I went for an on-site design interview at Microsoft — here’s what it was like and how I prepared for it

This is my first time trying out a diary style blog. I hope this provides more insight as to how I felt and what I was thinking throughout the whole experience.

Note: I will not get into the specifics of the questions asked during the interview, so please do not ask. I respect the NDA and it’s only fair for us all.

A timeline of my interview experience with Microsoft. Icons: Freepik

Tue. April 2— First contact

One day, a friend reached out to me regarding a position at Microsoft and asked if I would be interested. They were looking for someone to fill her position.

After asking her about the role, it seems to be a great challenge and a good fit for my background. I double checked my resume and portfolio to make sure things are up to date and sent her my info. She kindly forwarded it to her ex-manager.

Wed. April 3 — The resume did its job!

My friend got back to me saying that her ex-boss is impressed with my resume and that he should be contacting me shortly!

True to her words, I got an email later that day with a link to the job posting for this role and we arranged time for a call. I listed out a few questions that I have regarding the responsibilities of the job.

Thu. April 4— The Phone Interview

I had a 30-min phone call with my hiring manager. We had a good chat about the team, what the product is about, as well as my background and what my interests are. At the end of the call he told me to apply online, and the next step is to fly me in for an on-site interview!

I was really surprised because everything was so sudden. From what I’ve heard, there should be another round of phone interview to go over the my portfolio but I guess that is not always the case.

I excitedly told my friend who referred me and we made sure to get the referral into the system.

Mon. April 8 — Interview Prep starts!

I started preparing myself by listing out the tasks that I needed to do on a Trello board. This includes practicing interview questions, researching the product and the company, white boarding, as well as creating a new deck for my portfolio presentation.

Having everything laid out helps me prioritize all the things that I needed to do without feeling overwhelmed.

My trello board of tasks to prepare for the upcoming interview

Thu. April 11 — Finalize interview dates

The interview date has been decided for April 22. I have about 10 days left!

Fri. April 12 — Tackling Whiteboard Challenges

I bought myself a whiteboard so that I can start practicing a few design challenges. My first one was rough and I spent nearly 10 minutes just staring at the prompt + another 30 working through the problem. I was spending way too much time. Eventually, I worked out a framework that works best for me and got it down to about 20 minutes.

Practicing white-boarding challenges

Mon. April 15 — Deck review #1

After spending many days working on my slides, I sent my presentation deck over to a friend for a review. She was super helpful and gave really helpful suggestions to improve the order and flow of my slides. She also pointed out some important items that were missing.

Tue. April 16 — Travel Itinerary Confirmation

After filling out a form regarding my preferred travel dates a few days earlier, I received an email itinerary (which went to junk mail) detailing my round trip flight and hotel booking. Microsoft requires that I confirm to the itinerary within the next day before issuing any tickets.

I noticed that the rental car I requested was missing from the itinerary, so I sent them an email and the issue was resolved within a few hours.

Thu. April 18 — Deck review #2 + Mock presentation

After making revisions to the slides, we did another call where I presented to her over Skype. She gave a very helpful comments as well as asked questions about the detailed interactions and design decisions in my project. This gave me an idea of questions to expect and how I could answer or handle them.

I made more revisions to the slides after our call.

Fri. April 19 — An encouraging pre-departure call with the Sr. recruiter

I had a call with a senior recruiter from Microsoft today. She explained to me how the interview day would go and gave some really helpful tips on what I should focus on during my portfolio presentation, what the team is looking for, and who I’ll be interviewing with (roles, not names). As she repeated multiple times, “The first hour is all about YOU.” Now, I got to make sure to OWN IT.

I decided last minute to get a new remote for the presentation— a Logitech R500 Presentation Remote (dual-connectivity with bluetooth = dongle free life!). It felt good rehearsing with the remote, it felt *professional*. I connected my laptop to the TV get myself accustomed to using the laser pointer to point out important details on my slides. Then I practiced a design challenge on the whiteboard one last time.

Before going to bed, I wrote some encouraging messages on the whiteboard. When I return home, I want this to be the first thing I’m gonna see so that I can remind myself of that I’ve worked hard and that I should be proud of myself, regardless of the outcome.

Sat. April 20 — Flying in to Seattle

I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock at 5.30am; and suddenly it feels very VERY REAL. A part of myself thought I was still dreaming somehow. I took a Lyft and got to the airport with lots of extra time before the flight. I stopped by a Starbucks for a nice breakfast before heading out. Microsoft has provided a per diem for meals starting today.

Upon arrival at the airport, I took a shuttle to the rental car facility and showed them the reservation provided to me on the email. Everything went smoothly and the staff kindly wished me luck when he found out I’m here for an interview.

After meeting up with a friend for lunch, I headed to Skagid to see the tulip fields, which happens to be in full bloom that weekend. It was definitely worth the traffic.

I met up with the friend who referred me for dinner, then my other friend offered to do a final review of my presentation so we went together to Starbucks. I did another mock presentation and tried my best not to sound memorized (I could go over the scripts for my the slides without seeing them at this point).

She gave me a very important tip: JUST BREATHE & SMILE :)

I checked in at Seattle Marriott Redmond around 9pm (midnight EST). The room was nice and comfortable and the location is within walking distance of the Redmond Town Center with some good food options.

Sun. April 21

I woke up bright and early at 7am, thanks to the jet lag. The morning went by quickly with me trying to be as productive as possible. I ordered room service for breakfast the next morning (also a wake-up call in itself), ironed my clothes for tomorrow, and practiced a few interview questions.

During the day, my friend showed me around Seattle. We visited the Pike Place market, the famous gum wall, Starbucks Coffee Reserve, and the Space Needle.

Destination spots in Seattle: Pike Place Market, Gum Wall, Starbucks Reserve

After a fun-packed tourist-y day, I returned to the hotel around 6 pm to rehearse. I was felt confident and relaxed about my own presentation, but I was anxious about the questions that might come up. I imagine myself as the interviewer and try to come up with potential questions and answers.

I had a simple Thai take-out meal for dinner and made sure I have everything in my backpack ready for the interview (presentation remote, laptop, charger, dongles, emergency HDMI cables, notepad, etc.).

I tried going to bed early but it was difficult with a hundred different scenarios of how tomorrow might play out going through my head. I decided to take a Melatonin pill and that knocked me out real quick.

Mon. April 22 — TODAY IS THE DAY!

I got up bright and early and is greeted with room service delivering the breakfast I pre-ordered. I went over a few interview notes as I ate. After dressing up, I checked out of the hotel and left for the Microsoft campus, which is about 15 minutes drive away.

I arrived an hour early at Building 44. A nice lady at the front desk kindly checked me in, gave me my visitor badge, and registered my vehicle for the visitor’s parking spot. I spent some time chatting with her to calm my nerves. The Peg Mirror interactive art installation was fun to play with.

The Portfolio Presentation

Around 9:45 am my hiring manager came to meet me at the lobby and we went upstairs set up for my presentation in a conference room. There were cables provided. As people started coming in, I asked each attendee to try pronouncing my first and last name as an icebreaker (Thai names can seem complicated!). There were about 6 people in the audience — 4 who would go on to interview me individually and 2 designers on the team who I’ll be working with.

Image Credit: @Campaign_Creators

Here’s a quick run-down of my presentation

  • Introduction : My background (storytelling style), Side Projects, Projects I’ll be presenting today
  • For each project: Overview, Process, Research, Strategy, Wireframes, Design Decisions, Evaluation, Reflection & Constraints
  • Q&A after each project
Examples of some slides from my presentation

My portfolio review presentation went well, despite some unforeseen circumstances. There were a lot of questions regarding my design decisions, my contributions to the project, and the process. To my surprise, it was a lot more informal and conversational than what I had in mind. I felt relaxed and pretty confident with how it turned out.

I was also able to observe how each of the person in the audience interact with each other. I love how the team went back and forth between constructive criticism and helpful ideas regarding the project I presented. I did my best to demonstrate how I handle each feedback as if I would in a real work scenario.

The One-on-Ones

After my one hour presentation, we proceeded to the one-on-one interviews. Each session is around 1 hour, so it took pretty much the whole day.

Image Credit: @nikarthur

First 1–1 was with a Senior Researcher
Because it was my very first one-on-one for the day, I felt quite nervous and blanked out on some questions. There were tough questions that challenges me to think about times when I have to deal with less ideal situations, as well as questions about how I conducted research in the project I’ve presented.

While his questions were difficult, my interviewer was very supportive and encouraged me to take the time to think. I asked him questions about how the researchers and designers work together on a project.

Second 1–1 with a Designer Manager
My interviewer introduced himself and we went downstairs to the cafe to grab some Teriyaki take-out before getting into a conference room. He told me about what he’s working on and his journey with Microsoft. I tried my best to keep a good conversation while eating (this was a bit of a challenge itself!).

After about 10 minutes, we got started on a white boarding challenge. The conference room itself has an entire wall as a glass dry-erase board, so I had a lot of space to work with! We spent the rest of our 40 minutes to do the challenge with a bathroom break in-between. I felt very comfortable and the session was very fun and collaborative.

I treated this more like a co-working session rather than an interview. I wanted to bring out the best of myself by showing my potential colleagues what it would be like to work with me.

Third 1–1 with my Hiring Manager
Since I’ve already talked to my hiring manager during the first phone interview, this session was when I felt the most comfortable. He seems just as nice as he was on the phone!

I asked him more about the specifics of the role, the challenges he foresees, his vision of the product, and the impact that this role can make. He asked me about my interest and what my career goals are.

Last 1–1 with the General Manager
For the last session of the day, I met with the General Manager of the team. Again, this session was relaxed and conversational. She talked about her journey of coming here to Microsoft, as well as about Microsoft as company and how it’s changed over the years. She asked me about why I’m interested in joining Microsoft. This session was shorter than the other ones and all my interviews were over by 4pm.

Exploring the Microsoft Visitor Center

Since I had some time to spare, I decided to visit the Microsoft Visitor Center (Building 92). I had the option of booking a shuttle, but I decided to drive my rental car instead.

At the visitor center, I took an obligatory photo with the big Microsoft sign, learned about the history of the company, and tried out a few games. There were demos of Microsoft gaming products like the Holo Lens, a race car simulator, and a LinkedIn photo booth for new profile pictures. The Microsoft Store also has a great selection of Microsoft products as well as Microsoft-branded apparel and goodies.

Reflection

While this was not my first time interviewing with a big company, it was my first time ever making it to the on-site round. Microsoft has been generous in providing all the things needed for my trip including flights, rental car, and per diem for my meals. Although there were many people involved in the process, my recruiter has been my main point of contact and provided me with great explanations beforehand to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Here are some of the things I learned from this experience and a few tips:

  • Always be prepared!
    You never know when an opportunity would come up. Having a portfolio deck, introduction pitch, and a general UX interview Q&A ready would save you a lot of time so that you can focus on researching the specifics of the role and company you’re interviewing for.
  • Practice your portfolio presentation with your designer friend.
    Nothing beats getting real feedback from a person who have experienced a similar interview process before. I was lucky to have a friend who was working at Microsoft as a designer (shout out to you June! ;3) and knows what the interview would be like.
  • Accept the things you don’t know or ideas you haven’t considered before. The interviewers don’t expect you to know everything. Stay humble and honest. Demonstrate your open-mindedness and curiosity to learn new things and try new ideas.
  • Spend the final few days before the interview doing non-interview stuff.
    I think I made a good call of doing most of my interview preparation before the trip, as this gives time to explore what Seattle has to offer and see if I can imagine myself living there. If I had stayed in for the whole weekend to work on my presentation, I would’ve been putting too much pressure on myself and the stress would creep on to my actual interview day.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
    I have reached out to my recruiter and interview scheduler several times. The early you ask, the better you can prepare and also the earlier they can work to resolve an issue.
  • Check your junk mail!
    Some important communication emails may land in the wrong spot. If you’re expecting an email and it hasn’t come in, double check the junk folder.

Thank you everyone who has made my interview experience a great, memorable one!

If you enjoyed this article, please give it some claps and share!

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. Good luck!