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Microsoft TPM (Technical Program Manager)

Learn how to prepare for the Microsoft interview and get a job at Microsoft with this in-depth guide.

Microsoft is an OG of the tech industry. From Office to Azure to Xbox, chances are you’ve interacted with Microsoft products throughout your life. Technical product managers everywhere bridge the gap between end users and engineering, but with the resources of a giant like Microsoft at your disposal, you’ll have a unique opportunity to solve big problems and change lives.

All product managers cooperate with a variety of different teams, but technical product managers have their hands in the guts of the product more often than their PM counterparts. Especially at Microsoft, where Product Managers tend to be less technical and business-focused, TPMs bring a deep technical expertise to the role while carrying out their core responsibilities. You can count on developing roadmaps, analyzing customer data, and managing projects, but your focus will likely be on the technical execution of your strategy.

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 technical product management role at Microsoft.

Interview Process

Typically, there are 3 rounds of interviews for Microsoft PM roles: recruiter, phone, and on-site.

Recruiter

After submitting your application, a recruiter will reach out to understand your reasons for applying. 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:

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

Be prepared to go through your past experiences at a high level - don’t expect too much technical detail. This call will be used to ensure you're a good communicator, and a decent, collaborative person who will fit into Microsoft’s culture.

Hiring Manager

Next, you’ll have a ~1 hour call with your potential hiring manager. He or she will take you through more specifics about the role and your group (if you’re interviewing with a specific team), and ask more behavioral questions. He/she is trying to get to know you, but you can expect to discuss your experience more deeply as well.

A recent Microsoft TPM hire who had formerly worked at Google was asked about Google “language” and how it compares to Microsoft, so you may want to brush up on Microsoft’s corporate culture, values, and how they’re a fit with your past experience.

You’re likely to get questions like:

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

On-site

Following the phone interview is the final on-site (due to COVID-19, the onsite will likely be replaced with a video conference but the structure will remain the same.) A typical on-site interview consists of 5 back-to-back rounds of a mix of technical and product questions. This might seem like a lot, but you’ll have at least a week or two to prepare, and your recruiter will be in touch with you to walk you through the process so there are no surprises.

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. Our TPM source faced 3 technical rounds including questions on:

  • General systems design
  • Data structures (techniques used for different applications, database questions, etc.)
  • Data sourcing

You will have the opportunity to use a whiteboard in every interview.

The other two rounds were more behavioral: the first was with her hiring manager, and the second was with the head of the group she was interviewing for.

If you visit a physical location, you’ll 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.

Sample Interview Questions

There are two basic types of interviews: technical and behavioral. Technical questions test your technical skills (surprising, huh?) whereas behavioral questions get at your past work experience and attempt to assess your personality and/or abilities.

Technical

As you can imagine, TPMs face more in-depth technical questions than pure product managers. The two most common types of questions asked at Microsoft are coding and systems 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.

You’ll get standard algorithm and data structure questions that many other companies ask, but Microsoft will often ask infrastructure questions. It goes without saying, but be sure to study a few of Microsoft’s key products. You should be able to speak to how the specific tech works in a general sense.

Make sure you’re extremely solid on all concepts mentioned in your resume. Be prepared to detail the pros and cons of your favorite coding languages and which algorithms you prefer if you’re into ML.

Coding Questions: expect easy to medium Leetcode-level questions. Consider tradeoffs for the popular data structures and algorithms (including time and space complexity), and make sure to explain your thought process as you whiteboard.

Systems Design Questions: Your solutions should be scalable, reliable, and efficient. 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. 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, then expand the scope to 100 local users (or 100,000 global users!)

Behavioral

Congratulations! The technical rounds have determined that you may have the qualifications to be considered. Your interviewers will now ask behavioral questions to determine if you’re a good fit for the team and Microsoft as a whole.

Compared to PM interviews at other tech companies, candidates who have interviewed with Microsoft report that their interviews were very casual. 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.

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. Prepare a solid, Microsoft-oriented story to sum up your resume. Prepare a “60 seconds to wow” pitch as well as a longer explanation of each experience that you’d want to highlight. These might be previous work projects, 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 to help ground your story and make the interview more memorable. Any situation in which you were customer-obsessed, dealt with ambiguity, and applied a growth mindset in approaching the challenge is a good candidate.

Some examples of behavioral questions include:

  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • How do you influence team members without having direct control?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to manage conflict.
  • How do you prioritize features?
  • What tools have you used as a PM?
  • What is your style of management?