Interviewing for Microsoft’s Explore Internship program as a Freshman | Tanaka Chingonzo

Interviewing for Microsoft's Explore Internship program as a Freshman

Interviewing for Microsoft's Explore Internship program as a Freshman 6 mins read.

December 1, 2017

At Microsoft Interviewing for the Explorer program in my freshman year

Last November, I had the privilege of spending three days at Microsoft in Redmond, Seattle, interviewing as a candidate for their Explorer program. The Microsoft Explorer program is a 12-week paid summer internship where interns can explore software engineering at Microsoft in their freshman or sophomore years. Groups of two to three interns are assigned a team and an impactful summer project.

TLDR; I did not get into the program.

Still, here are my thoughts and key lessons from the experience. I am writing this so that I can reflect on my experience, and use this lessons as I move forward. A friend told me to always look for something good in every experience.

My email was behaving weird and all of my interviewer’s emails were being flagged as spam and getting sent to my junk mail. I did not know about the interview until 3 or so days before the interview. Initially I was taken through a phone interview.

Phone interview

The interview went well and it took the form of a conversation more than a formal 20-questions type of interview. I really enjoyed this. Most of the questions were behavioral with one or two very basic theory application questions. A few days after this, I received an email from my recruiter saying I was being advanced to the final round of interviews.

Again, I did not see this email immediately because it was being automatically routed to the spam folder of my inbox. I had tried to correct this, but clearly it had not worked. I thought I might not have been admitted into the program because I did not feel particularly confident in my computer science knowledge and I felt intimidated by how competitive the program is. A few days later, I found out I had been admitted to the final round of interviews in Seattle. I was elated!

The interviewing process was a fun because it was interesting to prepare for because it was supposed to be both technical and behavioral. It was scary, but exhilirating. The intent of this article is to reflect on my own experience and prepare myself better for my next round of interviews.

Pre-Interviews

I had about two weeks before I had to fly to Redmond, WA for the on-site interviews. During this time, I practically read every article and post on Quora and Glassdoor pertaining to the Explorer internship. After a lot of Internet browsing, I ended up compiling a large document with technical, product design, and behavioral interview questions.

Recruiters mentioned that Microsoft asked questions that tried to decipher the thought process of the candidate. Some questions would be intentionally ambiguous – what was important was the approach, not the solution. These sorts of questions were difficult to prepare for because one couldn’t change their thought process overnight. Nevertheless, I tried my best to prepare – each day, for about an hour those two weeks until the date of the interview, I went through past interview questions in hopes that some would recur in my on-site interviews.

Interviews

My first interviewer was a software engineer on the Bing team. He began by going down my resume, asking me probing questions about my projects and previous experience I had( I had very little.) Still, I enjoyed this interview. I had done work on front-end web development projects, and taught myself Search Engine Optimisation so he asked me some questions around that. He also asked me some questions about Bing and how I would modify the browser and its text-prediction. Both of my second interviews were around natural language processing and text-prediction. I had indicated in my application that this was my interest area.

Post-Interviews Every single question I was asked was something I had never encountered in my preparation. To be fair to myself, at this point, I had not even taken my first CS course, and I was barely proficient in Python.

Still, I enjoyed thinking the questions through and walking my interviewers through my thoughts. They gave me helpful hints along the way to making my solutions. For one of my questions, I was required to come up with 3 different solutions to a technical problem.

After the interviews, we were given a free Microsoft hoodie and $55 to explore Seattle! I had a couple of friends studying at the University of Washington, so I went to visit them. We enjoyed a meal at Little Thai on Microsoft’s expenses. We were also given a really cool voucher we could use on the Microsoft store for $200 off on Microsoft products. A friend bought an Xbox One. Mine expired. That is a minor regret.

These are my lessons from the interview process:

  1. Prepare for the technical questions. Use Leetcode. Use Glassdoor and Cracking the Coding Interview.
  2. Talk through your reasoning for each question. Do not let there be a single moment of awkward silence. Talk through everything. This way, the interviewer understands what you are thinking and can nudge you in the right direction.
  3. Enjoy the experience. Be curious. Ask the interviewer questions about projects they are working on.
  4. Talk to the other interviewees. In that interview room, the pressure and tension in the air is palpable. Talk to other students and make friends. I made some really good friends those 3 days. I wish Microsoft interviewed over a period longer than 3 days.
  5. Enjoy the experience. Microsoft pays for everything, so make sure you enjoy the experience.
  6. It is an incredible experience already, but remember: always look for something good in any situation.

Ultimately, the experience was phenomenal. It was my first time being flown out to an on-site interview, staying at an extravagant hotel with all expenses paid, and speaking with candidates all over the nation.

Decision Day It took exactly a week for a recruiter to get back to me with a decision. I was getting very nervous because other candidates had already heard back with their decisions by the time I received mine.

Unfortunately, I did not receive an offer! I thought about the advice I had received from my friend. To always look for something good in any situation. So that is what I did. I sent an email to my recruiter thanking her for her help and asking for feedback on my interview. I asked how I could improve. The email she sent me back was really great feedback, and she said my email had been the best thing that had happened to her that week. I will be applying for this program again as a sophomore- better prepared.

Concluding Remarks I hope this article shed some light on what the Microsoft Explorer interview process is like and what to expect. Generally speaking, interviewers ask questions that are tailored to each candidates’ experiences and resume. It should not have come as a surprise that I did not get strictly standard string or array reversal questions.

Here’s the takeaway – draw something good from every situation.