The Unusual (and Highly Effective) Hiring Practices at Microsoft


Microsoft has been a leading edge company ever since its inception in 1975 by co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. These two created the Altair BASIC code sold to Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), beginning their meteoric rise as one of the most valuable companies in the world at $285 billion.  Microsoft began its humble beginnings with 3 employees, Allen, Gates and Ric Weiland. The company currently (2012) has over 90,000 employees in its worldwide software, systems and applications business.

Early Hiring Practices of Microsoft

The company grew from 3 employees in 1975 to 40 at the end of 1980 to near 6,000 employees in 1990. The 30th employee to be hired by Microsoft’s Bill Gates in November 1980 to manage its IBM business was friend and Stanford MBA dropout Steve Ballmer, current Microsoft CEO.

It appears that in the beginning many of the earlier Microsoft employees comprised of promising MBA candidates and computer science majors who demonstrated “pure intellect.” This concept of pure intellect meant that a highly selective process of aggressive testing to ensure that the employee they were hiring was the best of the best. The company maintained a staff that was complimentary to the size of the work that the company engaged in, i.e. when the contract with IBM was signed in 1980, the company increased in size from 40 to 182 employees or 355 percent.

Use of Stock-Based Pay

Salaries at the company were lower than those of rivals Google and Apple however in the early years, as part of its hiring process, stock options or stock based pay incentivized talent to come and work for Microsoft. This resulted in the creation of over 1,000 millionaires, many who have gone on to launch their own businesses or philanthropic endeavors.

As stock options began to fall out of favor, particularly after the technology stock (or dot-com) bubble burst at the end of the 1990s, Microsoft has pivoted to the use of company shares as a way to boost employee salaries and make their employment offers more attractive to would-be Microsoft employees.

Current Process for Getting a Job at Microsoft

The search for talented employees has always been the hallmark of the company’s hiring process. The way in which Microsoft determines who has the right stuff to work at the company is through the use of evaluations that help determine the passion of the individual and how that passion can be used to contribute to the growth and continued success of Microsoft. One interview may consist of a prospective talking about John Grisham novels turned into movies (as a measure of their analytical skills).

There is no doubt that the hiring practices of Microsoft have not only been successful but has created a new class of socially engaged individuals and technology entrepreneurs. Bill Gates, no longer handling the day-to-day operations of the company, is considered one of the leading philanthropists in the world. His Gates Foundation has billions of dollars invested in the eradication of poverty and disease in the poorest countries in the world. Paul Allen has gone on to take on the ownership of the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League and Portland Trailblazers of the National Basketball Association.

Other notable former employees include Rob Glaser, who founded RealNetwork, a standard for streaming video online; Rich Barton, who while employed by Microsoft found real estate search site; and Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, who started a legal defense charity for children of immigrants.

Brandon Fenner is a freelance writer specializing in science, technology, gadgets and cell phones. Cell phone owners looking to procure gadget insurance should always consider a reputable cell phone insurance brand.

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