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One of the downsides of working at a company like Microsoft is when the rumor mill starts churning with claims like “Microsoft is planning on slashing 15,000 jobs on January 15th”, it’s not so easy to ignore.  Running across headlines like these on every mainstream media and Microsoft spectator blog can really cramp your style… especially when you’re the sole breadwinner in your family.

My husband is a stay-at-home dad for our 2 year old son.  We made that choice when I got the job with Microsoft because while we’re by no means comfortably well off, we can afford to live on one income for the sake of having our son’s earliest years be filled with one-on-one attention and not pock-marked by constant battles with every illness that makes its way through most daycares; we already traveled that path when he was an infant (I swear the poor kid didn’t know what it felt like to not be sick for the first year of his life).

Thinking about what being laid off would mean for us has been a thought that I’ve been pushing out of my mind ever since I first heard the rumors.  Our group has been reassured that cutbacks will be through not filling roles left vacant by attrition and perhaps ending some 3rd party contracts early… but I don’t feel comforted.  Granted, I’m in the search space and Steve Ballmer has repeatedly expressed how important moving forward in search is to Microsoft’s overall strategy, and the new deals with Dell (Live Search as the default engine) and Verizon (serving mobile ads) that were just announced as CES should make me feel a bit safer…  but I don’t. 

If anyone in my group were on the chopping block, I would be seriously surprised if we’d be told that up front.  Doing so would no doubt set off a domino effect of panic and back-up planning with job searches and even interviews to cover the just-in-case scenario… not a situation that would be good for the big M as they could wind up losing some of the top talent that wouldn’t have been laid off to begin with.  No, better to bypass all that panic and speculation and just spring it on us.  Better to let us think we’re getting that pay bonus next month; the one we’re planning on using to pull ourselves out of debt with, and then yank the rug out from under us with layoffs.

These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.  We don’t have a back up plan.  We don’t have savings.  We moved out here to WA state, clear across the country from family and friends so I could take this job.  If this job goes away, we are screwed six way from Sunday with no money to pay the mortgage, no money to move back to New England and… no money.

While I am happy to report that the infamous Jan. 15th date came and went with no layoff announcements, the Wall Street Journal did report that layoffs could happen as early as next week.

Fingers crossed.

I think I’ve made enough references to the fact that I work in the search engine marketing space at Microsoft, but I thought I’d put a little clarity around what that means.

In a nutshell, I help agencies set up, manage and maintain their pay-per-click campaigns on adCenter, the platform Microsoft built a couple of years ago in answer to Google’s Adwords and Yahoo’s Overture.  Not familiar with either of those?  I’ll try to summarize.

When you go to a search engine like Live.com and enter in some keywords, your search results page will display two types of listings: organic and pay-per-click (PPC) listings.  The organic ones are the larger ones to the left — these are the results that the search engine’s algorithm brought back based on the relevance of the page to the keywords searched on.  The PPC listings are the smaller ones off to the right, appearing below the “Sponsored Listings” title (circled below):

PPC listings also appear based on relevance to the keywords searched on, but these are paid for by advertisers who bid on keywords relevant to the products/services they’re trying to promote.  Much like Ebay, the top bidder gets the higher positioning.

On the back end of getting those paid ads to appear is a web-based platform where advertisers create their campaigns, ad groups, ads and keywords.  AdCenter is that platform for Microsoft.  You can learn more about adCenter by visiting the adCenter Community site.

I’m going to refrain from delving much deeper than this on any SEM topics as whatever I could say has already been covered a thousand times on sites like Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land and SEMPO.  In addition, anything that I write that’s going to be worth posting will be going up on the adCenter Community site.  I just wanted to add a little clarity around what it is I do for anyone who might be reading this and is unfamiliar with search engine marketing.

Back in my days as a carefree college student who spent the majority of her time either on the road with her favorite band, or else figuring out how to hit as many shows as possible the next time they went on tour, I heard my fair share of feedback. While the regularity of hearing that eyeball-vibrating sound is pretty much a thing of the past for me, at Microsoft I hear the word “feedback” on a near-daily basis.  Although the context is different, the meaning is essentially the same: something needs attention.

I suppose it’s a company culture thing because it pervades just about every organization and every function you could possibly encounter as an employee.  If you attend a training session, symposium, or any other company-sponsored event, there’ll be a survey to fill out afterwards.  Every year there’s a company-wide survey related to overall job satisfaction, and in my particular department, there’s another one that’s really similar to the company-wide one, but it’s specific to just our group.  Then there’s the surveys we send out to our clients about their level of satisfaction with the service we provide (I’m in the search advertising space).

Does it get a bit annoying and tedious?  Yes, it does.  Do I see the value in it?  Yes… I do.  There have been several instances where I’ve seen the feedback loop in action, and I’ve only been with the company for a little over a year.  Sure, it may take a while for you to see the results of the feedback… but it does happen, which is truly refreshing.  I’ve held jobs where any feedback you gave would just get dumped into a black hole, but I can honestly say that I don’t think that’s the case at Microsoft. Or rather, I should say it’s not the case with my particular group.  I should probably acknowledge that I work in the search engine marketing space, which is the equivalent of a start-up within Microsoft.  I suppose it’s possible that my management team is more open to suggestion than some of the more well-established groups’ managers are, but I’d like to think it’s a company-wide value that I’ll be able to count on throughout my career.

Do I have a point aside from thinking out loud?  I suppose I do.  This post was inspired by reading an article where the author was pondering the possibility of a Microsoft-Facebook deal, in which he pointed out that there are several anti-Microsoft groups on Facebook that are threatening to leave the service should such a deal materialize.  At one point, he quoted a user who indicated if Microsoft made cars, they would just break down for no reason.  I thought that was a particularly inane comment… if something breaks down, there’s a reason for it. 

Yes, Microsoft has a reputation of delivering flawed products, I’m not coming to their defense on that front… software isn’t my area and I don’t have any visibility into that side of the business at all: no comment.  However, I have to wonder if this same person who made the cars comment had clicked “Yes” on the dialog box asking them if they would allow Microsoft to collect data on their user experience, or if they ever clicked through to send feedback about any errors they enountered? 

As an aside, I couldn’t help but smirk when I read the following quote from that article:

Rebecca Jennings, an analyst with Forrester, said that Microsoft and Facebook had “fundamentally different cultures”. Facebook was set up primarily as a services business, whereas Microsoft’s origins had been as a software and technology company, she said.

I see her point about the cultures being different, but I found it odd that there was no mention of Microsoft’s current strategy of software + services, which has been repeated ad nauseum for quite some time now.

Looking for information on preparing for a job interview with Microsoft? You’ve come to the right place! I was in your shoes not long ago and it took several hours of research to uncover anything that was genuinely helpful in preparing for my interview. I can’t go into great detail about my own experience — I know you wish I would — but I can point you in the right direction to the resources that I found when I was “studying”. Feel free to jump ahead to the list at the bottom of this page, but for those of you interested to learn a bit about how I found myself at Microsoft, here’s a brief introduction:

A few weeks before the 2006 holidays began, I came home to my 1832 farmhouse in rural northern Vermont to find a voicemail from a recruiter who wanted to chat with me about my resume (I had recently posted it on both Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com). She didn’t say which company she was calling from, but made a cryptic allusion to representing a rather large company that was hiring in the search engine marketing space, to which she added “think Yahoo! and Google’s competitor”. Having worked in search engine marketing for close to two years at that point, I knew the only company she could possibily be referring to was Microsoft.

My initial reaction was suspicion; positions of Microsoft caliber don’t just fall out of the sky and land in your lap, that much I knew. I’ve read enough articles on the big M to know that they have a steady stream of applicants beating down their door on a regular basis, and that their college recruiters snap up the best and the brightest fresh out of schools like Stanford, Harvard and Yale. I graduated from UMass Boston… not exactly ivy league (although not too shabby either). Why on Earth would Microsoft be calling me?  Not that I was averse to the prospect of pursuing a position with them, quite the opposite.  It just seemed so surreal that they would be contacting me.

Imagine being a kid in the 1940s, growing up listening to NBC programs the radio, then watching them on TV.  Consider witnessing that progression and seeing how revolutionary those developments were in terms of the overall impact on society.  Imagine yourself as the adult that that child of the ’40s had become; NBC had been a part of your life for as long as you could remember.  First it entertained you with radio programs like Little Orphan Annie and Tom Mix, then it inspired you through documenting historical events like the moon landing, then it informed your political decisions and brought you late breaking news from all around the world.  Now imagine being contacted by NBC; imagine their asking you join them as they begin to forge new frontiers in the mass communication industry.  That’s what being contacted by Microsoft felt like for me — they’ve been the pioneers out there on the forefront of groundbreaking technologies for as long as I can remember.  To have a viable shot at being a part of whatever was in store for Microsoft’s future seemed too good to be true, but at the same time, too fascinating a prospect to ignore.

One year, 3,084 miles, one corporate housing apartment, one regular apartment and one home purchase later, here I am… clear across the country from everyone and everything that’s ever been familiar to me and working for one of the largest companies in the world. It’s been an amazing, intellectually challenging and humbling ride thus far.  I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it is to work for a company that you know has, beyond the shadow of a doubt, changed the world and continues to strive toward improving the way we live, work and play. 

So what can I tell you about interviewing at Microsoft? Go through the links below and heed their advice. Was it a difficult transition to move from New England to the Pacific Northwest? At times. Do I feel like a fish out of water? Not as much as I did around this time last year. Do people know how to drive out here? Hell no… it’s flat out infuriating to know you’re in the minority in understanding that each of the highway lanes actually has a specific function. But I digress…

I suppose now would be the time for me to call out that all views expressed on this blog are my own and in no way are endorsed by Microsoft… or whatever the proper legal mumbo jumbo would be to let you know that this is not a Microsoft-sponsored blog. I love to write and I love technology, both have been my hobbies for a number of years, but I’ve gotten away from the former ever since my son was born almost two years ago. They say there’s no time like the present, so here I am. It’s been one hell of a year and I’ve got plenty to write about, so if you’re reading this shortly after 4/14/08, you’re in on the ground floor… be patient, I’ll write more as time and opportunity permits.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your attention… now, on to the goods. The resources below are links I found while searching for content relating to preparing for a job interview with Microsoft. Some are more beneficial than others, but how it applies to you depends on the position you’re going for. Take notes wherever you find value and incorporate the advice you glean into your preparations — that’s what I did and it served me well. Good luck!

HR Staff Blog:
http://blogs.msdn.com/heatherleigh/archive/2004/04/19/116110.aspx

Microsoft employee blog offering interview tips:
http://dirtydogstink.com/blog/2006/06/15/TipsForInterviewingAtMicrosoft.aspx

Podcast interview w/ Head of Staffing:
http://www.totalpicture.com//_qt/spitasky.mp3

Microsoft employee blog w/ interview story & tips:
http://tejas.wordpress.com/2005/11/30/microsoft-interview/

Video – Recruiting staffers at MS headquarters (part 1):
http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=18472

Video – Recruiting staffers at MS headquarters (part 2):
http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=18718

Random bits and pieces on MS interviews/questions/advice:
http://www.sellsbrothers.com/fun/msiview/

Hoovers Company Fact Sheet:
http://hoovers.com/microsoft/–ID__14120–/free-co-factsheet.xhtml

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