand Out: Communicate clearly and with passion during an interview. And remember, communication is about not just listening, but hearing, what the other person in the room is saying. Take your interview as an opportunity to learn about the team you could soon be a part of.

3. Empathy For The End User

If you aren’t concerned with the experience of an end-user—you know, those of who are pretty tech illiterate (raising my hand)—then Microsoft probably isn’t the right fit for you. Multiple employees emphasized understanding the end user as a key component of what drives his or her work forward.

“I look for empathy for the end user when I’m meeting with potential hires. I’m looking for those people who are curious to clarify the right questions before diving into a problem. I’m looking for people who can solve the problem from the way an end user would experience it,” David says.

Dona Sarkar, principal lead engineer at the company, couldn’t agree more. Empathy for the end user is an ethos she applies to her work daily. “Three years ago, I was using products at home for self-hosting purposes and I noticed certain things—like co-authoring a document—didn’t work that well together,” Dona says. She knew it wasn’t good, so she went to visit the Microsoft Sky Drive test manager. He found it interesting that even though she wasn’t on his team, she had feedback based on a real-world experience. The group ended up fixing a lot of those bugs. And now, One Microsoft exists; a group where stakeholders from various business units get in a room together to role play real-life customer situations. This very group was inspired by Dona’s approach to an end user experience.

How To Stand Out: Highlight projects you’ve worked on and share findings by looking at your work from an end-user’s point-of-view. Show the recruiters that you’re already thinking this way and you’ll score major brownie points—if not a job!

4. Breadth And Depth

Many recruiters emphasized that one of the most important parts of the interview process at Microsoft is breadth and depth. Recruiters say they’re looking for a candidate to tell them what her contribution was to a particular project, as well as how that contribution integrated with the work of the team.

“What we really need at Microsoft are people who can think broadly,” says Vikram Dendi, an employee working in Microsoft Research. “I ended up at Microsoft because it didn’t at all feel like a large company. Microsoft has a very open environment and we publish a lot of what we do. It’s the ecosystem. Because it’s the users we’re constantly helping, we work with all teams; from the Microsoft-owned Surface team to partners like Lenovo. Undoubtedly, this has helped increase innovations within the ecosystem.”

How To Stand Out: As they say, the devil’s in the details. Showcase the breadth of your projects and the depths you went to, to help you achieve said results for your portion of a significant project.

5. Living The ‘Why Not?’ Attitude

“We’ve never been told ‘no’ here,” says Ben Tamblyn, manager of storytelling for the company. “There’s no problem you can’t tackle with Microsoft’s time and resources.”

Students from a Microsoft app hack agree, saying that of course they could work for a startup, but they wouldn’t have the resources and research available at Microsoft to develop ideas so fully—and so quickly. “Microsoft is often perceived as slow and bureaucratic,” says Denise Novosel, senior staffing director for Microsoft’s Global Talent Labs. “Our job is to get candidates here so they can experience the campus, the people and the opportunities that can dispel those myths.”

Dona agrees. “One thing Microsoft stands for is that we never question ‘why not?’ We’re actually the company that’s become all about the ‘why not?’ Computer science is that superpower that allows you to go out and do multiple things,” she says.

How To Stand Out: Find a recruiter by going to the Microsoft website. Apply now. Reach out to the recruiter. You can work at this company. Why not? They assured me that even if you reach out to the wrong person, they’ll forward your resume along to the right person.

It’s important to note that if you’re looking to get your foot in the door through an internship, they’re limited to college students. Microsoft wants you to have that perfect, fits-like-a-glove job that benefits both them and you—just like we do!

Image | Brianne Perleberg