How I got an internship at Microsoft — interview process and learnings
The summer of 2018, I received the wonderful opportunity of interning at Microsoft as a UX design intern. While everyone’s interview process might differ, this is my story of how I got a UX design internship at Microsoft. (This interview process is strictly based on my personal experience, and might not be same for everyone)
I had been interviewing with several companies for about 9–10 weeks before I got an interview offer from Microsoft in end of February. I was in final interview rounds for most of the companies I was talking to, so I already had a lot of practice with interviews and presenting my portfolio.
Through these interviews, I have learned SO much about me both personally and as a designer. I am much more comfortable and confident in presenting my work and talking about myself.
I wanted three things from an internship — a collaborative, challenging work environment, opportunity for growth and mentorship, and a company with a powerful mission. My aim was to learn from and work with people who are as passionate as I am about design, inclusivity, diversity and making a change in the world. Microsoft has all the above.
“Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” — Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
Microsoft is creating products that touch billions of people around the world, which is both a challenge and a big responsibility. The company also focuses on inclusivity from the start of the design process and has created principles and methods for it.
So I prepared (a lot) beforehand — I made sure that I finished my portfolio and resume before the applications opened. I worked hard to finesse each and every project on my portfolio along with the website itself.
The interview consisted of two stages: the phone screening and the on-site interviews.
A Microsoft recruiter reviewed your resume and we invite you to interview with us! This is a first round interview, via phone or Skype.
I got an email almost a month after I submitted my application. Excited, I went on to sign up for a time slot for the next morning.
The phone screening was 30 minutes long. I walked through one of my portfolio pieces for most of the interview. The interview ended positively, and the interviewer indicated that I seemed to have all the necessary skills to be succesful at Microsoft (yay!).
Within a week, I got another email from the recruiter…
Congratulations on being selected for final-round interviews with Microsoft! We’re excited to have you interview
I had passed the phone screening and was invited to Seattle for the final rounds of interview!
Interview Prep Call?
Congratulations on being selected for final round interviews at Microsoft! I am absolutely thrilled for you and feel so lucky to guide you through this journey. Attached you will find a PowerPoint to help prepare you for the interview day. Please take a peek at it before the…
Interview Prep Call!
I was very surprised when I received an email from the recruiter about an interview prep call. The recruiter wanted to make sure that every candidate felt relaxed and confident.
So I got on a call with the recruiter and a few other candidates. Our recruiter was very sweet and made sure all our questions about the onsite interview were answered.
The onsite interview consisted of a 30 minute presentation with 15 minutes (optional) for Q&A. Following that, would be 3–5 individual interviews for 30 minutes each.
From the Interview prep call I learnt that we had freedom to create the presentation however we seemed fit. We could spend the time presenting 3–5 projects or just a single project. There was nothing fixed for the individual interviews as well. They could be anything from just a conversation to design challenges.
I already had a presentation prepared from one of my previous onsite interviews for another company. I updated the same presentation to reflect what I thought would be important to showcase to Microsoft.
I practiced presenting with my peers and seniors more times than I could count. I got feedback and advice from a senior who interned at Microsoft previously. I also came across Tiffany W. Eaton’s awesome article here, which gave me an idea of what to expect from the onsite interview.
My presentation would not have been as successful if I hadn’t asked for feedback from my peers.
I already had a lot of practice interviewing through my previous interviews. However, I made sure I practiced again and also read up about the company and the products they are currently working on.
Flying to Seattle
Microsoft made arrangements for everything from flights, transportation, meals and hotel. I checked in the hotel in Bellevue in late afternoon before the day of the interview. The weather was amazing! I spent most of the evening roaming around the area and enjoying the weather.
I had dinner at the restaurant at the hotel. I ate a pretty nice meal that night with the budget Microsoft gave me. Afterwards, I went back to my room, practiced my presentation, and prepared everything for next morning.
The next morning, I left my hotel a little early just in case I had trouble finding the building. The taxi driver did in fact have a bit of trouble finding the right building — we went in circles thrice. Eventually, I arrived at Building 111, where I finally met my recruiter. She was very welcoming and friendly, as was everyone else that I met at Microsoft that day.
On arrival, I learned that I was in the second batch of interviews that day, and the first batch of candidates already had their portfolio presentation. One of the best parts of the day, was meeting all the other candidates. We were all waiting together and had a great time getting to know each other. I think talking to each other also made us feel less nervous.
At 10am, my recruiter called me and took me to the room where I would be presenting to 4 interviewers. I only got to know what team I was interviewing with once I asked them after the portfolio presentation (the team was Mixed Reality).
For the presentation, I covered my background and story of how I got into design; an in-depth walk-through of three projects and what I hoped to get from the internship. The projects I chose to present showcased the following skills:
- UX and Visual Design
- User research
- Prototyping and animation
- Team work
- Project management
- Design across platforms (website, responsive, app)
I finished presenting it in exactly 35 minutes with 10 minutes left for Q&A. The interviewers asked me questions after each project I presented. They were mainly general questions about certain design decisions I made and the background of the projects.
The team seemed very interested in the work I presented and the portfolio presentation ended very positively.
Waiting and also lunch
After the portfolio presentation I had about 2 hours before the individual interviews started. The time in-between interviews was a great opportunity to network with fellow passionate designers. At 1pm the recruiters brought in lunch boxes for all of us.
After lunch, we waited until our first interviewer came to pick us up individually. These interviews were with the same team who saw my presentation in the morning.
I always try to learn about the interviewers career and experiences. I asked each of the interviewer about their career path, a piece of advice they would give their younger self and their most and least favorite part about working at Microsoft.
The first interview was a very casual conversation, but one of the most challenging interviews I’ve had till now. The interviewer started by asking me a couple of questions about a team project I had done, and how I contributed to it. She also asked me technical questions about how and why I conduct user research and problem solving questions about hololens. Basically, these questions were to see if I really knew what I was talking about in my presentation or resume. She ended the interview by asking, “What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?”.
I then had a few minutes to ask her questions, after which we left the conference room to go back to the waiting room. The interview seemed to have ended on a good note but I was a little nervous about how I did.
The first interview was all about understanding what kind of designer I am? — on what basis do I chose to do user research? When do I think a design is done? What is my approach to team projects and the challenges that come with it? What is important to me as a designer?
For the second interview, the interviewer started by saying that the team loved me, and the previous interviewer had only good things to say about me (sigh of relief!). He then said that the team only had 2 questions to ask me.
The interviewer asked me about how I balanced business and design goals, and what metrics I used to make sure my design was successful? The way I answered these questions was to use one of my projects as an example, and walk the interview through what I did for that project. The interviewer seemed satisfied with my answers, and proceeded to let me ask him questions.
The interviewer had recently joined Microsoft, so I spent most of the remaining time of the interview asking him questions about his career path, and how Microsoft fit in his career goals.
3rd Interview & 4th Interview
The last two interviews were just a conversation. Neither of two interviewers asked me questions. Rather they spent the time making sure I had no hesitations or questions about the company.
I used the time to learn more about the interviewers, the team and what kind of work would I be doing during the internship. I also asked the last interviewer how I could improve my presentation or my work for future.
End of the day
After the interviews, the recruiters came out with Microsoft t-shirts and hoodies. While they were giving out the swag, one of the recruiters asked me to wait because she wanted to talk to me before I left. The recruiter then came and took me to a meeting room to tell me that….the team absolutely loved me, and that WindowsNEXT wanted to EXTEND the internship offer to me. The recruiter was as excited as I was and we both jumped up and down a for a bit in excitement.
It is important to let your recruiter know if you have any upcoming offer deadlines, so they can do their best to expedite the decision process.
My recruiter knew that I had an upcoming offer deadline that very week. So the team decided that they wanted to tell me immediately that they wanted to extend the internship offer to me.
After the Interviews
A few of us decided to check out the Microsoft store and then head back to our hotels, change and meet up for dinner. We went to a very nice Italian restaurant in Seattle. I had to leave early to catch my flight back that night.
I did it!
Yesterday was such a fun-filled day and my highlight was for sure jumping up and down with you at the end as I got to break the news super early that Windows NEXT is extending you an internship offer! Huge congratulations again!
You absolutely rocked it.
What can you do?
I was really fortunate to get the internship, and there are few important things to keep in mind to be successful in the interview process.
Communication and presentation skills
I was never good at interviewing. Rejections, reflections, practice and an open mind have allowed me to improve. Good communication skills are key to being successful at any internship. There is no other way to prepare for interviews/presentations than practicing and learning from your mistakes.
The portfolio presentation is an opportunity to not only see your work but also see how well you communicate and tell a story. The interviewers not only liked my work, but also the way I presented it. The fact that I finished it exactly on time also showed that I prepared and rehearsed the presentation well. They also appreciated the amount of content I covered about myself and my work without making the presentation feel rushed.
Tip: Don’t use presentation notes, rather try to focus on people in the room like you are having a conversation with them.
What makes you unique?
Microsoft wants to see your passion and curiosity. Focus on showing who you are as a person and designer rather than impressing the interviewers. Be honest and genuine about yourself, what you know, and don’t know. Don’t try to impress them by being someone you aren’t. When I now reflect back on my first ever onsite interview with Lyft, I realize that I spent the time trying to say things that I thought the interviewer would like to hear. For Microsoft, I owned the interview by being myself and talking about what was important to me.
Understand your skills and weaknesses. Know what your selling point is so that you can refer back to it during the interview. For me, I knew that my experience with front end development, leadership and project management were some additional skills I brought to the table.
Preparation goes a long way
I had been practicing and giving interviews since about 8–9 weeks before I did my Microsoft onsite interview. I spent a lot of time finessing my portfolio presentation, practicing speaking about my work and about myself as a designer. I asked for feedback from professors and seniors on my work as well as my presenting skills. I even recorded myself to make sure I was speaking at the right pace.
I also spent time reading and learning about Microsoft and its values. I knew exactly why working at Microsoft was important to me. You don’t need to know every detail about the company, but have a general idea of what products Microsoft is working on. Read up on recent news about the company and trends in technology.
Practice Behavioral Interview questions
Interviews are as much about you knowing yourself as they are about your work and technical skills. Preparing for interviews is a good time to understand yourself and know why you are doing design and what kind of designer you are. What separates out average candidates from great ones is their ability to answer broad questions like “ Tell me about yourself”, “Tell me about a time when a project failed?” and “Why Microsoft?”. It is important that you are honest and avoid clichés. I was asked questions about my experience, projects and how I work with people. Microsoft is a huge company, and it is crucial for them to see how you collaborate and work with other people.
Ask thoughtful questions!
Never say no when the interviewers asks you if you have any questions for him. Prepare thoughtful questions — for example, I always ask what they think the future of the company or their team is, what are the biggest challenges they are facing currently and what are they doing about them?
Remember, its a conversation — don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. It is better to have a well thought out answer than just answer right away.
My nearly 3 month journey had finally come to a super successful end. I learned lot about myself as a designer, the interview process, and made new connections. In the end, I realized that it’s not about the end result, but what you learn in the process. You might not get there now, but you will eventually. You just have to keep at it, work hard with passion and determination.
Reach out here if you have any questions or want to connect.