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Microsoft's Culture Shift Changed How They Hire Engineers

Microsoft's Culture Shift Changed How They Hire Engineers

Over half of Microsoft's employees are engineers. How do you hire top talent for an engineering team of 72k? Domina McQuade, a lead tech recruiter at Microsoft, shares her take.

Tech Recruiting, Engineering Teams

Domina McQuade started her career as a pilot, never expecting to eventually "fall in love with recruiting." Fast-forward to today and she is the lead recruiter for Microsoft's Data Centers. Although she comes from an untraditional background, Domina excelled at building a network because she genuinely loves connecting with people.

Over the past three years Domina quickly moved up to lead recruiter for Microsoft's Data Centers, which support the company's cloud computing service, Azure, for building and managing applications and services. She also witnessed the culture shift at Microsoft as a result of new leadership, which had a domino effect on how the company attracts and recruits top talent.

Recent Gartner research shows that the cloud services market is "shaking up the industry" and is expected to grow by 17.5% this year. Without high functioning Data Centers there wouldn’t be cloud, and cloud is the "cool data storage standard" in the tech industry. 

Screen Shot 2019-10-28 at 1.31.49 PM

*A map from Microsoft's website showing Azure global infrastructure.

New leadership embraces a growth mindset

Following the appointment of Satya Nadella to Chief Executive Office in 2014, Microsoft rolled out a new company mission that contributed to the shift “from a culture of know-it-alls to a culture of learn-it-alls.” For the next five years, Microsoft would become a people company instead of a product company.

Domina characterized the “new Microsoft” as collaborative and very much rooted in a growth mindset. She looks for candidates who are ready and willing to learn and further develop their skills.

Even if a developer is performing at a high level, they should want to continue to grow better.

“The interview should focus on competencies like collaboration or adaptability. Being customer-focused is also a positive quality."

Challenges of scaling while improving candidate quality

Figuring out how to scale a technical team is a challenge that companies of all sizes face, but "if you can make hiring faster without sacrificing quality, it’s a huge value-add to the team.” Because the tech hiring landscape is largely impacted by external trends, like AI and Big Data, Microsoft "constantly has to tweak hiring processes" so that they're hiring in the most efficient way possible.

The sheer volume of engineers required to run a Data Center is immense. Sometimes Domina is looking for developers with super niche skills — in this case it may not matter how long it takes to find them. Other times a team will need 100 hires by a certain deadline that, if missed, could delay a product rollout or software update.

Diversity and inclusion is another area that Microsoft takes seriously. Because there's such a statistically smaller talent pool of diverse engineers, you have to be creative in figuring out how to get a diverse hiring slate. The reason Microsoft is so passionate about hiring diverse candidates is, "when you have diverse people who are building products and services, they will appeal to all audiences and customer bases versus one segment of the population.”

Domina also supports trainings aimed to reduce unconscious bias because it can happen with the smallest things, like “finding out where the candidate had gone to school, or what their grammar is like."

"Everyone has preferences. One of the biggest benefits to online screening tools is ensuring that reduction in hiring bias.”

Domina’s advice to recruiters? "Understanding the business priorities of an engineering team before you pitch a recruiting solution is super important.” Ask yourself: what do we have to deliver? What are the talent gaps on the team? You need to understand the big picture so you can figure out where recruiting fits in. 

Domina Monkey prank

*Domina's colleagues decorated her office as a prank. Microsoft's culture is truly people-first!

Hiring teams are moving towards LinkedIn

Although most old-school hiring managers like to see resumes, Domina has seen many instances where developers “don’t even upload resumes in the recruiting CRM.” Microsoft is among the many enterprises who are utilizing LinkedIn to make connections and grow their talent pipeline. 

“Resumes are so formal. On LinkedIn you can see more of [the candidate’s] personality and how they engage.”

She also noted that Microsoft has changed a lot of its job descriptions "from requiring a degree to having a degree or equivalent experience.”

Pay attention to industry trends

Use data and insights to inform your hiring strategy. "Tools like LinkedIn Talent Insights are so cool. You can spot large trends in things like geography, and get a lot of good real-time data." Trends around the types of programming languages that developers are learning can help you identify where the talent market is heading in the future.

Another important differentiator for recruiters is being able to personalize the hiring process and pinpoint what exactly is motivating the candidate to talk to you in the first place. "Once you figure this out, then the hiring team can capitalize on that." Money is often the top driver but according to Domina,

"If you give someone a good experience and show that you’re invested in them — and you’re in the ballpark salary range — I think you can win with other offers on the table."

Automating how candidates are screened

It's no secret that change can be difficult, especially when it requires convincing hiring managers to adopt a new hiring platform. Recruiters need to come up with a strategy that shows the value of an online skills assessment to the hiring manager or engineering team.

Domina once asked the hiring team to sit down and really think about the number of hires they need to execute. She explained that traditionally every tech screen takes an hour while an online screening test takes closer to 10 minutes.

“Times this by thousands of interviews and it really adds up. That’s a lot of hours that we’re giving engineers back to work on the core product and their own deliverables.”

Online assessment platforms are a place for hiring managers and tech recruiters to come together as partners and to collaborate on the best approach. When having these conversations, recruiters need to "have a seat at the table by positioning [themself] as the expert in recruiting. Use credible data and statistics to back up your plan. [Data-driven insights] land extremely well with engineering leaders.” 

Tech recruiting is so competitive

... And it’s so important to the market right now.

“Microsoft is actively going out to talent versus forcing them to come to us [because] it’s a buyer’s market. If you can get to candidates first and edge out the competition, you’ll win more offers. Any process that slows recruiting is a competitive disadvantage in this market."

Microsoft team

*The team at Microsoft.


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