From Windows to Office to Azure to Xbox, program managers at Microsoft drive technologies that impact our everyday lives. The program management team bridges the technical and business worlds, as they guide ideas from conception to launch.
Traditionally this PM title refers to product management. But depending on the team, the work of program managers at Microsoft could run the gamut from pure product management to customer engagements. Program managers can be found managing projects, analyzing data, engaging with and selling to customers, syncing with internal stakeholders, or speaking at conferences.
Microsoft PMs are always customer focused, and very enterprise and business-driven. The scope of the challenges program managers work on can be quite large. The PM job at Microsoft is generally not very technical. Some PMs spend their time conducting user tests with clients and working closely with designers. There may be some quantitative work involved such as setting up A/B testing experiments and using statistics to figure out which decision makes the most sense. But in general, PMs do not write code.
In this article, we examine some of the most frequently asked questions and dispel any preconceived notions that candidates might have about interviewing for a program management role at Microsoft.
Typically, there are 3 rounds of interviews for Microsoft PM roles: recruiter, phone, and on-site.
If you are applying for a new grad role as a college student, your process would typically look like this: speak with a recruiter at a career fair, have a first-round interview on campus or over the phone, and finally the on-site interview at the office you're applying for.
A recruiter will first call you to understand your motivations behind the role. If you are a college new grad, you will be hired into a general organization (such as Cloud and AI or Office). As an experienced hire, you will be interviewing for a specific position.
Questions you can expect to field with the recruiter include
Be prepared to talk about your past experiences from your resume. This call will be used to ensure you're good at communicating. The recruiter will also be looking for signs that you're a decent person to work with (and not a jerk).
Next, you will have a phone interview with a current program manager at Microsoft. You will get roughly 50 minutes to complete either a product design or technical question, followed by a 5-10 minute Q&A opportunity.
Following the phone interview is the final on-site. A typical on-site interview consists of 5 rounds of a mix of product design and technical questions. Your recruiter will be in touch with you to walk you through the onsite process, which buildings you will go to, and how you will be reimbursed for your expenses. Many candidates also use this time to explore Seattle, with some parts of their trip reimbursed by Microsoft.
Each onsite interview will take roughly one hour: 45-50 minutes of interview time with 5-10 minutes at the end to answer any questions you may have. You will have the opportunity to use a whiteboard in every interview.
You will have a one and a half hour lunchtime opportunity to have a casual conversation with one of your Microsoft interviewers where you will get food from the Microsoft cafeteria. You will also have an opportunity to take a 30 minute break near the end of your onsite.
Product design questions test your ability to design a new product or improve an existing one. Be user-focused. The key is to ensure you're organized with your thoughts and have a clear goal in mind that will solve the user's problem(s).
One of the best frameworks is to go "broad then deep". First, "go broad" by listing all the ideas and solutions that come to mind. Then, pick one to "go deep" on and explain why that is the solution you chose.
Another approach we see candidates have success with is The Triangle Method. This framework will help you articulate your thoughts and help nail your points into the interviewer's mind. To accomplish this, first list three points. Then, dive into each point. Finally, summarize your three points at the end. This will help you articulate your points and subpoints.
Be sure to demonstrate competency in defining metrics as well as understanding what to do when metrics change. Be methodical and show that you make data-driven decisions.
Your last interviewer is mainly focused on these behavioral questions to determine if you’re a good fit for the team and the earlier interviewers have determined that you may have the qualifications to be considered.
While Microsoft does not have a specific requirement like "Googleyness" at Google, it wants to see that you will work well with everyone: program managers, engineers, designers, sales, and legal. Focus on communicating well: enunciate, speak slowly, and speak with meaning.
Prepare a good talk track through your resume. Go through your resume and previous experiences that you’ve had and know how to have a “60 seconds to wow” pitch as well as a longer in-depth explanation of each experience that you’d want to highlight to the interview. These experiences can be previous work experience, side projects, classes, or even hobbies. Think about not only what you’ve achieved in each experience, but also what you learned, what challenges you faced, and what approaches and strategies you used to tackle those challenges and succeed. Make sure to prepare real anecdotes, so you can use specific examples. Your interviewer already has your resume and application, so those anecdotes helps ground your story and makes the interview more memorable. Think about anecdotes that shows off how you were customer-obsessed, dealt with ambiguity, and had a growth mindset in approaching the task at hand.
Why Microsoft? Why this role and team? Think carefully about why you are applying for this role, and why Microsoft specifically. It helps to know as much about the role and team that you’re applying for. It is always very impressive when a candidate has used the feature before, but make sure to only bring that up if you can speak to it because most likely, the interviewer will probe more about how you used their feature and what feedback you have.
Compared to PM interviews at other tech companies, candidates who have interviewed with Microsoft report that their interviews were very casual. But don't let your guard down! In these casual conversations to get to know you, your interviewer may dig deeper into your experiences and ask you to elaborate on your experiences.
Two types of technical questions are most often asked in program management interviews at Microsoft: coding and system design. The level of technical difficulty in the questions widely vary according to who the interviewer is, what the team is, and what type of customer the team caters to. Besides the algorithm and data structure questions that many other companies ask, sometimes interviewers at Microsoft will ask infrastructure questions/how specific tech works.
If you have something on your resume, especially in the skills section, you might get asked about it, so only put things on your resume that you can actually speak to. For example, if you put machine learning, you might get asked about how your train your models and to speak to the specific algorithms that you like using. If you put down specific coding languages, you may be asked about which you prefer and why you like that one. For example, if you like Node, what do you think the pros and cons of a single threaded language is?
With regards to coding questions, expect easy to medium Leetcode level questions. Consider tradeoffs for the popular data structures and algorithms (including time and space complexity)
With regards to system design questions, solutions should be scalable, reliable, and efficient. You will be expected to discuss various aspects of your solution: security, load balancers, telemetry, what happens to data that needs to be purged, and any risks in your design. Be prepared to slowly build up to your solution. For example, your interviewer may start small and ask you to just design the system for one user. What will happen when 100 users want to locally use the service? How about when 1 million users use it globally?
Especially if you’re interviewing for a team in Cloud and AI, it would be good to know the basics to infrastructure concepts, such as operating systems, databases, and how virtual machines work.
It's important to note that interviewers talk to each other between interviews. Usually they brief the next interviewer on what you did well and what they should focus more on. After you finish one interview, the next interview usually pans out in a few different ways:
You get asked a very similar question. This may mean that your first interview didn’t get a chance to get elaboration on something that they asked earlier. The next interviewer is asking you this to get more details, so give your more detailed answer and call out that you’ve mentioned this previously.
You get asked a very different question. This may mean that your first interview focused on specific themes, but didn’t get a chance to get you to talk about another specific theme. Other times, it may mean that based on your earlier answer that this may have been identified as a weakness. For example, it may be that one interview identified that you weren’t as strong technically, so the next interviewer asks a very technical question, so be prepared for this.
If you’re going to repeat yourself from a previous interview to emphasize or elaborate on a point, make sure to call that out.
Microsoft is a very large company. Depending on the team you're interviewing for, program managers can be on the technical side, more UX-driven, or business-focused. Some program managers work very closely with designers, whereas those on cloud computing or similarly technical teams may work closer with engineers.
In your program management interviews, be sure to convey your desire with putting the customer first. Everything you build should be addressing a customer need.
Microsoft also cares about inclusion. This means that accessibility is reviewed for every feature release. In your product design interview, search for ways to make the product more accessible. Not everyone thinks about this, so this may be a breath of fresh air for some interviewers. On top of that, brainstorming ways to improve accessibility for the product might reveal a different approach or solution that you did not previously consider.