Interviewing Tips from Microsoft

9 years ago
Eric Vanderburg
In a 2008 blog entry by Steve Clayton at Microsoft, he mentions the five things he looks for in candidates when hiring.  This information is useful for both job candidates and those looking for qualified people.
Here are his five tips:
  1. Hire for diversity, not consistency – I wanted people in my team as diverse as I could. Having twenty brilliant but unmanageable tech wizards in the team don’t work. Balancing out the wizards with the delivery guys worked out well.
  2. Hire Delivery Guys (and girls) – I don’t mean postal workers. I mean make sure you have folks who simply deliver – again and again, on time and with minimum fuss. When the chips are down, they come to the fore, and your wizards take a back seat. As a side note, figure out what makes these people happy and reward them well. They’re gold.
  3. Hire Wizards – in my experience everyone great team has one (or more) who are just brilliant minds. They’re the creative ideas people who differentiate you from the average team. They’re often a nightmare to manage, but they’re worth it. How do you know a wizard? They’re curious
  4. Hire Curious People – by this I mean people who have a natural curiosity. Stephen’s mentions this in his interview with Bill Taylor, and it struck a chord with me. These are the people who ask questions. Constantly. They may not ask questions out loud, but they will question things and often go away and explore to find the answer for themselves. They may never need the information or us it – but one day they may. Trust me this is a very valuable skill. These people become information hubs, and you hear their names again and again in the company as they’re “go to” people. I learnt some of this from my Granddad…but that’s a story for another day.
  5. Hire Passionate Readers – this doesn’t mean hire people who read Mills and Boon. It’s similar to curious people but worth calling out separately. A friend (who is a wizard and curious) taught me this interview question when I joined Microsoft. Ask someone what magazine they regularly read. Let’s say they answer with WIRED. Then ask them how many back issues they have in their loft. It’s not a deal breaker question, but my guess is if you’re reading this you know what I mean. People who are passionate about stuff read about it. A LOT. Okay so they may read online now, and this question may be dated but try it anyway. They may say “ah I just auctioned off my 8-year collection of National Geographic on eBay.” That’s a hire.

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