Get a Job at Microsoft: Interview Process and Top Questions

Microsoft
Exponent TeamExponent TeamLast updated

As one of the top tech companies in the world, the Microsoft interview process is notoriously thorough, lengthy, and can be challenging.

There are plenty of opportunities available at Microsoft. It is considered a top employer of students and new graduates with internship and research positions available across the company. In 2023, the company had approximately 221,000 full-time employees.

In 2023, Forbes rated Microsoft the number 2 best place to work on its list of over 700 companies across the world; its work culture has also made it a top employer for diversity and social impact.

Below, we break down the Microsoft interview process and top questions you should expect to answer.

What is the Microsoft interview process?

Microsoft's interview process can take anywhere from two weeks to one month, with three to five interview rounds.

For students, the process could take up to two months and may have as many as nine interview rounds altogether.

The process typically involves:

  • An initial screening call with a recruiter.
  • A phone screen with a hiring manager.
  • A technical interview (for technical roles only).
  • An onsite loop consisting of 4-6 interviews.

The interview process is not centralized and may vary depending on the role you apply for.

Microsoft's core values

No matter the role, Microsoft values strong communication and collaboration skills, as well as a consciousness of Microsoft’s core values, competencies, and company culture.

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Think of some examples from your background that epitomize Microsoft’s competencies throughout each interview.

Core competencies include:

  • Collaboration: Effectively communicating within and across teams.
  • Drive for Results: Striving to fulfill commitments, continually seeking bigger challenges, and holding oneself and others accountable.
  • Customer Focus: Empowering every individual and organization to achieve more.
  • Influencing for Impact: Successfully persuading and influencing others using effective communication skills.
  • Judgment: Accurately assessing complex problems and using business acumen to make informed decisions.
  • Adaptability: Possessing the ability to handle ambiguous situations or problems with agility.

The interview process focuses on the following key aspects of Microsoft’s culture:

  • Growth Mindset. True learners who can quickly acquire new skills and connect with others to help bring big ideas to life.
  • Diverse and Inclusive. Being open to learning about one's own biases and changing behaviors accordingly. Valuing differences, seeking them out, and inviting them in.
  • One Microsoft. Actively seeking collaboration with others, looking for common ground across differences, contributing to and building on the success of others, and prioritizing the customer and team within their role.
  • Customer Obsession. The ability to understand customers' perspectives, show empathy for their experiences, and incorporate these insights into decisions and deliverables.
  • Values. When we come together, we treat each other with respect, act with integrity, and hold each other accountable for our words and actions.
  • Manager Expectations. Our managers help bring our culture to life. As they model, coach, and care, they help reinforce our culture and create an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Questions related to these pillars will appear throughout the interview process; try to emphasize them in each stage.

Interviews may be conducted over the phone, through Microsoft Teams, or in person.

“As you progress throughout the process, we will be here to support you with timely updates, answer your questions, and supply you with materials to succeed.” — Microsoft Careers

These are the typical steps for most Microsoft interviews:

Step 1: Recruiter phone screen

The first step in the Microsoft interview process is a phone call with a recruiter that lasts around 30 to 45 minutes.

The recruiter will review your resume and ask a few behavioral questions and some questions about your background.

Questions you can expect from the recruiter include:

  • Why Microsoft?
  • What appeals to you about this particular role?
  • (For experienced hires) Why do you want to work in this particular space?

The recruiter will use this call to assess your communication, collaboration, and leadership abilities and see if you will be a good fit with Microsoft’s culture.

Technical/data roles

Microsoft is known for asking data structures and algorithms questions for technical roles during the preliminary recruiter call.

Be prepared to describe your technical skill set and answer a coding question through a shared editor during this call.

The data structures most likely to be discussed are

  • arrays and strings,
  • queues and lists,
  • linked lists,
  • trees/tries,
  • hash maps/hash sets,
  • and graphs.

The interviewer may ask recursive questions and expect in-depth answers on the complexity of your algorithms.

Step 2: Hiring Manager Screen

Prepare to answer more behavioral questions in this section and delve deeper into your past educational and career experience, and how those skills are transferable to the position.

Be sure to put more emphasis on Microsoft’s culture and competencies throughout this interview.

You’ll likely get questions like:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What’s your favorite Microsoft product? How would you improve it?

Step 3: Technical Interviews

Candidates are typically asked to do one or two additional technical interviews that last about 30 minutes to 1 hour each.

These interviews may involve some system design, coding, or behavioral questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need clarification or tell your interviewer if you need more time.

Although accuracy and technical skill are important, these interviews are more about your thought process and ability to clearly show the progression and reasoning behind your ideas.

Microsoft’s technical interview process will evaluate candidates on all of the following:

  • Problem Solving. Interviewers will observe your decision-making process and ability to think on your feet.
  • Design. Microsoft is looking for engineers who can work with its existing platform, but are also not afraid to build a new platform from scratch.
  • Coding. Your code should be clean, concise, and bug-free. Microsoft will allow you to use the coding language you are most familiar with in a third-party coding tool.
  • Testing. Interviewers will expect you to test your code and show how it works.

Microsoft recommends candidates prepare for technical interviews across the following areas:

Algorithms

Recursion is a common pattern for some questions you might receive in technical interviews.

According to Microsoft, you should know at least one n*log(n) algorithm, but preferably two; for example, merge sort or quicksort.

Data Structures

Interviewees should be familiar with these common data structures and be able to describe their pros and cons:

  • Arrays
  • Strings
  • Queues
  • Lists
  • Linked Lists
  • Trees/Tries
  • Hash Maps/Hash Sets
  • Graphs

System Design and Distributed Systems

Familiarize yourself with the following system design concepts before the interview, as you will be working with them regularly on the job:

Machine Learning

In addition, some candidates, especially those applying for Machine Learning (ML) roles, will likely have an interview round focused specifically on machine learning competencies where you will be tested on complex ML and AI problems.

For interviews focused on ML, Microsoft wants to see:

"One of my favorite parts of working at Microsoft is our focus on the growth mindset, and the encouragement to never stop learning." — Ellen Thorley, Microsoft University Recruiter

Step 4: Onsite interview loop

Microsoft’s remote or in-person onsite interview rounds usually consist of 4 to 5 back-to-back interviews lasting 45 minutes to 1 hour each.

The interviews are usually facilitated by senior managers and developers you will be working with on the job.

Depending on the role you are applying for, interviews will consist of both technical and behavioral rounds, consisting of:

  • Behavioral questions
  • Product questions
  • Technical questions
  • Resume questions
  • Coding exercises

Most interviewees are given at least a week or two to prepare for the onsite interview loop following the previous interview session.

If interviewing at a physical location, you will get an hour-and-a-half lunchtime opportunity for casual conversations with your interviewers, as well as a 30-minute break on your own toward the end of the onsite interview.

What are the top Microsoft interview questions?

Interviews with Microsoft will focus heavily on your technical and coding ability as well as on behavioral questions.

In both of these aspects, interviewers will be paying close attention to your ability to clearly communicate your thought processes and your alignment with Microsoft’s culture and core competencies.

Behavioral

Technical/Coding

Here are a few sample coding or technical questions you may face technical interview sections:

Machine Learning

  • How do you evaluate an ML model?
  • What is a confusion matrix?
  • Implement the KNN algorithm.
  • Implement a 2D convolutional filter.

Product Management

Data Science

  • How would you investigate a sudden drop in viewership on YouTube?
  • What is a P-value?
  • Predict the results from a fair coin flip.
  • What are the types of biases that can occur during sampling?

Microsoft Interview Loops Explained

Microsoft’s interview loops consist of technical and behavioral rounds. Expect to answer lots of behavioral questions during these sessions.

Interviewers use these loops to:

  • Gauge what you know
  • Evaluate how you think and solve problems
  • Assess what it’s like to work with you

In particular, Microsoft will evaluate your ability to work others in a group setting as you will be working with a large team no matter where you end up at Microsoft.

Technical Product Management roles

A Technical Product Manager who interviewed with Microsoft faced 3 technical rounds during the onsite portion followed by 2 rounds of behavioral questions.

The technical interviews touched on topics like:

  • General systems design
  • Data structures
  • Data sourcing

You have the opportunity to use a whiteboard during these interviews.

Product Manager roles

Candidates applying for Product Manager roles will face questions related to product design meant to test your analytical skills as well as abilities in product strategy and execution.

Interviewers want to see your creative process and communication skills here, so make sure to verbalize your thought process when responding to specific product design simulation questions.

In this session, Microsoft is looking for:

  • Dedication to customer experience and stakeholder communication;
  • Fast and efficient problem-solving;
  • Understanding of product life cycle complexity and planning through development, release, and end-of-life.

PhD presentation

Some roles ask candidates with PhDs to give a one-hour presentation on their research. Interviewees want to understand the relevance of your research and background to the role at Microsoft.

The presentation will be followed by a Q&A session, so be prepared for discussions.

Try your best to link your research and experience to Microsoft’s vision, products, and use of technology.

Software engineering

During the software engineering interview loop, expect to be tested not only on your technical and coding skills, but also on your product mindset through system design analysis.

This interview loop is far more technical than behavioral, so displaying good communication skills can set you apart as a candidate.

This interview loop is filled with technical tests and coding questions, so be sure to brush up on your coding languages and other web technologies ahead of time.

Data science

Data science candidates will face 3 to 5 45-minute interviews meant to assess your technical skill set as well as your alignment with and passion for Microsoft.

This may include a PhD presentation depending on your educational background.

Microsoft interview tips

Here are a few tips to help you ace Microsoft’s interview process and get the job.

Embrace Microsoft’s culture

Living Microsoft’s culture is key to its mission. It especially looks for  candidates who embody a growth mindset — the belief that everyone has the potential to grow and develop. This means that you should show curiosity, willingness to learn, and readiness to face the unknown.

Do your research

Put in the work to understand not only the position and company you are applying for, but also other competitors and the latest developments in the tech industry. Come prepared to each interview session with plenty of questions for your future team members.

Be specific and clear in your answers

A helpful framework for answering technical and behavioral questions is the STAR(R) method. This helps you deliver clear and concise answers to complex problems:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result
  • Reflection
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Practice using the STAR method with behavioral interview questions.

FAQs

Does Microsoft hire students?

Yes, Microsoft has several programs available for interns and recent graduates.

Are Microsoft interviews remote or in person?

Interviews may be either remote or in person. If interviewing virtually, Microsoft has prepared a complete set of tips and recommendations on things like tech, environment, and accessibility accommodations.

Can I apply for more than one Microsoft job at a time?

Yes, Microsoft does not have restrictions on this.

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