Hello! My name is Sean Kollenkark and I was fortunate to have spent the majority of my professional career at Microsoft after going to high-school and college in Montana. My time at Microsoft was life-changing and I put this guide together to help Montana students increase their chances of getting a role at Microsoft. The guide is specifically focused on internships as that is the most direct path for most college students to get an offer. I left Microsoft in 2020 to explore entrepreneurial opportunities, so please note any of the information here is not affiliated or endorsed by Microsoft.
Microsoft’s mission is “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”. Founded in 1975, Microsoft is the world’s largest software company that delivers software and services to hundreds of millions of customers around the world. Learn more about Microsoft’s mission, values, and employees here.
Over Microsoft’s history, Montanans have had a lasting impact on the company’s offerings, culture, and success. Hundreds of Montana university system alumni have made huge contributions to a wide array of products and services like Windows, Azure, Office, Xbox, Halo, Minecraft and more. Many have managed small to large teams and even a few have made it into the executive tier leading hundreds in their organizations.
Products & Services
Microsoft has evolved from a software company pioneering personal computing into a software, hardware & services organization. If you are interested in working at Microsoft, it’s important that you familiar yourself with their offerings and have a perspective on which areas interest you the most. If you end up getting an interview, you will undoubtedly be asked what you like and maybe what you don’t like. You can explore the high-level offering at Microsoft – Cloud, Computers, Apps & Gaming, but you can also use an more exhaustive list like List of Microsoft products | Microsoft Wiki | Fandom that includes some history.
Over the last decade, Microsoft’s Culture has transformed substantially. Satya Nadella and has leadership team have focused on fostering a positive, diverse, and inclusive culture for employees. These efforts have been largely successful earning the company the top spot on several lists including this one highlighted by Montana’s very own Joe Whittinghill, a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft.
Roles at Microsoft
Microsoft has a wide array of positions and roles throughout the company. It may be difficult as a student to know exactly what type of role you will want to do, but you will likely be asked at some point which you prefer. At its core, Microsoft is a technology company. Most positions are on product or service teams and technical in nature and will fall into one of these roles:
Software Development Engineers
Build software features, services, and solutions
Work as part of a team to design, test, ship & update products
Strong technical background in programming fundamentals required
Product Managers & Technical Program Managers
Identify customer problems, define solutions, and drive alignment on team
Drive execution with developers, stakeholders, etc.
Technical background is helpful, but not necessarily required
Range of areas including design, implementation, verification, and manufacturing
Variety of disciplines, including electrical, mechanical, optical, silicon and low-level software for Hardware engineering
Technical background required
Discover new questions or opportunities within your problem area
Produce clear, compelling, actionable insights that influence product and service
Skills in large data set analysis + Machine Learning techniques
User experience design
There are other roles in business, marketing, sales, human resources, legal, etc. but not far less that the product team roles.
An internship at Microsoft will likely change your life forever. Whether you intern once, three times or start your career at Microsoft, you’ll be working with some of the smartest and most talented people in the world. You’ll meet amazing people, learn more than you expect and have great stories to tell when you go home. If you end up getting a full-time offer, the journey will continue, and your impact will grow, and compensation is generous.
The most common path to full time employment for students is through internships. Interns work on projects that matter – and your team will rely on your skills and insights to help deliver those projects to market. Internships are offered in all job families and solution areas. Internships are designed to provide a chance to do great work, learn and grow and an opportunity to experience Microsoft culture, diverse community connection, executive engagement, and memorable events. Internships also come with benefits designed to make your experience the best it can be including competitive pay, relocation benefits and many other amazing perks!
For the official information on Microsoft internship programs see Students and Graduates at Microsoft and Internships in US | Microsoft Careers to help guide you in which program you should target for your education stage.
Reality check: it won’t be easy
The bar is high for internships at Microsoft. Most of the people Microsoft hires out of college come through their internship program. Very few are hired directly from college without an internship, but many Montanans have come to Microsoft after a few years of industry experience. To get an internship, you’ll be competing with the best students in the US and around the world. Only a few thousand are chosen each year.
Many of the students who are offered internships are from a few schools (e.g. MIT, Georgia Tech, Waterloo) that have decades of success getting their students into Microsoft. These schools are factories for interns in the big tech industry and often have opportunities and programs that smaller schools haven’t developed yet. Microsoft heavily focuses it’s recruiting at these schools because of the historical success rate.
To get an internship, you’ll need to differentiate yourself from the rest of these applicants. Your resume will need to stand out to get an interview and you’ll need to have a great day interviewing to get an offer. It won’t be easy, and you will need to put in work if you really want this opportunity. The process generally follows this order if you pass each step:
Prepare resume/LinkedIn profile
Apply for internships
Invited to screening
Prepare for screening
Phone or video call interview
Invited for interview
Prepare for interview
In person or video interview
Placed with team and assigned project(s)
If all goes well, offered another internship or full-time role
Applying for an internship
The process and steps can change year to year, but the rough timelines are:
July – September: Best time to apply
August – October: First round interviews – often by phone by early fall
September – January: Final round interviews – In person or video call
February - May: Most intern roles filled
To get in the door, your skills and experience is going to need to stand out. Your coursework will be the base of your experience. You need to show that you have applied what you learned in class to projects or real-world problems. You also need to demonstrate your ability to go beyond coursework to learn, grow and build new skills independently. Try to find professional experience through a job or another internship if you can but gaining experience through personal projects and other activities is great too. Some of the common ways for students to get experience are:
Relevant work experience
Given most of the internships are for software team roles, most internships will want experience in:
Object oriented programming
Compilers and/or operating systems
Source control (e.g. Git)
Other AI topics (e.g. computer vision, natural language processing)
If you are pursuing an internship role beyond a software team (e.g. business, legal, sales, etc.), do your best to highlight your experience for that type of role. Learning about the skills above at a high-level won’t hurt either.
Prepare your resume
Follow these resume fundamentals
Keep it to one page
Include contact information (email + phone)
Clearly state your graduation date (month and year)
Highlight your relevant skills & experiences
Clean, nicely formatted, and no typos!
Simple, straightforward, and engaging
Space is limited, so be intentional (consider the S.T.A.R. method - Situation, Task, Action, Result)
Search LinkedIn for people who are interning or have interned at Microsoft for examples or inspiration
Prepare your LinkedIn Profile
Learn why and how to build your LinkedIn profile:
Complete your LinkedIn Profile
Find Microsoft internships and apply
Remember that competition for internships is highly competitive so try to be open minded when searching for and applying for internships. Almost any internship will be a great opportunity, so apply for more than less as long as your skills and experience resemble what’s detailed in the job description.
Find opportunities that interest you: Find internships at Microsoft
Apply following the instructions using LinkedIn and/or your resume
If you are contacted by recruiting for an initial interview, congratulations! This is a big step that not many people get to. Do well and you could get you invited for a full interview either in person or by video. It's time to prepare!
Familiarize yourself with Microsoft products and services. You'll almost certainly get asked which products you use and which ones you like. You might also get asked about what you don't like. Have specific examples ready.
Understand the roles described above and have an order of preference (e.g. developer, program manager)
Research potential interview questions on the web. Look for internship specific questions at Microsoft for the type of role recruiting has contacted you about.
Search your LinkedIn connections that work or worked at Microsoft and connect. You might be surprised at how willing someone, even 2nd degree, will be willing to help if you let them know you've got an interview.
Same goes for people who went to your college or university. Reach out politely... and let it go if they don't respond.
Using the intern interview questions you found on the web and...
Reherse in the mirror
Record your responses and refine them
Use a whiteboard to answer coding or product questions. You may be asked to an in-person interview.
Have a friend, family member, colleague or faculty interview you. Ask them for feedback.
The big day is finally here and it's time for you show them why they want you. Interviewing can be an overwhelming event but try to stay relaxed and positive. You made it this far and that's quite the accomplishment. Even if you don't get the offer, you've learned and grown through the process.
Bring copies of your resume
Bring a notebook to take notes including the name of each interviewer
Prepare a set of questions for your interviewers (e.g. Why do they like working there? What do they work on? What are the biggest challenges?
Relax. Breath. Smile!
Make a good fist impression with each interviewer (be polite, professional, engaging)
Answer questions accurately and succinctly. Don't ramble or overexplain. Only keep going if the interviewer asks you to elaborate.
Ask for clarification. It's not a race to the fastest answer. Sometimes questions won't be clear or are purposefully ambiguous. Take your time to make sure you are answering the right question.
Show your work if needed. It's not uncommon to use a whiteboard in software interviews for coding or product questions. Practice this before the interview!
Follow up. Send a thank you note a day or two after the interview to the hiring managers and/or the recruiter.
Hopefully this guide has been helpful to you and at the very least you've learned a little along they way and have a great resume. If you are fortunate enough to get an interview or an internship, have questions or feedback, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.