My Rollercoaster Ride to join Microsoft. Part III-A. Spring 2005 – When it Rains, it Pours.
2.5 years since my first application to Microsoft and even though there had been several Rounds/Phases/signs that did not exactly end in disastrous dings – they dint even in offers either. But the Spring of 2005 changed all that.
My Rollercoaster Ride to join Microsoft. Part III-A. Spring 2005 – When it Rains, it Pours.
Heather’s Marketing at Microsoft blog was very much the watershed event that changed the recruiting scene as far as my chances at joining Microsoft was concerned. And as a regular lurker and commenter on her blogs – I did tell her two things:
a) that for people like me who were not in the regular hubs of Industry recruitment (read: Seattle, Silicon Valley and Boston), an announcement of these events with ample time could help us schedule our calendars around these recruitment events.
b) Sharing JobIDs/Job Descriptions of the jobs that are open for these events so that the conversations that happen with the hiring managers at these events is directed appropriately. The old marketing adage of – Value, positioning and Sell-Sell-Sell, of course!
Feb 2005: Heather gave us all a 4 week heads-up on a Silicon Valley Microsoft recruitment event for Marketing from the Server and Tools Division. Not only the hiring managers going to be there but they were Directors and Senior Directors there as well. Excellent.
As always – I did my homework on the Job IDs, highlighted all the keywords in the job descriptions, re-positioned my resume to highlight the skills the hiring managers were in search (this wasn’t too difficult considering my experience has been in the Enterprise IT industry in 2 top 10 Server and Software firms!!). 2 wks later I got invited for the event in March 2005. Emailing Heather (this is when I guess she began to get bored of me) again – I realized that these networking events are an evening event and based on how one “connects” with the hiring manager over cocktails there could be a day’s worth of interviews the next day.
While this communication was happening with Heather, I got an email from EB, a Director of Windows Core Managed Software (my area of expertise in my first company) who invited me personally for the event and that he was happy I was coming. Excellent – that’s a first, I thought.
March 2005: After flying in from Philadelphia to Silicon Valley, I realized I was the only person who was not from the Valley in that event. In fact everyone there just walked no more than a few blocks from their offices and looked at me like I was insane when I said – I flew in from Philadelphia for the networking event, taking a no-pay day from office during the middle of the week. Oh well.
The Silicon Valley Recruitment/Networking Event: HC was the team’s Staffing Consultant and probably one of the sweetest, smartest and friendliest you can meet. Ofcourse she never replies to emails or phone calls, but that’s another story.
As anal as I am about planning, I had to understand the format of the event and how the event was supposed to work and figure out the optimal way to meet the most influential person while having interesting, thought provoking conversations. (In other words, I had to know who is the person I had to impress to get me to my next day’s list of interviews). I met EB immediately and thanked him for his email and during the course of the conversation I said – we should probably have a more formal conversation the next day if possible (I have to thank Heather for provoking me through emails to ask that openly – if I thought there was a connection) and lo! Eric walked up to a computer hidden near the stage and scheduled me for an interview with him for the next day. Ofcourse I already had an interview with LG, another Director in the Exchange group for 830. Eric had me for 930. Excellent progression I thought.
Next I met HC and she was excited about my resume and said she was glad some ppl put effort into writing a resume (chalk One WIN For customization!!). I quizzed her on the format and she repeated what I already knew from Heather. That I had to impress the directors myself and that she would help in the scheduling. I also realized that she was anxious for feedback on the format of the event and how it will help her recruiting goals and I promised her that I will be in touch with her – on how my individual conversations with each director/group Manager went and give an overall feedback for the event – if she would do her best to schedule me with the teams I thought I would be a fit for. DEAL! Yayy! I did ofcourse make a ton of conversation about Philadelphia and how the Eagles lost the superbowl the week before to the Patriots (I had to tell the world that I had flown down from Philly just for this event unlike my ‘competitors!!! While on that I threw in the other constraint that My flight back was for noon the next day so I had only 3 hrs of interviews I could possibly do! )
Next I met SA, Senior Director of Windows Core, LG the director that I was supposed to have an interview with the next day and also MS, another Group Manager for the Windows Security software. Thanx once again to Heather’s insight into Microsoft recruiting – I knew that it was critical to not only impress the hiring manager but also the his team of peers. So even though I had an interview with LG and EB, I probably had to impress SA and MS as well.
10 mins into my talk with MS, MS was selling 2 job positions he had to me! Ofcourse I had absolutely no background in the specific position that he was talking about or the technology and/or the industry space, but he thought I would be great in it. Hey, who am I to argue, right? MS said he wanted to talk to me in detail and ran out to schedule an interview with me and given his schedule he could only slot me for 930 (therefore taking out EB’s slot).
As promised the talk with HC (staffing consultant) was easy, she was excited that MS thought I would be great and said she will do my best to have a conversation with EB even though EB was booked solid.
I remember from the talks with MS that he worked with Active directory server and Identity management. Federated Identity management was a new buzz in the industry and I remembered from the talks I attended at Wharton’s Emerging Technologies Conference about some latest initiatives that firms where doing in that field. No wonder MS thought I would be a good fit and forced HC (the recruiter) to schedule me a 1hr the next day.
So with a 3 hr jetlag and the time already well into 10pm PST I spent the night in my hotel reading about Indigo – on both the technology and business sides. It was a pretty quick burn-out rate that night (thanks to the jet lag, and my inability to drown myself in caffeine) – in other words I slept on the desk over my computer. SAD! I know.
The Silicon Valley Interview Day (The day after the Networking Event):
Interview #1 with LG, Director of MSExchange: The 830AM interview was an all-out case interview.
The interview started the usual way – until 2 mins after the pleasantries were exchanged something called “my personality” kicked in (I Blame Gretchen’s Protein bar for this) and I was talking like I was having a conversation by a bar with a friend than an interview with a director at Microsoft. Here are some excerpts:
LG: So tell me, why do you want to work for Microsoft.
Me: I’ve always believed I would be a great fit at Microsoft. You know just like everyother kid at one point of time in his/her life I knew I wanted to take over the world. Where more do you think I can start doing that?
LG: You want to take over the world?
Me: Oh not in the pinky-and-the-brain sort of the way. (I assumed she knew about that cartoon show) but it really is in changing the world, empowering people, making them do more than what they dream towards. And I believe I can do that best at Microsoft given the resources to ppl and technology.
Needless to say she was giggling when I mentioned Pinky and the Brain, very curiously concerned when I mentioned world-domination and totally at ease when I explained what I really meant.
4 mins IN – and I knew if first impressions counted, I was now covered in Gold. (I know. No more Bling-Bling for you!)
Then LG went into some standard behavioral qns like “tell me about your biggest strength”. And some pseudo-standard behavioral qns like - “So what was your best decision” “And what is your toughest decision.”
I think it was during one of these questions the Protein bar-effect kicked in yet again. For out of nowhere I was quoting from Seinfeld and Gilmore Girls!!! It was a great help that LG watched both the shows, though I was convinced she thought I was getting a little too comfortable! Oh well.
End of behavioral 15 mins round in the interview and next was the business side.
LG apparently had a stint at McKinsey before she joined Microsoft and it showed! The next 30 mins was spent on a business case. (since there are a million cases out there, and each one have a million solutions and none of them the optimal solution – I am going to detail the question to the best of my memory). Okay memory-pill do your magic.
The case was about a startup firm which makes a technology that is niche, unique and integral to a total solution in the telecomm world. There is a budget of 15M$ to be spent (I remember this was a large amount to compared to the annual revenues of the firm, though the exact numbers I forget. Damn you memory pill!) and as the CEO I had to decide I wanted to spend it all in Marketing/PR, Sales or Research. The rules were that 15M$ couldn’t not be chunked up (I am not even sure if Chunked-up is a word, but I have a KitKat Chunky on my table, and I dint get the squiggly red line under that word – so it probably is!). In other words 15M$ was what any project in either of the 3 disciplines would cost for a successful implementation and it would be pointless to break it down into anything smaller. Obviously it was all about prioritization based on simple tactical business needs (and if possible strategic too)
With further probing in the first 15 mins I realized the product was already done and well past the stabilized beta stage (Thank you Maturity model). In other words I stated my first hypothesis that unless I got some extraneous information later on in my investigative questioning I am chalking out “Research and Development” since the product has reached maturity. Further I found out that the product was not only unique but niche and perceived as niche and integral in the market. The problem as LG said was that the market knew about the product but couldn’t get its hands on it(yes, This is a major thing I learned – in these types of cases the more questions you ask and probe the more the interviewer will help and give you answers or light the path to the answer. To all you engineers out there – Do NOT think this makes you feel dumb that you cannot come with the answer your self. Ask, Talk and Thou shall get the answer. ) Maaan – that sounds like the Toyota Prius, I said, LG smiled nodded and waited. I said well that does mean I am chalking out marketing too – since they already know about the product – lets put 15M in sales and get this to the masss and make some revenue!!!
Now to get some brownie points. I told LG now I want to decide how I am going to spend the 15M in sales for. I got from her that This was typically a B2B industry where channel sales doesn’t make as much sense and it’s always through the enterprise. In other words strategy deals, which means we need more people and the talks happening to C-Level people in the industry. She said that was not an option since recruiting has a huge ramp-up time and the product wave might be missed.
*rub of the chin, a look at the ceiling, raise of an eyebrow*… Interesting I said….
(okie – Where is that protein bar-rush when I need one) PARTNERS! We could spend some time in training partners, and leverage their expertise to implement this, while we support their sales-arms and sign deals to get them to represent us. High volume, low ramp-up time at the cost of some margin-sharing ofcourse – but the volume and penetration will help us manifold.
Bada Bing, Bada Bang – Jackpot. And I was doing the happy dance internally.
Now lets move forward said LG….. (Ofcourse I was still doing my mental happy dance, when I realized she was not finished with me. Damn shez tough! ) So you have a big sales and have some record sales and when you are ready to go into the next cycle you get a call from your partner to check the news. You do and you realize that the papers have the article that says your product opened up a major security issue which is mission critical in your client. Do remember these are enterprise clients so nothing is trivial for them and now with the media on the case – the stakes are high. What will you do???
I go from a happy dance to a potential lawsuit on the first product launch? C’est la vie, ha?
We have to use the Get-in-Filth-and-come-out-smelling-as-roses strategy, I said.
I told her my first phone call will be to the firm’s lawyer and ask him/her to get on the case and let me know all the potential liabilities and issues I should cover. Second phone call to engineering/support to check on the claims and see what is up and if the claim is true or if it jus one-off at this environment or based on the way it was implemented? They get funds as they like it. Third phone call to round up the Marketing/PR team to get hold of the analysts/press they know on who wrote the story and start working them.
Priorities were to solve the issue, turn around the table and make this a strong PR effort and make the firm a customer-centric one.
So spend the 15$M to solve the issue, get a customer success case out of it, Market the hell out of the angry-turned-happy customer and then use it to sell more of that software on how not only does the software functionally work and bring value but the company stands by the product and also the customer. Brand Brand Brand! In other words – spend the 15$M in R&D/Tech Support and the rest in PR/Marketing.
End of interview and when I asked for feedback – Lynn said I was a definite MS hire and she would recommend that – and it was all about finding the right team and fit and that on a personal note – she found be super-aggressive and added that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – but something to watch for since MS is filled with super-aggressive go-getters. So while it would fit, it can clash too J
Interview #2 with MS, Director of Active Directory: The 930AM interview was all behavioral.
MS talked a lot about his job, the product and asked about my team leading abilities.
This was a normal behavioral interview – nothing Microsoftie about it at all.
I do remember that I had taken some powerpoint slides from my previous job on some value propositioning of technologies on business terms. And that totally helped me make the sale. Nothing fancy about it – most business text books have the business value matrix/pyramid the key was just make the links between the technology through the key performance indicators and eventually results and how they are measured.
At the end of the interview, MS specifically stated he thought I was a fit for his position, even though I had no experience in the position he was looking to fill. I did add that I was a very quick learner and look forward to working in that position. Smooth sailing.
1030AM NEXT – I waited in the reception – to get back to HC (recruiter) with feedback on the interviews and how I thought the interviews went great and that my flight from San Jose to Philadelphia was at 1230.
10 mins later – HC made sure I talked to EB for 40 mins about another position. EB if you remember did have a filled schedule – so obviously I was eating into somebody else’s scheduled spot. I took that as a good sign for me! Obviously.
EB nevertheless wanted a very technical person who was more engineer than marketing and strategy and stated that I had a good technical background but think very strategically and he wanted a much more hands on technical person. So that 45 mins interview went nowhere.
Another 15 mins conversation with HC on the interviews by when she had the feedback from my 2 interviews which she stated was very positive and would confirm on next steps by a week. And that the next steps would be interviews in Redmond.
A self-funded California trip for this event and I thought at that point that it couldn’t have fone any better than what it had!
Life is wonderful J
-End of Phase 5 -