July 5, 2005 6:00 AM PDT

Microsoft's personnel puzzle

Arthur Sorkin has been courted by Microsoft on several occasions, but the computer scientist keeps saying no to the software giant's overtures, at times finding the company's attitude arrogant.

Sorkin, who holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of California, Los Angeles, said he first received an unsolicited invitation to Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters in about 2000, on the recommendation of a senior Microsoft manager.

But rather than attempt to win him over as a prize prospect--Sorkin specializes in operating system design and computer security, among other areas--Microsoft interviewers challenged him with a technical "pop quiz," he recalled. No one tried to sell him on either the company or the job, he said. He withdrew his application.

News.context

What's new:
Microsoft has attracted a reputation for arrogance in its personnel practices, which has put off some would-be job candidates.

Bottom line:
Now that the software maker finds itself competing for talent with a host of new start-ups and established rivals, it is working on its recruiting.

More stories on recruiting

Then, during the past year, Microsoft called Sorkin to say it had scheduled a phone interview with him for another job. He hadn't applied for it, and no one had asked if he was interested.

"It displayed a certain degree of arrogance and presumption," Sorkin said. The approach also backfired: The consultant, who splits his time between Los Gatos, Calif., and Mesa, Ariz., didn't join the software maker.

Microsoft won't comment on Sorkin's claims. But he is one of many observers within and outside of Redmond who's raising questions about the way the company recruits and retains its work force. The issue has come to the fore in part because of comments made this month by internal Microsoft recruiter Gretchen Ledgard, who blasted some of her company's managers as "entitled, spoiled whiners" who assume that everyone wants to work for Microsoft.

Ledgard's comments also lifted the curtain on a broader debate about personnel practices at Microsoft, which now finds itself competing for talent with a host of new start-ups, and established rivals such as Google, IBM and Sony.

Microsoft employee location

Among the charges leveled at Gates, Ballmer and crew: Job candidates have been turned off by Microsoft arrogance, and the company's extensive interview process works against hiring fresh thinkers.

The company is working to change its long-standing reputation for haughtiness in hiring, said Abilio Gonzalez, general manager in charge of recruiting. He said Microsoft is trying to convince job seekers that the world's biggest software company is a great place to work, "instead of assuming that everyone would want to work at Microsoft." Microsoft boasts that about 90 percent of those offered jobs these days accept them--a higher rate than in past years.

Redmond in a bigger boat
Of course, Microsoft, which is seeking to defend its turf in operating systems while expanding into newer areas such as desktop search, isn't alone in facing a tougher climate when it comes to competing for employees.

Big tech companies in general are up against challenges that include diminished interest in the computing field on the part of American students, who have seen the tech industry falter and offshore outsourcing emerge. Chairman Bill Gates himself recently took to the road to persuade students to consider computing careers.

Another shared difficulty for established tech players is a revival of the start-up scene. In the wake of the dot-com collapse, big companies had an easier time attracting and retaining talent, suggested Jonathan Visbal, the managing director of the Silicon Valley office of executive search firm Spencer Stuart. After so many start-ups turned belly-up, "many people chose to stay with stability," Visbal said.

Venture capital investment is rising again, meaning there are more opportunities for those with a taste for greater risks and smaller

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27 comments

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No wonder...
last week i got a strange call (area code: 408); some dude w/ middle-eastern accent asked me "we have a position for you here at microsoft, will you come?"

i was so baffled. i never applied jobs there.
and i don't want to leave NY and go to seattle.
it's plain arrogant, and just like the article pointed out: they assumed that EVERY ONE OF US WANTS TO WORK FOR MS!!! uh-uh, at least not me...
Posted by (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nice try but no biscuit
(408) area code is San Jose, not Redmond. Looks like you got a solicitation from, oh, maybe Sun?
Posted by Milly Staples (24 comments )
Link Flag
Nothing unusual....
MS is more of a culture than a company, and as a corporate
cuture, it suffers from severe mental inbreeding. Part of that is
the Icon of Bill Gates, with MS being a direct extensionof his
existance. Communist China was a similar extension of Mao's
existence. It can work, but internally, there is potentially a
serious disconnect with reality.

From what I hear, IBM was in a similar fix back in the days of the
morning song "Hail to thee, oh T.J. Watson...." Everyone had to
wear the same suit, and divorce and other IBM immoralities were
not tolerated in any way.

Apple too is a culture phenomenon, although I think that Apple
also knows how t laugh at itself. MS may not have achieved that
level of skill yet.

Anyhow, I'm glad I never considered working for MS. (Probably
couldn't have gottern a job there anyhow... ;-)). I did work for
the same company for 32 years and enjoyed almost every
minute of it. And I got to work on some really off-the-wall
projects. Never had to take a psych test either - tho a couple of
my bosses were thinking along those lines one time or
another.....
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Running amuck
I work for msft and have done so for 8 years.

In regards to recruiting, yes, we assume that everyone wants to work for MSFT. We also assume that no one working here would ever desire to leave.
This is often true for those living in Redmond/Seattle. The reason is that job promotions occur much more rapidly there. If you want to move up, you are going to have be in Redmond. Almost as important, you will find many businesses offering MSFT staffers discounts -- ranging from cars, to real estate services, to massage therapy. The link from <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://hrweb" target="_newWindow">http://hrweb</a> to Microsoft Prime Discounts is prominent and the Prime Discount listing is long.

If you live outside of the hive, then you want to be in Sales. Stay away from Services. Currently, MSFT is pushing down on Services salaries much like they are trying to push down the cost of our partners' services. The reasoning there is simply to be competitive with the Linux solution providers. If IBM is selling a solution for $100,000, the bulk of their price is for services. Currently, MSFT solutions are often more expensive simply due to the fact the purchase price of software is much higher and the necessary labor costs are about the same as a Linux person. Therefore, MSFT is looking for ways to push down the cost of the average MSFT IT admin or developer's labor so that it can retain the normal prices for its software.

The elephant in the room that no one talks about here is the cost of patching. Whew, what a mess. I work with several customers on a weekly basis and they share with me the amount of time that put toward patching our products. Unfortunatley, MSFT's view of TCO does not reflect that cost of time. In fact, if you are Windows IT administrator and have to work a lot of weekends to patch our servers, well, we think your opinion is not that important as you are only a Windows administrator. If you were really smart, you would work for MSFT and live in Redmond! Some customers have pushed back on the costs of patching and have demanded concessions from msft. In some cases, we have given them concessions. In most we do not as we cannot afford that to be a common practice.
Posted by Darian4020 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"the cost of patching. Whew, what a mess..."
Boy you said a couple of sentences full of truth! I got sick and tired of supporting, patching and updating MS products. I do not understand why so many people are fooled by Bill Gates and his cronies. Must be some kind of subliminal control, or simply job security providing such services to keep the Windows family of product functioning. Or it just may be the case of pre-installed OS's and apps. No thank you. Hello Linux, fun to learn and nice to use. I have yet to crash the system in more than four years of use. And very few updates or patches.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Typical MS arrogance
"if you are Windows IT administrator and have to work a lot of weekends to patch our servers, well, we think your opinion is not that important as you are only a Windows administrator. If you were really smart, you would work for MSFT and live in Redmond!"

A Windows administrator is also one of your customers. It is strange you don't think him as "important". As if guys working for other tech companies are not smart. Whew, what arrogance!
Posted by pythonhacker (71 comments )
Link Flag
How is this different from any company?
This is typical of any tech company. I've interviewed with several companies and this was my experience with all of them. If you don't like hiring practices, start your own company and you don't have to worry about technical interviews and rude recruiters.

my .02
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
At least they didn't ask you to take a SAT test
I just applied for a web writer position and the first step of the
interview process was to take a SAT test. Now what does "if train A
leaves the station at 9pm at 140 mph..." have to do with the job? I
was never so insulted in my life and I withdrew my application.

Companies need a big shot in the arm before they wake up and see
we're not going to take it anymore.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Similar experience
I've had a similar experience with Microsoft recruiting. Someone called me regarding a position for which I had not applied. In one case three seperate people emailed me about the same position. At one point I did apply for a position, went through interviews, and was informed I did not get the job. A few weeks later a recuiter left a voicemail asking if I was interested in that same position. The best part...it was the original recruiter who had told me that I did not get the position! They seem to have many contract recuiters working in HR and their internal communication process leaves something to be desired.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
What's your "Microsoft Multiple"?
My friends and I like to talk about our respective "Microsoft Multiples"; this is how many times our current salary it would take for us to accept a job at Microsoft. When I'm happy at my current job, my multiple is usually about 3, but when I have a bad day, it can drop as low as 2. No lower than that, though; after all, they are the Evil Empire.
Posted by jswap (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Recruiter Interviewing for a Recruiting Job.
I've read the articles and blogs about technical candidates and their experiences with recruiters while interviewing at Microsoft. However, I would like to add the experience of a Technical Recruiter who interviewed at Microsoft.

To set things up, I have been a Technical Recruiter for the last 8 yrs. I've placed professionals in the corporate environment from the "C" level of a Fortune 100 to the helpdesk. Point to be made: I have a ton to learn, but I understand my profession.

I received a call in August 2004 regarding a Senior Technical Recruiter opportunity. I scheduled a phone screen and went through the drill. Everyone on the other end seemed to be impressed. We talked about an on-site interview in Redmond. During this call, the recruiter asked me about my salary requirements. I openly shared where I was and what I would need to move to Redmond. She indicated that was out of range. I replied that I appreciated the opportunity to interview, but didn't want to waste their time if the compensation requirements did not fit either of our expectations. "Use the travel expenses on another candidate who meets your range." I added.

A couple of days later I get a call from one of the Directors in the recruiting group. This person asked me a few questions about strategy and process. I answered. This person then addressed my salary requirements and indicated my experience would warrant the compensation I was requesting. Playball! I thought, and scheduled my trip to Redmond.

The planning and arrangements were first class. I had tons of information about the groups this role would support and expectations. My flight was delayed due to a Hurricane, nonetheless I made it to my hotel at 3am and was ready for my interview at 8am!

The day began with an overview from the HR Recruiter and a brief discussion about my background and expectations. So far so good, and I drove to the next building for my second interview. This is really where I began to have a negative experience.

The first interview was with the hiring manager for the position. She and I had a great discussion about my recruiting strategy and the challenges of the role. I, and as she indicated, felt we both were a great match. I was asked how I would handle difficult hiring managers, how I would create a strategy for "hard to find" talent, etc. Again... great discussion.

I headed down stairs to meet with another recruiter. I received a 15 minute dissertation about how great of a recruiter he was, why he was so successful, and how Microsoft was the only place to be. Fair enough, I thought. This person is very proud of his organization and is confident in his skills. However, it didn't stop. He went into an almost scripted interview questioning. For example, he asked., how would you deal with a hiring team who wanted to bring in Sr. developers as QA analysts? I believe I replied with, "That would be very difficult to take a Sr. developer and ask him to test the code of others., however we could look at it as a succession plan scenario and build our development team from the QA ranks." The next question was, "WHY?" followed by, "WHY?" and to the point we were splitting atoms. Finally, I concluded that there wasn't another "nth" degree to go to and ended the "WHY's?" I was then told how well this recruiter was doing again and finally escorted to another person.

Almost like reading from a script, the same questions came out. I assumed this was a plan to see how I reacted under pressure. I stayed calm, answered each question and then again told what a great recruiter this person was...by them! It seemed when I was asked about an accomplishment of mine..the candidate interviewing for a recruiting position, it somehow sparked a nerve with 5 of the 6 people I interviewed with to share how they did it better and how they worked for Microsoft and I didn't???

Finally, at 5:30pm I meet with the final person. It was the same director I spoke with on the phone. We discussed my day. I shared I believed my recruiting ability in the areas of direct sourcing and not relying or using the job boards would be beneficial to Microsoft. I was given feedback that Microsoft was very process driven and had a system they used exclusively. I replied, "I understand. Name one corporation that doesn't have a process to protect their assets?"

Finally, I get a chance to ask questions. My final question was, "Why should I move my family 3,000 miles across the country for this opportunity?" The director replies, "Because we're Microsoft!"

The look of frustration became clear on my face. As I was then told my compensation was out of line with the position (by the same person who told me on the phone it was.) At that point, I was checked out and ready to go home.

Needless to say, I let Microsoft know I wasn't interested. However, I got a call stating the politically correct corporate response that my skills and experience did not meet the requirements of the job. (Keep in mind, this is after I told them I wasn't interested).

3 weeks later, I get another call from a Microsoft recruiter for the same job. I tell them No. I've already been out there to interview with you and I'm not interested. 2 weeks later, another call. Finally, in March 2005.... the same call.

I'm not bashing Microsoft. I think they are a great organization. I recruit for their products to some degree everyday. My client group uses .NET/C# on a windows platform. However, to be such a reputable organization, I'm surprised that there is this much disconnect in communication. I'm also surprised that I was given the answer, "Because we're Microsoft!"

I engage my profession with 5 principals Ive created throughout my career. Since this was a blog created to share information, Ill share with Microsoft (since they shared so much with me during my visit about their skills and knowledge : ).

1.Always ensure a POSITIVE candidate experience.
2.Only submit QUALIFIED candidates. Go beyond the job description.
3.Respond to clients and candidates within 24 hours.
4.Follow up with feedback to candidates after phone screens and interviews. Close the loop.
5.ALWAYS BE RECRUITING! Lazy recruiters are reactive. Great recruiters are PROACTIVE.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Technical interview and limited understanding of Microsoftie
Last year I had an interesting interview with microsoft. I specialize in server side J2EE. The recruiter gave me an impression that the interview is for a group which is working on "Services for Unix" and which requires people with experience on that platform and java.
The first interview was with a product manager and he grilled me with general questions about my background etc. Went well, then the second interview started with questions on data structures, brain teasers etc. During third round again datastructures like tree traversals etc. I was asked to write some pseudo code. My pseudo code was more java like. Altough the interviewer said language is not improtant he did not like the idea of accessing data using getters and instisted these were a bad idea. It appeared that he had programmed all his life with pointers. His comments turned me off.
Anyway I was escorted to fourth round after giving an impression that I had done well, otherwise usually they cut the interview short. The fourth person again started grilling me with lists and pointers. He also grilled me about some client side usability issues. Which I tried to answer, but all my life I had been a server side person. By this time I had made up my mind that this is not the place for me to work.

Later I was told that I lack "user apathy" and will not fit well in microsoft. Enlightened !
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Technical interview with microsoft
Last year I had an interesting interview with microsoft. I specialize in server side J2EE. The recruiter gave me an impression that the interview is for a group which is working on "Services for Unix" and which requires people with experience on that platform and java.
The first interview was with a product manager and he grilled me with general questions about my background etc. Went well, then the second interview started with questions on data structures, brain teasers etc. During third round again datastructures like tree traversals etc. I was asked to write some pseudo code. My pseudo code was more java like. Altough the interviewer said language is not improtant he did not like the idea of accessing data using getters and instisted these were a bad idea. It appeared that he had programmed all his life with pointers. His comments turned me off.
Anyway I was escorted to fourth round after giving an impression that I had done well, otherwise usually they cut the interview short. The fourth person again started grilling me with lists and pointers. He also grilled me about some client side usability issues. Which I tried to answer, but all my life I had been a server side person. By this time I had made up my mind that this is not the place for me to work.

Later I was told that I lack "user apathy" and will not fit well in microsoft. Enlightened !
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
People offended by tough interviews are weak
I've interviewed senior guys offended by coding questions. How dare I check whether they can actually do the job? I've also interviewed senior guys who dive into the questions out of love for brainteasers. Invariably the offended parties are *bad coders* and not all that bright to boot.
Posted by bobsil1 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A total fallacy
It turns out that personality is only weakly correlated with intelligence. Your Mother Theresa types can be just as smart as your Bill Gates ones.

However, what the prior poster is really saying is that they hire for personality. Only j-rks are allowed in, because they think being insensitive is necessary to be a good programmer and designer.

It isn't necessary, however, and this bias can only lead to a hostile work environment and the loss of good, well-rounded people.
Posted by bob donut (90 comments )
Link Flag
What is weak?
While it is key to make sure people being hired for a task can do the job, there are many ways to test this ability.

It's one thing to test someone's coding ability (I'd even say writing a short program or debugging one is a good idea), but from what I've heard, MSFT's interviewing process is very high pressure and adversarial.

Testing competence is key and I see the importance of testing creativity and intelligence. However, that can be done quite well without being so high pressure. Not all highly intelligent highly motivated people love adversity and aggression.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Link Flag
My personal experiences has been similar
I was flown down to the Microsoft Offshore development center in Hyderabad once. No body really bothered to answer what kind of work I would be doing until after I rejected the offer. I got the feeling that they felt that there was no need to explain those kind of things.

I still feel that a lot of time could be saved if only they were more clear about what they expected and were willing to listen a bit more.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
What is the point of this article?
I think tech companies that DON"T grill/quiz their technical hires are crazy. You never find out more about a potential hire than when you force them to react under the same type of pressure situations they will face every day? And as far as being arrogant, why shouldn't they be? I personally know several MS employees and they get paid well, get great benefits, have every piece of hardware/software they ask for, an amazing campus, and then some. So why shouldn't MS feel that they can and will get the best people?

this type of pointless article, and pointless MS bashing gives journalism a bad name.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Nope
Sometimes the best engineers come in bodies that can't talk. - Nolan Bushnell

I must politely disagree with your argument, and I think it is actually the point a lot of people slip up on.

As a developer myself and from personal experience I don't honestly think you can equate the pressure situation you face in front of total strangers in strange surroundings with the pressure situation of a tough engineering or design issue in a comfortable and familiar environment with people you are used to being around. They are NOT THE SAME THING.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Interviewed there twice, what a mess
I interviewed at Microsoft twice, once while an undergrad, and once while a grad student. Admittedly this was over a decade ago, but from what I've heard, things haven't changed much. Never, and I mean never, have I met so many people who are so arrogant with absolutely no reason to be.

First, they love the puzzle question. That's nice, but I really don't care how to paddle to the edge of the lake before the lion eats me. I'm not particularly good at puzzles, and frankly, nobody is hiring me to solve puzzles. You're hiring me because I can solve programming problems, and when I don't know the answer, I can find it or figure it out, not because I can solve a puzzle in the next half hour.

Second, wow, you get some zit faced overweight dork who wrote 30 lines of code in DOS (yes, it was a LONG time ago that I interviewed there) and he thinks he knows the "right" answer. I remember one interview where the guy asked me a question, I disagreed with him, and we basically stared at each for the next 20 minutes without much to say. Great interviewing style that guy had, "agree with me, or you don't get a job".

Both times I walked away thinking "this isn't the kind of place I want to work". I wasn't respected for my skills, frequently wasn't given a chance to demonstrate my skills, wasn't respected for my knowledge or experience (depth or breadth), and felt more like cattle than a person. Glad I found other jobs where I've been MUCH happier (and I hated some of them).

Oh, BTW, the manhole cover is round because the manhole is round. It's a standard.... :-)
Posted by kolding (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just one example among many.
It's been many years since I interviewed with Microsoft, but I am sure my experience was similar to many. My interview with Microsoft went very well for awhile.

I managed to answer all of the odd logic twisting trick question oriented puzzles, and made it to "the next round". My classmates were impressed, as very few people had any reason to stay at thier recruitment drive past noon.

I was a bit worried and nervous, but not because of all of the trick questions and riddles, for my father was an AI researcher, and such mind exercises were part and parcel of growing up in my household. I was worried because every other business had tried to recruit me, but Microsoft made no mention as to why I should work there. Worse yet, they were making me prove my worth to their company.

I was being bullied through my interviews, but some time around 2PM, I was torn between desiring the position that was being advertised as a goldmine opportunity, but feeling like I would be treated as poorly as a sweatshop coal miner.

Fortunately, someone else made the decision for me. One interviewer asked me what I could bring to Microsoft. My reply, "Well, I'm resonably intelligent, I can program and design well, and I can work for you." He was not impressed, I guess I should have mentioned something silly, like my Nobel that is due to be delivered as soon as the paperwork is ready. The next question, "Do you use Linux?" My reply, "Why yes, of course. It's useful to look under the hood at an operating system to get a better idea of how things can be done. Plus the large number of programming tools available without cost come in handy for a student with limited means."

The interview terminated immedately. I didn't get another question, an explanation, nor even a proper closing. Insteady, less than five minutes into an hour long interview, the next thing I heard was, "Well, this interview is over. You can leave now."

In the end, Microsoft didn't hire any of us, as my University wasn't of "high enough ranking" to merit a hire, despite the small army of representatives they sent to pratically interview the entire Comp. Sci. graduating class.

Since then I've developed SCADA systems for power grid control, airline price prediction software, and multi-operating system distributed scheduling software for enterprise management. I boast a resume that indicates I know how to program, in a variety of languages, platforms, and architectures, including Macintosh, UNIX, Linux, the PalmOS, and Windows.

I know my employers have benefited from my contributions. And today, being a few years older, and a few years wiser, I would never subject myself to an interview process like that of Microsoft again. It's just too humilating doing complex logic puzzles in your head while someone in the room is yelling, "Faster, you're taking too much time to answer!", even if you get the right answers.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
is microsoft the arrogant one??
Or the guy who thinks he deserves some special way of interviewing?
Posted by bit-looter (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For one Microsoft interview, I had to answer 4 coding questions before the interview. During the day of interviews I think each interviewer asked 2 coding questions each. By the end of the day I was getting a little worn down. Internally I was thinking that surely asking me more questions wouldn't prove anything. Anyway during my final interview of the day (it was around 5:30pm), I was asked a longer coding question. It was a combination of getting tired of yet another coding question, just a temporary inability to think of an answer under pressure and the fact the the interviewer was typing loudly on his laptop. Not just typing, but it sounded like intentionally loud typing. He then made the snide remark of "At Microsoft we get the specs before coding" when I rubbed out a bit of the code I had written on the board. Anyway my mind just gave up. If I was at home under less pressure and if I was less tired I'm sure I could have got the answer. Anyway two weeks after the interview I got a phone call which said that the manager of the group had said that I was so stupid I didn't even realise I had got the last question wrong. In fact I didn't really answer the last question at all. I kind of gave up. Still it was very rude of them to say that I was very stupid.

A previous poster is correct. Answering a coding question in front of someone in an interview situation is a different situation to coding on a computer. I find the latter far easier.

When you are at work, nobody stands behind you looking at everything you type as you type it and banging away loudly on a keyboard.
Posted by solaris2010 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
At another Microsoft interview I had to travel abroad to get to the place. So considering traveling, preparations, pre-interview questions etc., the interview took at least 3 days of my time.

During my interview with the manager, I was asked a logic problem. After a little while I said the correct answer. Then the manager interrupted me and gave his version of the answer. Both of answers were correct. I had said aloud the description of how to solve the problem in words. His answer was identical but just a formula version of what I had said. He then said he was rushed for time and had to interview someone else.

I then had two more interviews that day.

After those two interviews, I was told I had got the logic problem incorrect and as such wasn't offered the job. So why I was I put through two more interviews? Also I had got this problem correct. I had said the correct answer in words and was then interrupted and relayed something indentical to what I had said but just as a more compact formula. If he wanted me to give another form for my answer, he shouldn't have interrupted me or said so explicitly.

I don't know what had gone on, but I guess the manager was just looking for a technical excuse to reject me and had picked on this.

But it stinks. Basically I had donated three days of my time to the interview process and at best the manager couldn't be bothered to listen to my correct answer. He might as well have just asked me a question and stuck his fingers in his ears!

Still if this is how you are treated at interview, you wouldn't want to work in that group.
Posted by solaris2010 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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