Microsoft Product Management Interview Guide
The world's largest software supplier company, Microsoft, was founded on April 4, 1975 by Paul Allen and Bill Gates. The creation of Microsoft stemmed from the Altair 8800 microcomputer kit, the first commercially successful personal computer. Allen and Gates wanted to expand the use of the Altair so they created a version of BASIC, a general-purpose programming language for it. This programming language known as Altair BASIC allowed anyone to create programs for Altair computers. This was the first product created by Microsoft.
Following the success of Altair BASIC, in 1980 IBM requested Microsoft to create an operating system for their first personal computer. Microsoft created its first operating system called MS-DOS and it was released with the IBM PC shortly after. After the success of MS-DOS on the IBM PC, more personal computer companies used the operating system as the default for their computers. In 1985 Microsoft further improved the operating system by creating their most famous product to date, Windows. Originally Windows was a graphical user interface extension for MS-DOS, however, it transitioned to its own operating system soon after. IBM and other computer companies integrated Windows into their computers and it was a huge success increasing Microsoft’s revenues substantially.
Microsoft continued to, and still does, advance Windows with new versions regularly. Aside from Windows they also launched other products such as Microsoft Office, a suite of applications to help with completing common tasks on a computer, the Xbox, an electronic gaming console, Microsoft Azure, a cloud computing service for application management, and the Windows phone operating system. Microsoft also made significant acquisitions such as acquiring Mojang, the game developer responsible for the famous game Minecraft, GitHub, the code-repository service company, Skype, the video and voice communications platform, LinkedIn, the professional networking company, and Activision Blizzard the video game holding company. Through their new products, acquisitions, and successful management by previous CEOs and current CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has grown to be one of the top technology companies in the world.
Product Management at Microsoft
At Microsoft there are Program Managers and then there are Product Managers. The job responsibilities for both roles sometimes overlap. Some Program Managers are responsible for owning product features and developments, while some have more Project Management related tasks such as collecting and reporting to executives. There are also some Program Managers that lie in between and have a mixture of typical Product Management and Project Management responsibilities. It is important to read the job description carefully before applying to a Program Manager position at Microsoft.
This guide will focus on Microsoft’s Product Management positions as well as Microsoft’s Program Manager positions that have job responsibilities similar to a Product Manager. Since the jobs are essentially the same, when referring to “PM” in this guide it accounts for both roles.
Diving into the tasks performed by Microsoft PMs, they are similar to PMs at other companies. This includes creating the product roadmap, prioritizing features, approving designs, working with the development team, and executing the product launch plan. All of these tasks are covered in Microsoft’s product development process that a PM follows. There are 2 tasks in this process that a Microsoft PM has a larger emphasis on compared to PMs at other companies. These are:
- Research-related tasks
- Technical recommendations and assistance
Some of the most common research-related tasks carried out by Microsoft PMs are analyzing the features offered by competitor products, performing user interviews, and creating and distributing surveys or questionnaires to users. The goals of these tasks are to understand how Microsoft can refine their own product portfolio by improving an existing Microsoft product or create and launch a new product.
After the PM has pinpointed the customer's needs, they will need to translate it into features and specifications, and effectively communicate with Engineers to ensure that they understand the product vision. Creating specifications requires the PM to constantly learn and adopt new technologies to leverage them into product solutions. Moreover, PMs must explain technical blockers to stakeholders throughout the product development process. As such, PM roles at Microsoft are more technical than the average PM role.
Microsoft’s PM career ladder has the most levels compared to other companies of a similar size. This allows for continual growth in your career journey. Let’s break down the various levels.
The career ladder starts at the Microsoft PM Internship, internally referred to as level 59. This 4 month long internship allows you to learn what PM at Microsoft is all about. You will be working alongside full-time PMs through the product development process on one or multiple products or features. If you perform well in the internship it is likely that you will receive a return offer when you graduate. The offer will be for Microsoft’s entry level PM position which is level 60.
From there you can work your way up as a PM which has two more levels, 61 and 62. After that comes senior PM roles which include levels 63 and 64. On the higher end of the ladder are the Principal PM roles which are levels 65 and 66, and the Group PM role which is level 67. After many years of experience you can become a Partner which is level 68. The Partner title is exclusive to Microsoft and is only given to senior leadership in the company (this refers to the top 1-2% of the workforce across the company). At this level, your influence is exclusively at the company level.
Why be a Product Manager at Microsoft?
If you’re intrigued about current software innovations, Microsoft will spark your interest. From AI to cloud computing, operating systems, and developer tools, the company continues to improve their technologies and show why they are the largest software supplier company in the world. As a PM at Microsoft you will be leading these innovative software products to success. Along with this you will constantly be immersed in new cutting-edge software never seen on the market.
Additionally, the leadership at Microsoft is exceptional. Current CEO Satya Nadella is found at the top of many best performing CEOs’ lists posted by news articles and magazines. This is due to his leadership approach characterized by a clear vision, open and clear communication, courage, humility, empathy, and his capacity to generate energy among teams. His leadership approach has led to the company’s market capitalization growing from $311 billion when he first started as the CEO in 2014, to around $2 trillion in 2022. Nadella’s clear vision and communication allows Microsoft PMs to understand what they are working towards and perform at their best levels.
Lastly, as mentioned in the Career Ladder section, Microsoft has many opportunities to grow as a PM. On top of this, the company offers positions as a PM intern and an entry level PM. These roles are not common in large technology companies. Microsoft acknowledges how important the PM role is so they strive to find the best people for the position, regardless of past experience.
As Microsoft has offices in more than 100 countries across the world, salary as a PM varies based on the location you are working in. It is also dependent on what level in the PM career ladder you are in. For instance, a Partner will be making more than an entry level PM.
To give an estimate, in the US, an entry level Microsoft PM has a base salary of $122k, where a Partner can make upwards of $248k. Do note that this does not include the equity you get as a PM at Microsoft. This will increase your total compensation substantially.
The Interview Process
This section will focus on the interview process for the full-time PM roles at Microsoft. However, the interview process for the full-time PM roles and the PM internship role at Microsoft generally follow the same process, just with fewer interviews. So this section can also be used as a guide for the internship interview process.
There are 4 main stages in the interview process:
- Initial call with a recruiter
- A phone interview
- A day onsite full of interviews
- A final interview called the As Appropriate Interview
The end-to-end timeline for the interview process is 4-8 weeks. Let’s walk through the stages of the interview process and discuss what you can expect in each.
Call with a Recruiter
This 25-30 minute call will commence your PM interview process with Microsoft. The recruiter will assess if you’re the right person for the position and company by understanding your past experiences and behaviour. There won’t be any PM specific questions in this call, only behavioural questions.
Typical questions in this stage are:
- Why do you think you should be hired for this position?
- Why did you choose to apply to Microsoft?
- Why product management?
- Walk me through your past work experiences.
- Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it.
Following the call with the recruiter there will be a phone interview with a current PM at Microsoft, likely in the department you have applied for. The interview will last around an hour and will test you on your PM skills and skills needed to succeed for the specific role you applied for. The questions will range between behavioural questions and standard PM questions related to design, strategy, and analysis. There may also be technical questions depending on the product you will be working in.
Potential questions asked in this interview are:
- Tell me about your past experiences and how they would help in this role.
- Tell me an idea you launched from beginning to end.
- How do you know what customers want?
- What’s your most used Microsoft product? How would you improve it?
- How would you determine the success of Microsoft Outlook?
- Build a system for a single person. What happens if 100 people try to use the service locally? What if it's used by a million people all over the world?
If the interviewer decides you have what it takes to succeed at Microsoft then you will be invited to the next stage which is the onsite interviews.
This is the most important stage of the interview process. You will be invited to a Microsoft office for a day and will perform 4-5 interviews. One of the interviews will be a lunch which will last around an hour and a half. The lunch interview will be a casual conversation with a hiring manager where you can ask any questions you may have. The other interviews will last 45-60 minutes and will be with a current PM at Microsoft or other hiring managers.
The interviews will assess you on many different aspects. This includes your past experience, your knowledge on Microsoft and their products, your knowledge on the specific domain you applied for, and various tasks required to be performed by a PM.
Similar to the call with the recruiter and the phone interview, the majority of questions asked in the onsite interviews are behavioural. There will also be other questions testing your PM skills which you will need to prepare for.
The types of questions asked in the interviews can be broken down into 5 groups:
- Miscellaneous PM Questions
The amount of questions asked in each group will vary in each interview and is dependent on the team you applied for. Expect to come across a few questions from each group during the onsite interviews.
Microsoft wants to know if you will be a good fit for the company and the team you are applying for. These questions will focus on why you want to work at Microsoft, why you want to be a PM, your past work experiences, and whether you understand what a good PM is. Try to come up with exciting and inspiring answers that will set you apart from the generic answers given by other candidates.
More behavioural questions that were not mentioned in the previous two sections are:
- Tell me about a time when you faced conflict with a superior. How did you deal with it?
- Explain the role of a PM to a child.
- Tell me about a time when you motivated a team that wasn’t getting work done.
- How do you sell an idea you have to an executive?
Following behavioural questions, design questions are the second most asked question type in Microsoft interviews. These questions will require you to design new products or improve existing ones. They will test your customer empathy, creativity skills, and how you approach designing products.
Potential design questions may be:
- How would you improve Outlook? Specifically the case when users get overwhelmed by the number of emails received after returning from time off.
- Design a version of Microsoft Teams for smartwatches.
- Design a car sharing platform like Uber for disabled people.
- Design a version of Netflix for seniors.
- Design a phone for kids under 5 years old.
These questions are geared towards thinking about the wide range of topics PMs need to consider when making decisions for a product and business. These topics include, but are not limited to, competitors, marketing, pricing, time to market, and product roadmaps
Potential strategy questions may be:
- What should the product roadmap be for Microsoft Teams for the next 3 years?
- How would you monetize Outlook?
- You are the PM for the Windows phone. How would you make it successful and stand out compared to the competitors in the market?
- Evaluate the pros and cons of building a “super app”. An app having many B2C features such as entertainment, e-commerce, food delivery, hotel and plane ticket booking, messaging with other users, planning, gaming, etc.
Microsoft expects their PMs to have technical knowledge in the area they are working in. As such, there will be a few technical questions throughout your interview process. You will not be required to code, but rather, these questions will get you to explain a technical concept in depth.
Potential technical questions may be:
- Explain “the cloud” to a child.
- Design an API for third-party integration for payments.
- Design an algorithm that removes every other node from a linked list.
- Explain the difference between recursion and iteration.
- Design an algorithm for a robot that has to get from one point to another.
Miscellaneous PM Questions
This group of questions covers other desired skills for Microsoft PMs. This includes making decisions using your analytical ability, coming up with rough answers using estimation skills, and your ability to deal with seemingly impossible problems/puzzles.
Potential questions in this group may be:
- What metric would you use to measure the success of Outlook and why?
- How would you measure the performance of a TV show on Netflix?
- Estimate AWS’s total annual revenue.
- How many tennis balls does it take to fill a 16x16 ft. room?
- You have 9 balls of equal weight except one which is heavier than the rest. How do you identify the heavier ball using balance scales in the least possible uses?
As Appropriate Interview
Following the onsite interviews, if the majority of the interviewers believe you are well suited for the role, you will be invited for a final interview which is known as the “As Appropriate Interview”. This interview is with a senior-level manager and generally lasts 30-45 minutes. The purpose of the As Appropriate Interview is to fill any gaps from the previous rounds and confirm that you have what it takes to succeed at Microsoft.
Suppose the previous interviewers believe you need to dig deeper on strategy questions, then this interview will revolve a lot around strategy. Hence, prepare for this interview like any other onsite interview. Review the 5 types of questions in the Onsite Interviews section.
Do note that the senior-level manager conducting this interview has a strong say on whether you’re hired. However, if you made it to this stage there is a high chance that you will receive the job offer.
Preparing for the Interview
As seen through the potential questions in the Interview Process section, successful candidates must dive deep and discuss the various products offered by Microsoft. As such, performing research on their products is an important step that cannot be skipped. This can be accomplished by visiting the All Products page on Microsoft’s website. Here you can find all of the products that Microsoft offers with a link to learn more about their features and functionality. Make sure to analyze the “Popular” products thoroughly as these are most likely to come up in the interview questions. To impress your interviewers even more, research a couple less popular Microsoft products and mention them in your answers.
Above all, you must fully understand the product team you’ve applied for. This includes being able to explain the technical aspects of how the product works. Broadly study Microsoft’s array of products, but specifically study the potential product you will be working on in more depth.
Another important thing to note with Microsoft interviews, specifically the onsite interviews and the As Appropriate Interview, is that detailed information about past interviews in the interview process are shared with your current interviewer. If you get asked the same or a similar question to one that was asked in a previous interview, it is most likely because you didn’t sufficiently elaborate on it the first time. This is an attempt for you to discuss it in more detail. To prepare for this after each interview try to recall the questions you think you can improve upon. Jot down how you would answer it differently if you were to get asked the questions again. If the same or similar question gets asked you will remember to not give the exact same answer and be prepared to deliver a quality answer.
Lastly, the Microsoft PM interview process is very broad and the interviewers will test you on a range of PM-related topics. You must be comfortable with product fundamentals and answering PM style interview questions. Using a consistent method for answering questions will ensure that you hit all of the key areas an interviewer is looking for. Learn a framework to answer PM questions and practice answering the potential questions mentioned in this guide.
Microsoft has been delivering remarkable software products since 1975. Throughout the years the management role in charge of leading products to success has evolved and is now often referred to as a Program Manager or Product Manager. Regardless of the title, the job responsibilities revolve around many aspects of the product development process.
You can get started as a PM at Microsoft with no prior experience through the PM internship or the entry level PM position. From there, there are many levels to grow as a PM in the company. Nonetheless, all PM roles you apply for have the same comprehensive 4 stage interview process that consists of testing your product skills. Ensure you research the products that Microsoft offers beforehand and above all, practice using and speaking upon product fundamentals to prepare for Microsoft’s large range of PM questions. By doing this you can proceed through the interview process and have a great shot at getting the position.
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