Microsoft interview questions will of course be different depending on the role for which you are applying. It’s a massive technology company and one of the best-known brands in the world. But one thing is for sure. It will be important to keep Microsoft’s brand and mission in mind. Microsoft’s mission is to use technology to build platforms that have a positive impact. This positive impact is intended to apply not just to businesses, but also to individuals, communities, and the environment. Your answers to Microsoft interview questions should reflect how you can fit into this worldview.
Before we specifically discuss how to prepare for a Microsoft interview, let’s first remind ourselves of the history of Microsoft. We’ll explore what it’s like to work there today. With this foundation, we can review the Microsoft interview process and Microsoft interview questions you’ll likely to get when applying for some of its more popular roles.
Microsoft History & Culture
Your answers to Microsoft interview questions can be optimized if you have a basic understanding of the history and culture of the company. Microsoft was founded in 1975 to provide critical operating software for the first personal computers. Through MD-DOS and later Windows, it rose to dominate the fast-growing personal computer operating systems market. Its IPO occurred in 1986 and as its share price rose over the next decade, its three founders became billionaires and 12,000 of its earliest employees became millionaires.
From the mid-1990s on, its product and services focus has expanded, but obviously technology, engineering, and innovation has continued to drive its growth. It still dominates the IBM PC-compatible operating system market and sells software for a range of gadgets (i.e., computers, phones, tablets, etc.), but now also offers hardware (Surface, Xbox, etc.), is part of the search and advertising market (Bing) and provides cloud computing services.
Today Microsoft is one of the Big Five largest technology companies in the world. Its slogan is “be what’s next” and it has a particular affinity for artificial intelligence and its many potential uses. Its culture is one of innovation, inclusion, trust in computing, and corporate social responsibility. It’s also specific about three key values for all employees: respect, integrity, and accountability.
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Life at Microsoft
Because life at Microsoft will vary so much based on the role, understanding what it’s like to work at the company on a high level is a difficult task. But of course, there are some themes.
Microsoft interview questions may attempt to explore whether you are comfortable working on your own. They are also likely to try to tease out how passionate you are for the role. This is because employees are given a lot of autonomy and are expected to be self-directed. You’ll have the opportunities to try a variety of different careers within the same company. You may support clients as they seek to achieve digital transformation with existing products and solutions or focus on working with Microsoft colleagues on cutting edge technology design.
Microsoft has offices in over 100 counties, also supports remote work, and has generous benefit packages in-line with its status as one of the most prestigious global brands. It’s an inclusive place which, as has been mentioned already, has substantial focus on corporate social responsibility in addition to business productivity.
The Microsoft interview process can take from 4-12 weeks, depending on the situation and the role. Regardless of the specific role for which you are applying, a Microsoft interview will involve questions about how you meet the specific qualifications of that particular role. Understanding what those qualifications are and sharing detailed examples from your past or concrete ideas about how to approach a task will be key, as Microsoft itself discusses here.
Microsoft interview preparation should not be taken lightly. It’s a highly competitive process for most roles.
Microsoft Program Manager Interview (Microsoft PM Interview)
A Microsoft program manager interview may be called a “PM interview” at other companies like Google and Facebook. At these companies “PM” refers to “Product Manager.” But at Microsoft, the “Program Manager” tends to have more responsibilities in execution and delivery than product managers.
The Microsoft program manager interview is step 3 of what is a five-step process: 1) resume and cover letter review 2) phone screen 3) interviews 4) hiring committee review 5) decision.
After steps 1 and 2, it should be clear to you that Microsoft is interested, and clear to them that you could be a great fit, pending step 3. You will experience a few traditional (e.g., “why Microsoft), logic-based, and behavioral interview questions (e.g., tell me about a time you launched a new feature?) in the phone screen (more on those later).
Here, let’s focus on the 4-5 Microsoft interviews you’ll experience in step 3. These interviews were traditionally on-site but were moved to virtual during COVID.
Due to the “meat” of the PM interview process, you’ll be asked a variety of questions. Some will be behavioral, but a full two thirds may be design-related, technical in nature, strategic, or “other.” The “other” could be a logic question or an operational question regarding ways to measure engagement. Let’s explore some typical design, technical, or strategic questions, as we’ll touch on behavioral and logic questions later:
Design question examples
- How would you design an alarm clock for a blind person?
- Talk me through how you’d design a bathroom?
- How would you redesign Youtube’s user interface?
Technical question examples
- What is the runtime of merge sort and why?
- How would you explain the cloud to your grandpa?
- What is big O notation?
Strategic Microsoft interview question examples
- How would you motivate users to use your web-site every day for a week??
- You are the Queen of England. You want to switch which side of the road everyone drives on. How do you go about doing it?
- Imagine you’re a PM at a cyber security startup. Now what?
Microsoft Software Engineer Interview
The Microsoft software engineer interview process will be similar to the process used for the Microsoft PM interview. However, the technical questions will be an even larger percentage of the Microsoft interview when applying for a software engineer role.
Coding questions will be a huge part of your interviews. These coding questions will address data structure and algorithms. You will need to solve these on a whiteboard. System design questions will be another major element of these more technical interviews.
Microsoft Data Scientist Interview
It’s important to understand that the nature of the data scientist role is a little different than other technical roles. Microsoft might hire a software engineer who is simply an excellent coder, even if some other skill gaps exist. But for the data scientist interview, Microsoft is looking for someone who can do more than just code and understand advanced statistics and software. A Microsoft data scientist must also explain results to non-technical people. Though coding is a huge part of the data science role, it is arguably more important to know the theory behind an algorithm in data science over Python, R, or SQL code.
The Microsoft data scientist interview will be similar in process to the PM and software engineer interview. The technical questions will include topics such as:
- Explain a machine learning algorithm to a non-technical user.
- What is a machine learning pipeline?
- Describe dimensionality reduction.
- Describe a time series.
- Explain gradient descent.
Microsoft Logic Interview & Behavioral Interview Questions
In the interview processes described above, we noted how all roles would involve a mixture of traditional, behavioral, technical, strategic, and logic-based questions. Thus far, we’ve covered mostly examples of technical Microsoft interview questions. Traditional interview questions probe your desire and understanding of the role and company: why Microsoft? Why this role? Etc.
But depending on the role, you may get more behavioral interview questions than any other specific type. Behavioral interviews questions are not that different from traditional questions. But, they require you to use past experiences to demonstrate a particular competency. Your responses to behavioral interview questions should provide the person interviewing you with clear evidence of your skills. It’s important to prepare for a behavioral interview by developing a deep understanding of the role. Once you know exactly what the role requires, you can then provide answers that make it clear you are a great fit for the role. Here are some examples behavioral interview questions used at Microsoft:
- Tell me about a time when you faced conflict within a team, and how you dealt with it.
- Tell me about a product you lead from idea to launch.
- How do you get people to agree with your point of view?
- How do you know what your customers or clients want?
- What’s your favorite Microsoft product, and how would you improve it?
- Why do you want this job and what can you bring that we don’t already have?
One common method for answering behavioral interview questions is the STAR Method.
The STAR method stands for: Situation, Tasks, Action, Result. If you are asked a behavioral interview question, begin your answer by describing the situation and providing the interviewer with context on the situation. Remember to choose situations that provide you with an opportunity to talk about skills your research has suggested this position requires. Next, you go through the tasks that had to be accomplished. Be sure to include the options you had at your disposal, and what your thought process was regarding what to do. Then, discuss the actions you took and the results you obtained.
Microsoft logic interview questions address a broad desire to hire critical thinkers who can make swift decisions and think well on their feet. Making swift decisions requires analytical and estimation dexterity and may be tested with “logic” questions such as:
- Analysis questions – you might be asked about the best key performance indicators (KPIs) for a situation, or what type of framework you might use to analyze a competitive product.
- Estimation questions – you might be asked, how many planes are on runways at O’hare airport? Or, how many kids are playing baseball in California right now? The answer does not matter. How you think through the questions and your comfort with assumptions is being tested.
- Puzzles – Microsoft interviews often feature puzzle questions. Your general knowledge of scientific concepts and ability to deal with very odd problems by thinking “outside the box” is being tested here. An example might include “you have nine balls of equal size and weight, except for one, which is a little heavier. How would you identify the heavier ball using balance scales only twice?
A job interview with Microsoft will almost always follow the same process, regardless of what function or role you are applying for. But the tricky part is that Microsoft interview questions tend to be highly variable. Microsoft uses a mix of traditional, behavioral, technical, strategic, and logic-based questions in most interview processes. So, you must prepare for all of these. And remember, it’s also important to understand the history and culture of the company, as this will help you come across as a good fit.