Think coding skills are the end-all, be all?

Think again. A university recruiter dishes on what really gets you noticed.


What’s Microsoft really looking for in our future employees and leaders?  Believe it or not, it’s not about being a programming prodigy.  Coding skills are a given, but having a life is also a big selling point. Here are some other qualities that will pique the interest of university recruiters.

Be nimble. Learn fast. Adapt.

I’m frequently asked, “What program languages should I master to get a job at Microsoft?”  We want to know how quickly you can adapt to a new language and development environment.   Being a C# pro is helpful, but what’s even more meaningful is you taught yourself C#…or Python, or Java—any language.  Self-teaching or picking up a new language on the job is a great sign of adaptability.

Collaborate.  Leadership works sometimes.  But it’s okay to be a follower too.

One of my early mentors said, “You need to be a great follower before you can be a good leader.”  In interviews, I often ask: “In group scenarios, what role do you naturally assume?”  Everyone wants to tell you they are a leader.  But every team needs fantastic followers.  When someone else has more expertise or experience, provide support.  Listen and learn.  It’s difficult to collaborate when each team member is trying to lead the group in a new direction.

Make a decision. Fail. Decide again.  Repeat.

No one would argue that the world of technology moves fast.  In lightning-speed work environments, you need to be able to calculate risk and decide when it’s time to take a chance.  The quicker you make a decision the quicker you can test and, if things don’t go as planned, the quicker you can try again.

For me, this is similar to how I approach ice hockey (a fantastic sport everyone should play).  When a player is skating toward the goal, at any moment they can shoot the puck toward the net.  The further they are, the more risk they have of missing the goal or having their shot blocked.  But as they get closer, and re-think their shot, the goalie has more time to prepare, and the skater still runs the risk of not scoring.  But if they time it right, not only can they take a decent first shot, but they’ll also have time to pick up a rebound and take a second, thus doubling their chance at a goal.  Know when it’s the right time to take that first, decent shot, and be ready to swoop it on the rebound.

Experience life. 

I know a guy who races Corvettes.  He has a machine shop in his garage, and once tore his Corvette down to the frame and put it back together for fun.  I know someone who’s a Wordament master.  I get to snowboard with a former pro boarder.  I just hung out with a part-time pilot who once demoed an early version of in-vehicle voice-activated navigation to Barbara Walters and Bill Gates.  Every summer, one friend backpacks the wilderness of Glacier National Park.  Another friend has traveled the world, to China and back, with her professional dance troupe.

What’s the one thing that ties these people together?  They’re all my co-workers, and they learned early on that there’s more to life than resume-building and writing code. Work is important.  It should be a passion.  But life is about exploring.  Pursuing such passions helped these folks bring the unique perspective that Microsoft values deeply.  Become a great person, not just a great coder.


More on the JobsBlog:

In an essential four-part series, Anthony gives you the tip-off: everything you need to know about university recruiting.

  1. Come talk to us on your college campus, or if that’s not your style, find a recruiter online.
  2. Fire up the internet and read about first-round interviews.
  3. How cool would it be to do a second round of interviews in Redmond (and have a night out in Seattle)? Here’s how to make it a great day.
  4. An offer: Here comes the money! But the numbers are just one part of the decision matrix. Here’s what you need to know before you sign on the dotted line.

You can follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonyrotoli.

A final word: As you’ve heard, star power is not only about programming. Nic, a college intern experiencing the Xbox One launch, tells you what it takes to shine.


An amazing career starts here.

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