Monday, November 21, 2011

Characteristics of Successful Job Applicants: Passionate

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 and being persistent.


Thus far, we've covered persistence, with the interesting stories it creates, and good communication, which provides an engaging way in which to tell those stories. We still need a deeper understanding. The underlying driver one must be aware of is passion. Why are people persistent? Because they feel something deep down inside that pushes them to obsess over achieving some goal.

There are an infinite number of things one can be passionate about. A couple of examples include building systems that can scale to support millions of simultaneous users and security that is impenetrable to malicious adversaries. It's also common to have passions unrelated to engineering such as ensuring every child has an opportunity to learn or keeping families safe. Most people have multiple passions; the important thing is that you recognize what they are.

Passion essentially comes free since it doesn't need to be learned. It is inherent to being human. The other characteristics can take some time to develop since they require behavioral modification, but the only investment you need to make in regard to passion is to think a bit about what excites you. The easiest way to go about this is to repeatedly ask "why?" Take something you enjoy and ask yourself why you enjoy it. When you have the answer, again ask why that matters to you. After a few iterations, you will arrive at a core value, which you care about simply because it's part of who you are.

Let me give an example. I enjoy designing and building scalable systems. It's pretty awesome when a system scales to support tens of thousands of transactions per second or more. Why is that awesome? Because it's uncommon to have that kind of demand and when that demand exists, most systems fall over. Why does that matter to me? Because the that level of usage (hopefully) means customers love the product and it's very challenging to build a useful system that can support that transaction rate. Why does customer love matter to me? Because I want to enhance people's lives by enabling new experiences. And why am I interested in building things that are difficult to build? Because I enjoy challenges and the mental exertion involved in the process. We'll leave it at that for brevity, but you get the idea. As you can see, this exercise explores what defines us as individuals.

Showing passion is critical to your interview at Microsoft. If you are passionate about the work, you are more likely to enjoy the job and be a productive member of the team. Your passion will engender the persistence needed to uncover bugs, design and build complex systems, and navigate the waters of uncertainty that surround cutting-edge technology.

Your interviewer will want to know what drives you and it will be to your advantage if you've already thought about it. The typical method we use to try to figure out where your passion lies is to try to drive the discussion to a point where you basically forget that you're in an interview and begin engaging in fervent discourse. If your interviewer can't hit the right topics herself, that's a bad sign for the outcome of the interview. Usually this won't happen since you will have (hopefully) applied for the job due to a deep interest in some aspect of it. However, most people prefer to eliminate unnecessary risk from the equation. Don't be afraid to steer the conversation a bit and talk about the things you love. Just remember to be authentic; authenticity comes from understanding yourself, not from a rehearsed script.

See the next post in this series here.