Over the past couple of years, I have been sharing a lot about my time and experiences working at one of the biggest companies in the world. However, I realized that I haven’t shared how I actually got to Microsoft in the first place! Reflecting back on how it all started, I actually think it’s a pretty cool and unique (but long) story… so let’s take a trip down memory lane!
Early 2019 – A free ticket to Collision Conference 🍁
A few years ago, I was finishing up my last semester in town before going abroad to Singapore while working part-time in the energy industry (at Husky Energy which later got acquired by Cenovus). My role was a “Business Data Consultant” and I coordinated SharePoint Online Transformation Project across 3 regional offices in the Corporate Responsibility department and delivered information management training resources and workshops to 130+ employees.
Word of my SharePoint savvy got around the company, and I was brought onto a project with the Chief Innovation Officer’s team. Here, I shared my interests in technology and innovation and mentioned that I was planning to attend the Collision Conference in Toronto. A couple of the team members, Mike and Sandy, ended up having a spare ticket, so I got to attend for free (and sold my ticket to cover my flight ticket from Calgary) ✈️
May 2019 – Fate Happened at the Microsoft Booth 💡
Fast forward to May, and my boyfriend and I attended our first-ever tech conference… and it was awesome! There were thousands of attendees from across North America, a hundred different recruitment booths and connection zones, and so many great sessions with big tech executives and even Akon (yes, the singer) 🤩
Pssst… you can check out my Collision Conference key takeaways here.
At the conference, I came across the Microsoft booth and met an MBA Aspire named Abhi. I had no idea that Microsoft even had a new grad program, so he definitely piqued my interest! My curiosity grew as I learned more about the Microsoft culture and technologies. After the conference, I connected with Abhi on LinkedIn and set up a virtual coffee chat with him to get some advice on applying. Although I did ask for feedback on my resume, I did not ask for a referral because we hadn’t worked together before so I didn’t think it made sense at the time (although I did learn later on that it is OK to send referrals for candidates that you see potential in).
July 2019 – En route to Singapore 🇸🇬
In July, I was busy wrapping up my final month at work and preparing a comprehensive transition guide for my team. Meanwhile, I kept an eye out for the Microsoft Aspire job postings to come out and made sure to submit mine ASAP before leaving for Singapore.
Contrary to popular—and even my own—typical resume advice, I applied with a 2-page resume because I believed that I had a lot of valuable and relevant experience that would make me stand out as a candidate. Before doing this, I made sure to do my research on the Microsoft Careers site and confirm that a 2-page resume would be fine. I did not submit a cover letter because there wasn’t an option to do so. Note: I eventually shortened my resume to 1-page.
Aug 2019 – Living my best life 🙌
As I was having the time of my life studying abroad for my final semester, I also attended networking events and conferences. At the Singapore Maritime Dialogue event, I had the opportunity to listen and learn more about Microsoft from Richard, CTO of Microsoft Singapore. Fascinated by his role in the Singapore tech scene, I reached out to feature him in my Leadership Series which you can check out here:
As months passed by with no word from Microsoft, I simply assumed that I was just another one of thousands who got ghosted by the recruitment system. Throughout the semester, I tried to make time to casually apply for jobs at companies like Amazon, Accenture, Bain & Company, Benevity, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, P&G, SAP, Slack, and WeWork. In my mind, I thought it would be cool to get a job at one of these companies, but my main plan was to go back and work full-time at Husky because I loved the company and people who had supported me throughout my internship days.
Sep 2019 – Sleepless in Singapore 😶🌫️
Then I saw an email from Microsoft University Recruiting (which kinda looked like spam when I first opened it). After doing a bit of digging to confirm that the email was legit, I RSVP’d for a phone interview time slot and started preparing my STAR interview responses.
The next week flew by in anticipation, and I finally had my first round of interviews with Lola at midnight (because of the timezone differences). I still remember standing outside on the balcony with my Macbook sitting on an ironing board because I didn’t want to wake my roommate up 😅
A couple of weeks went by before I heard back from Microsoft that I made it to the next round, which included filling out a Candidate Interest Form based on a list of job descriptions. From here, the recruiting team had to shortlist the candidates for the limited spots available for the final round of interviews.
Nov 2019 – Plot twist 🔮
As weeks flew by without any update from Microsoft, I fell more and more in love with the lifestyle in Singapore and started looking for career opportunities to stay there. By the time finals season rolled around at school, I found 2 startups that were willing to sponsor my work visa! I was so excited for the next chapter of my life 🙌
And then… I got an email that I was selected for final-round interviews for a position at Microsoft Canada 😳
Also… the interview was all the way in Canada 🇨🇦 (because they thought I was in Calgary) at the same time that I was supposed to travel to Thailand with my brother 😳 🥲 😳 🥲
I emailed the recruiter, Alex, back and explained that I was still in Singapore (a detail that apparently got missed lol) to explore rescheduling options. Alex emailed me back and proposed a Skype interview instead since the travel policy did not cover international flights.
I thought everything was good at this point only to see the following email (see screenshot below) stating that I could no longer do a Skype interview because the business prioritizes communication in person for a customer-facing role (Note: keep in mind, this was pre-pandemic days).
WELL THEN…. 😳 😳
At this point, my heart rate picked up and I started getting stressed about what to do next and the big problems that I had to overcome:
- My final presentation for one of my classes would be on the day of my flight back to Canada. I spoke to my teammates and helped them prepare the presentation and plan out who could cover my part of the presentation. I also reached out to my professor and teaching advisor for permission to miss the presentation. Luckily, everyone was supportive of my requests once I explained my situation.
- My brother was coming to visit me and we were supposed to go to Thailand the same weekend that I would need to do my interviews in Canada. I talked to my roommate who was also going on the Thailand trip and she assured me that she and my brother (who knew each other) would be fine. Even though we were both excited to reunite in Asia, my brother was extremely understanding!
- The recruiting team needed to get authorization for my international travel because it was not typical. Fortunately, the Microsoft Recruiting Gods showed some mercy and granted additional budget to cover all the expenses for my round trip from Singapore to Canada and then back to Thailand.
Flying back for final-round interviews 🌏
While all of this craziness was happening, I was finishing up my BCOMM degree, preparing for interviews, and packing for my unexpected and last-minute trip to Canada. I could barely get any sleep on the 20+ hour flight because of my nerves and excitement… I ended up crying myself to sleep watching A Star is Born ft. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper 😭 LOL.
Then I finally arrived in Mississauga, Ontario 🇨🇦 and spent the afternoon and evening preparing my passion presentation on Why You Must Go Abroad. That night, I barely got any sleep (once again) because I was super jet lagged and anxious…
The next morning, I arrived at the lobby and met up with the other candidates only to find out that I seemed to be the ONLY person who had no idea which role I was interviewing for 😳 Everyone else seemed to have gotten the interview prep memo with details about what to expect, but I never did! I assume this was because the recruitment team was busy getting approval for my travel arrangements and forgot to forward me the details… big yikes.
This new finding only made me more nervous because it felt like I was at a disadvantage, but I tried to keep my cool 🥶 When the HR team came to get us for the interviews, I asked for more details in the elevator ride and my heart dropped when I heard “Sales Operations Program Manager” because I had never heard of this role before… and I had been researching and preparing for completely different roles that were shared with the Candidate Interest Form back in September 😩
Showing up and giving it my best 💯
Once I got to the interview room, I had 10-15 minutes to set up so I quickly looked online to see what the heck a Sales Operations Program Manager was and took a few notes down. I felt super lost and unprepared because all of my interview prep now seemed to have been in vain 🤔
After getting through the 2 different rounds of interviews with 4 different interviewers (Simone, Daisy, Neal, and Julie), I had lunch with the other candidates and met the other person who interviewed for the same role as me. I found out that she had way more relevant experience to the role (compared to me) and accepted the fact that the odds were really not in my favour.
Then we all toured the building, got Microsoft hoodies, and I went back to my hotel where I broke down and cried from the overwhelming feelings of pent-up stress, relief, and anxiety 😵💫 😭 🤯 🥺 before I finally caught a few hours of sleep and had to board my flight back to Asia… sheeeesh!
Trying to stay positive 🙃
As I braced myself for another 20+ hour flight within 3 days, my head was plagued with thoughts of turmoil. I was constantly caught between reflecting on my interview answers that weren’t “good enough” and reminding myself that I did my best given every bit of craziness that I had to deal with… and survived!
Even if I don’t get the job, I am still grateful that Microsoft invested in me before even meeting me and gave me this unique and one-in-a-lifetime opportunity ✨what i kept telling myself on the flight back to asia
Ultimately, I was grateful for the tremendous opportunity to interview with Microsoft out of thousands of candidates across the country. So even if I didn’t get the job, I still had a crazy story that I could share with my friends and family.
However, I wasn’t giving up without a fight! In my thank you email (see screenshot below), I acknowledged that my interview responses may not have been as tailored to the role given my circumstances. To address this potential concern, I also created a document that demonstrated my growth mindset and emphasized my experiences that were relevant to the role. You can check it out here if you’re curious!
And the rest is history 🚀
A week later, I read my congratulatory note while I was sitting on the toilet in Malaysia 🇲🇾
As I was negotiating my different job offers, I had to decide between staying in Singapore or moving to Microsoft Canada… This is probably the toughest decision that I’ve had to make in my career so far!
When I reflected on my life and career aspirations and talked to my parents, I came to the decision that joining Microsoft could potentially open up bigger opportunities, let me stay closer to family (in the same country), help me pay off my student loans faster, and still give me hope that I can go back to Singapore one day 🌏
To this day, I still ponder how different my life could have been if I’d stayed in Singapore instead. In hindsight, I am glad that I returned to Canada because I got to be with my family during the COVID-19 pandemic. And so far, Microsoft has been an incredible company to be a part of and I am grateful for the amazing people and tremendous resources that have helped me grow as a young professional.
Although it’s been a while since I’ve last spoken to the different people that I mentioned in this blog post, I just wanted to say thanks again to…
- Mike & Sandy for giving me a free ticket to Collision Conference (and helped me save money as a student)
- Abhi for telling me about the Microsoft Aspire program and encouraging me to apply
- Richard for giving me advice and perspective about pursuing a career at Microsoft
- Lola for interviewing me and recommending me for the final rounds
- Toby (brother) who gave me his blessing for the interview (and was ok with me missing the majority of our Thailand trip)
- Alysia (roommate) who was chill with hanging out with my brother in Thailand without me
- My group mates, professor, and T.A. who were supportive of my last minute ditch during finals season
- Alex and whoever else was involved with getting authorization for my international travel and giving me the recruitment experience of a lifetime
- Simone, Daisy, Neal, and Julie for seeing potential in me as a candidate despite all the odds and ultimately giving me the offer!
This was a long AF blog post so I am honestly surprised if you made it through to this point… Hopefully you had a chuckle, gasp, or both along the way 😂 If you’re interested in applying to Microsoft, check out my resources at kkarenism.com/msftadvocate and follow the KKARENISM LinkedIn page for job postings shared directly from hiring managers!
Thank you for reading and have a nice day.
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