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Interview with Gretchen Ledgard, Staffing Programs Manager: Microsoft Talent Acquisition and Engagement

ActiveWin.com: Who are you and what do you do?

Ledgard:  Iím Gretchen Ledgard, and Iím a Marketing Manager at Microsoft. My teammates and I are responsible for ensuring Microsoft continues to attract and hire the best and brightest worldwide. We highlight our career opportunities through such channels as online communities, advertising, collateral, and events.

Specifically, I focus on promoting our career opportunities to the developer community. I also manage and contribute to the Technical Careers @ Microsoft blog, often referred to as JobsBlog.
 

ActiveWin.com: How has recruiting at Microsoft changed in the time you have been there?

Ledgard:  Iíve been with Microsoft since 2000, and in many ways, Iíve seen the job market and the way we recruit circle back to a similar stage as when I joined. In the late 90s, Microsoft, along with other established companies, competed with start-ups for key talent. When the job market slowed down, our challenges shifted toward new problems, such as thinking about how we find and convince someone who is safely employed to take a chance on a job change, or how we better evaluate talent. Now that the technical job market is heating up again, weíre taking those lessons weíve learned over the last few years and applying them to todayís challenges.

To the point about evaluating talent, one big change from then to now is the phasing out of those famous puzzle questions, like the ones highlighted in the book How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, and evolving our interviewing style to one that focuses on real world experiences. I find it humorous that so many interview candidates still study the puzzle questions but rarely encounter them in the interviews anymore. I love puzzle questions though, and I think they are a great way to get to stimulate your mind, but I canít guarantee weíll ask you one if you visit us for interviews.
 

ActiveWin.com:  What is a day at work like for you?

Ledgard: For my first few years with Microsoft, I was a recruiter so my days were very structured.  Mornings were usually reserved for interviews, and afternoons were reserved for finding even more candidates and extending job offers. 

 Now that I work on our Staffing Marketing team, my schedule varies.  Some days I may prepare for an event.  Other days I may write entries for JobsBlog or new information for our careers site.  I also spend a lot of time answering questions and email from applicants.  On JobsBlog, you can submit questions about the application and interview process at Microsoft, and Iím committed to answering each and every question to the best of my ability.  That takes up a big chunk of my day, but itís my favorite part because I have the opportunity to interact and help people who are passionate about working at Microsoft.

ActiveWin.com: How has blogging changed recruiting at Microsoft?

Ledgard: Blogs written by members of our recruiting team have helped us better connect with Microsoft applicants.  Personally, my goal when I blog is to enhance the candidate experience by providing a ďhuman faceĒ for technical careers at Microsoft. I want to demystify our processes, assist candidates in navigating our systems and self-selecting for appropriate openings, and introduce readers to areas of Microsoft they may not already be aware of.

But I think employeesí blogs and especially Channel9 have been most effective at highlighting the true spirit and passion at Microsoft.  Employee Blogs and Channel9 were not created to recruit people to Microsoft, but on these sites, you can meet the real people behind our products and services, and that experience of seeing Microsoft behind-the-scenes speaks more loudly and convincingly than any recruiting event or advertisement we could ever produce.

ActiveWin.com: Could you give a brief overview of the application process?

Ledgard: Sure. Typically, when you are ready to apply to Microsoft, you can visit our careers site, search for jobs of interest, and submit your resume. You may also submit your resume directly to recruiters at some college career fairs or professional events, like the Society of Women Engineers conference. Resumes are entered into our own in-house database, and recruiters query the database for resumes that best match the requirements of our open positions. When a recruiter finds a match with a resume, he or she contacts the applicant directly to being the interview process.

ActiveWin.com: With so many people applying, what does an applicant need to have in order to be noticed?

Ledgard: I always recommend a cleanly formatted and concise resume.  Naturally, what you say on your resume is very important but ensuring you present it in a viewer friendly format is almost equally important.  Since our resume database strips away formatting, I recommend you limit the number of tables or fonts you use.  When in doubt, submit your resume in .txt format.  I also recommend you present your resume in clearly marked sections:  Education, Work Experience (in reverse chronological order), Programming Languages / Technical Skills, and Other (patents, hobbies, special projects, etc).  Keep the length no more than two pages. The days of companies requiring one page resumes are gone now that we view documents in digital form, but you should still keep your resume as concise as possible.  I have even more tips at JobsBlogís resume tips category.

I also recommend you network with anyone you may know who works at Microsoft.  Our employees are great at referring other super talented people to the company.

ActiveWin.com:  What basic knowledge should applicants have when applying for a technical job?

Ledgard: For our engineering jobs like Software Development Engineer, Software Design Engineer in Test, or Program Manager, we typically look for a development background in C, C++, C#, and/or Java.  For our roles that require previous industry experience, we have a preference for people who have already shipped commercial software or an external customer-facing product.  College students should have worked on complex academic or extracurricular technical projects.

ActiveWin.com: Would you walk us through the day of the interview?

Ledgard: Our final, in-person interviews usually occur at the location where the candidate would work, but sometimes, like in the case of candidates who live outside of North America, we fly a team of interviewers to an off-site location.  Either way, the interview day is relatively the same.  A candidate usually meets with his or her recruiter for the first interview.  In this meeting, the recruiter conducts an interview and then helps prepare the candidate for the day with tips on what to expect, who is on the interview schedule, and what to do if questions arise throughout the day.  The remainder of the day will be spent in one-on-one interviews with employees in the hiring group.  Each interview last approximately 45 minutes, and candidates meet with a variety of people.  An interviewer could be a peer or a manager.  Typically, interview candidates meet with three to five interviewers throughout the day. 

ActiveWin.com:  What is going on behind the scenes during the candidateís day of interviews?

Ledgard:  Throughout the day, your recruiter and interviewers are communicating with each other to ensure they ask you the right questions and properly address questions you might have. This on-going communication allows us to adjust our interview questions so we can best evaluate you and, if necessary, re-route you to another area of the company that would be a more appropriate match.

ActiveWin.com:  Any tips for the big day?

Ledgard: It can be a long day. I suggest getting a good nightís sleep and arriving with a lot of energy. However, conserve your energy because we donít want you to fall asleep after your second interview!

We provide lunch and free drinks, but I always recommend candidates bring their own snacks and even bottled water. You never know when youíll need nourishment.

To prepare, I suggest you make a list of memorable experiences or projects which best demonstrate your skills and passion. Be prepared to discuss and answer follow-up questions about these experiences.

I also recommend you research the team with which you are scheduled to interview. Check out their official webpage on microsoft.com and search employee blogs and Channel9 for any additional information.

If you are interviewing for a position that may require you to code, I would practice coding on a white board. Have a friend ask you a sample interview question such as the one we demonstrated on Channel9.
 

ActiveWin.com:  After interviewing, how long does it take to find out if you have gotten the job?

Ledgard: At the end of the interview day, your recruiter should tell you when you can expect a final decision. If he or she doesnít, ask. The decision timeline can vary depending on such factors as other candidates who are scheduled for interviews or the availability of key decision makers. Regardless, your recruiter will remain your main point of contact and will keep you updated as you await a decision.

ActiveWin.com: If an applicant does not get the job they are applying for, how long must they wait to try again?

Ledgard:  It varies depending on the stage of your career. For instance, our College Recruiting team evaluates each candidate for every group and for every position at Microsoft. They can do this since our requirements for entry-level talent are relatively similar across disciplines and business group. For this reason, they usually ask you to only interview once per academic school year. Once a new school year rolls around, a new batch of positions open, and you can reapply.

In our experienced recruiting space (applicants who have been in the workforce fulltime for at least one year since graduation), we also attempt to evaluate you across all the needs of the company, but since we look for such varying levels of skills and specialization amongst our experienced applicants, itís not unusual to re-apply and come back again for interviews within a few months of your first interview.
 

ActiveWin.com: What gets someone hired at Microsoft?  What do they need beyond the basics?

Ledgard:  Are you smart? Are you passionate about technology? Do you get the right things done? These are the key elements we look for in any Microsoft employee.

ActiveWin.com: Why should a job seeker choose Microsoft over, say, Google?  What can Microsoft offer that other tech companies cannot?

Ledgard:  Where do I begin? Microsoft offers a diversity of experience. We are comprised of several product groups who each in their own way offer employees a variety of different opportunities. The experience of working in MSN can be different than working in Office. Tired of working on the operating system? Go develop a video game.

Microsoft is also a great place to develop and grow your career. Many of our technical and business leaders started with the company as entry or mid level engineers.

Itís difficult to point to another company that offers you such a vast array of career possibilities. People at Microsoft have a deep passion for technology and the ways in which new technology can change the world. There are so many ways to make an impact here.

Personally, my favorite part about working at Microsoft is the benefits we offer. Iím not talking about medical benefits or a 401K, although those are great. Iím talking more about the thoughtful planning around such initiatives as career development or even our employee giving programs. For instance, Microsoft has a new volunteer time-matching program. For every hour a Microsoft employee volunteers with the eligible organizations of his or her choice, Microsoft will donate $17 per hour toward that charity. Thatís cool. I love that I can work at a company that has a fun, innovative, and energetic environment but, behind the scenes, has really well thought out programs and tools to make the employeesí professional and personal lives richer and easier. Itís a nice balance.

Above all else though, I understand that what I find most rewarding about Microsoft is not what the next person finds most rewarding. When I am out talking to potential applicants, I focus on what each individual person needs and wants from his or her next career move. I can speak specifically to what Microsoft can offer, and chances are, we have what they are looking for somewhere within the company.
 

ActiveWin.com: About how many people get an interview for each person hired at Microsoft?

Ledgard: Our ratios vary per position.  However, in our technical space, itís common to interview three to five finalists for each position.

ActiveWin.com: Are there any funny stories about life at Microsoft you can share?

Ledgard: I think itís hilarious that we now have our own ďMicrosoft celebrities,Ē such as Don Box, Robert Scoble, Raymond Chen, and Adam Barr. Blogging has helped created celebrities out of these people so itís still something relatively new, and Iím trying to get used to the idea

When I talk to candidates about big Microsoft events like Tech*Ed or PDC, they always tell me the best part is getting to meet the celebrities in person. Whatís funny to me is that while our Microsoft celebrities are totally accessible here on campus, they can still generate a crowd of admirers amongst our employees.

A couple months ago, the recruiting group had a big party after work outside a nearby building. This happens to be the same building that Robert Scoble works in. Robert and I know each other well now, and as he left his building, he spotted me and walked over to say hi. I had about 2 seconds to say hello back before he got swamped by his fans. Robert eventually sat down and entertained them for an hour or so. He loved it, and everyone was happy to meet him.

ActiveWin.com: Thank you so much for your time!  Do you have anything else youíd like to add?

Ledgard: Thank you for this opportunity! I just want to let everyone know that we have lots of information on technical careers at Microsoft at JobsBlog, and if you donít see the information you are seeking, I encourage you to ask a question. I will answer.

 

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