Monday, November 28, 2011

Characteristics of Successful Job Applicants: Reflective

This post is part of a series of posts on the characteristics frequently present in successful candidates for jobs at Microsoft. Previously, we discussed the importance of being a good communicator, persistent, passionate, and a continual learner.


If you've been reading along with the series of posts, hopefully you've picked up on the recurring theme of being reflective. Someone who is continually evaluating themselves and their surrounding environment is someone who can identify opportunities for personal growth and to improve efficiencies. This is tightly coupled with being a continual learner. How does one know where to apply the bulk of their learning efforts, given the limited time capacity we all have? Through reflection and deep personal exploration.

Every experience is an opportunity to analyze the outcomes of actions taken against the intended goals. If you endure a significant failure, don't let it go to waste. Take the time to do a post-mortem and identify the shortcomings that lead to failure. When you have a major success, get a sense for how you were able to achieve that success. In some cases you will not be able to form a concrete answer due to the number of variables, but over time you will be able to identify commonalities across your various experiences. Aggregate experiences will lead to generalized problem solving skills and a large toolkit on which to rely. This is called "wisdom".

No matter how intelligent you are, it's still critical to your development to gain certain experiences. Admit what you know and what you don't know. I would wager that most interviewers at Microsoft can tell when someone is spinning a bunch of bullshit and when they genuinely know what they're talking about. Interviewers don't like having their intelligence insulted, so acknowledge your shortcomings and be prepared to demonstrate your strengths. If you're in the habit of reflecting on your skill set, you'll know where you fall short and where you excel. You've also hopefully been making a concerted effort to improve the areas in which you are week or have made the conscientious decision to avert attention to other areas for good reason, like the desire to be a specialist.

But what about learning from others? Don't forget that when someone takes an hour to explain a year's worth of experience, they are leaving out 8759 hours of detail. Most of that detail is probably mundane, but much of it is why they will be progressively more successful as they continue to pursue their goals. Consider the experiences of others as guidance. They help serve as a compass when we're searching for the right path, but to reach the destination, you still have to do the walking yourself.

Read the next article in the series here.