How I got my PM internship offer at Microsoft

Benjamin Lin
12 min readFeb 23, 2022

The background story.

At this point in time it is 2015, I am a 20 year old student at Cal Poly SLO. I had just switched my major from Electrical Engineering to Computer Engineering and I was getting crushed by my computer science classes.

I switched my major from Electrical Engineering to Computer Engineering because a lot of my classmates had done the switch and I was feeling some FOMO. I also had done a hardware internship at Keysight Technologies and found myself struggling to stay awake during the 8 hour workday working with circuits all day.

My sister and I at Cal Poly SLO

My goal at that time was to secure an embedded systems internship at a consumer electronics company such as Apple or Lab126 (Amazon’s hardware department that makes Kindle and Fire Tablets). However, I failed my interviews with Apple and Lab126 didn’t want to interview me.

I was able to security internships at Northrop Grumman, Space Systems Loral, and Maxim Integrated but I wasn’t too excited working in the defense or semiconductor industries.

Getting the Microsoft interview.

Microsoft came to my school’s career fair every year. A few alumni would come down from Seattle with the recruiter and give a few tech talks prior to the career fair. I was a member of my school’s IEEE club, which was the industry club for Electrical and Computer engineers. Our club president from the year before had graduated and gone off to work at Microsoft as a Program Manager.

Me posing next to the Microsoft sign at the Microsoft HQ

I was helping set up the tables for a tech talk that my former club president was speaking at and we chatted about internship opportunities at Microsoft. A PM internship sounded fun and exciting, but why would they ever want to hire me? In my eyes I wasn’t qualified enough for the position, so I thought about trying to go for a Software Engineering internship which had more available positions.

My former club president told me that they hire all sorts of engineering backgrounds for PM roles and that I should be flexible. Honestly, with my poor programming skills my chances of being passing the software engineering interview wasn’t high either, so I took a gamble and let him know I’d be interested in applying for the PM role.

I went about the rest of the day thinking that my application would go into another black hole. However, a week later I shocked to receive the following email in my inbox:

The initial on-campus interview with Microsoft email

The first round interview.

I was shocked to hear that I was invited to attend a first round interview with Microsoft that was to be held on campus at my college Cal Poly SLO.

The recruiter mentioned in the email that the interview was going to screen for whether I’d be a good fit for either a Program Manager or Software Engineering position, whether there’s any particular teams that I’d be a good fit for, and to see if I was a good fit overall for Microsoft.

I told my class president that I had been invited to interview and he some useful tips. First he told me that if I really wanted to be considered for a PM internship, he told me that I needed to emphasize that in the interview. I needed to clearly demonstrate that I knew what a PM was and why I wanted to be a PM over being a Software Engineer. There are more spots for Software Engineering internships, so if I didn’t leave the interviewer with a strong impression i’d probably just be moved forward for a Software Engineering internship. He also told me to read up on Microsoft products and have some things to talk about besides Xbox and MS Word.

The day of the interview I wore my favorite flannel shirt and slacks and took a deep breath. I walked to the far part of campus, where the interviews were being held. My interviewer was a guy who had been a software engineer at Microsoft for around a decade. After a brief introduction, he dove into the technical portion of the interview.

The hardest programming question ever

The interviewer asked me to write a function that could reverse a string. I had seen this question before and conceptually knew how to do it, but I was a still a bit shaky. I chose C as my language of choice, because I had just taken an intense Systems Programming course in C and was most comfortable using it. I used the approach of assigning the pointers at the beginning and end of the string and swapping the characters at each pointer before moving the pointers forwards/backwards. At the end, I thought I had a complete solution and walked through a few example strings. The interviewer asked me if this function would need to be modified for even length strings or odd length strings. This puzzled me at first, so I tested it out on both cases and realized that for odd length strings, the middle character didn’t need to be moved so it didn’t really matter. I voiced this part out loud as I thought it through and I think that helped in the interview.

Towards the latter half of the interview, we talked about various Microsoft products and I asked the interviewer some basic questions such as what his favorite thing about working at Microsoft was. Towards the end, he asked me if I was interested in being a PM or a Software Engineer, and remembering the advice of my class president, I made my pitch for why I wanted to be a PM. I said that it was more interesting to me to understand customer pain points and translate that to a product roadmap than coding up the the product itself and therefore wanted to a be a PM.

Bad news.

About two weeks after the interview I got an email update from the recruiter.

In summary, since I interviewed in February, Microsoft pretty much already ran out of internship positions since they typically start interviews in the Fall and wrap up by end of Winter.

The email saying that all the internship spots had filled up =(

They told me that if an internship opportunity popped up, I would continue with the interview process. However, most likely I would just be waitlisted for a final round interview for the next Fall for a full time position instead of an internship.

I remember showing a classmate the email and they told me this was probably a nicely worded rejection email.

I was a bit disappointed that they ran out of spots, but I considered getting a job at Microsoft so far outside of the realm of possibility that I wasn’t too bummed out. I still had a chance at an interview in the following Fall as well.

The unexpected happened.

3 months passed by and I received an unexpected email on May 1st, 2015.

The recruiter asked if I would be interested in interviewing for a PM internship with a mysterious “SMSG” group at Microsoft.

I followed up asking if this was another phone interview, and it was actually an on-site interview where they would fly me up to the HQ in Redmond, WA!

This was incredibly rare, since most internship positions were already locked in by May.

The email letting me know that an internship position opened up last minute!

I worked with the recruiter to schedule a day for me to fly up. They would put me up in a nearby hotel and would reimburse me for all my food expenses.

I immediately began consuming all of the resources on PM interviews that I could. I read Cracking the PM Interview religiously and binge watched a bunch of Gayle Laakmann Mcdowell videos on Youtube.

Flying up to Seattle.

One of the most vivid memories I have is the view from inside the plane as we broke through the Seattle clouds and descended into the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

This was the second time I had flown on an airplane myself and this was the first time I didn’t have anyone waiting at the airport to pick me up. I remember trying to find my way to the rental car area and realizing that I had to take a separate bus to get to the rental cars. The bus driver asked me what I was flying in for and I told him that I had an interview with Microsoft and he wished me good luck. I remember wondering if this was the last time I would ever visit Seattle or if this place would become home.

Seattle clouds

I remember trying to find the front desk for Avis, and pronouncing the word incorrectly ( i thought it was French for some reason and pronounced it Av-ee).

Once I got my rental car I plugged in the GPS coordinates for my hotel in Redmond Town Center and began my drive up. It was about 40 min in total from the airport. I remember passing by some enormous dark buildings with a bright Microsoft logo as I passed by downtown Bellevue. Working in a building like that was something that I had always dreamed of and I really wished that the interview would go well.

I got dinner with my former class president that night. I remember him pulling up in a BMW M5 at my hotel which made me think that Microsoft employees are all rich. We got dinner somewhere in downtown Bellevue and he gave me some more tips on the interview.

I asked him if I only got the last minute interview because someone else dropped out of the internship last minute. I also asked if they would be interviewing multiple people for the internship spot. He told me that some teams open up spots last minute, so I probably didn’t get the interview because someone dropped out. He also told me that when Microsoft interviews candidates, everyone has a shot at the internship or full time position. For university recruiting, they have so many spots they need to fill that they will take anyone that passes the interview. They wouldn’t interview 5 people and then choose the best person, everyone has a shot at an interview if they do well. This encouraged me to try my best for the interview because I would only be evaluated on my performance, not relative to other people.

Back at the hotel I re-read a few pages of Cracking the PM Interview and decided that the best thing to do at this point was to get a good nights sleep for the interview.

The final round interview.

I took a taxi cab to Microsoft Building 111, which was the building that interviewees would wait at before interviewing. I remember the room being filled with gadgets, guitars, and books full of interns having fun at summer events.

I was the only one at the building at the time, which made sense since I was interviewing this late in May.

Eventually a recruiter came to greet me and gave me a piece of paper with my interview schedule. There were three names on the paper and two of them were managers and one was a senior individual contributor. It also said I was interviewing with a group called Microsoft LeX which stood for Microsoft “Learning Experience”.

I took a Microsoft shuttle to the building I was interviewing at, which was actually closer to the hotel I was staying at than the recruiting building.

I sat in the lobby for a few minutes before I was greeted by my first interviewer. One of the first questions he asked me, “Why are you interested in joining LeX”. I told him that I had no idea what LeX was and that I had just found out a few minutes ago that I was interviewing with this group. The interviewer explained that they were in charge of creating online courses and training videos on Microsoft technologies. They had a product called Microsoft Virtual Academy ( which has since been retired) that was like a Youtube for programming videos. All this information made me incredibly excited and I told them that this was a team that I really wanted to work for.

The Microsoft filming studio

Next, the interviewer gave me a tour and showed me their own private recording studio that they used to produce their online training videos. He asked me if I was comfortable being on camera. Luckily, I actually had been on my highschool’s video production team and did the morning announcements occasionally. It was such a coincidence that the most relevant class I took was a highschool class on video production rather than any of my college upper division electives.

I was then passed on to the next interviewer. I felt that the first interview went well and now all I had to do was not mess up any of the next two interviews. The next interviewer went over my resume, which was mostly hardware projects, and asked me to describe some of them in more detail. He then asked me what I would do if I were to make an online course on creating a hardware project. I naturally love teaching and I think I offered up some good ideas on how to go about it.

I was then passed on to the third interviewer. I was feeling really good so far about the first two interviews and I actually believed I had a shot at landing the internship if things kept going well. The third interviewer asked me whether I preferred PC or Xbox Games and then asked me to lay out some pros/cons of PCs vs Xbox Games. I didn’t feel like this interview went as good as the other two, but I didn’t think it went horribly.

The third interviewer, then said he wanted to introduce me to one more person. I had read on the internet that at Microsoft, there is an “as-appropriate” interview that you only get if you pass the first three interviews. This last interview would usually be with the leader of the group. The final interviewer was indeed the leader of the group and was also at least 6 foot 6 inches tall. He began the interview by telling me that he had a friend who was a professor at Harvard ( famous professor David Malan) who wanted a way to have his powerpoint slides advance forward without him using a slide clicker. We quickly went into a brainstorming frenzy and I pumped out at least a dozen ideas. The interviewer kept encouraging me to give him more and more ideas and it was a really energy filled interview.

Getting the internship offer.

I left the interview feeling optimistic about getting the internship. I read that if you do well, Microsoft might even let you know the decision before the end of the day. I was eagerly checking my phone every few minutes but there wasn’t any updates when I landed back at school.

I began to feel increasingly nervous about the interview results and would have a mini heart attack every time I got a new notification on my phone.

After one week I couldn’t take the suspense anymore and I emailed my recruiter if they had an update on the interview results.

Getting the offer via email!
Offer details

They replied back 8 minutes later and told me that I got the offer! I immediately felt a rush of emotions. It was sort of abrupt because I didn’t expect the offer to come after following up in an email. I kind of wish I got the official phone call with the offer news, but nonetheless I was incredibly happy.

Looking back, this was probably the happiest I had ever been up to that point and none of my future job offers made me feel as excited as this internship offer from Microsoft. After all, this offer marked the day when I officially broke into tech.

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