Google vs. Microsoft: A tale of two interviews

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When you are preparing for an interview, you think about what you'll wear, the people you'll meet, and what they'll expect of you when you arrive. As an ambitious student trying to get that "dream job" out of college, I was faced with these questions.

IT is competitive for the job seeker, and for someone who is fresh out of school with little experience, the job search process was daunting. My previous interview experience was non-existent, and prior to this, I had worked at my father's small business accounting firm which, fortunately for me, never required an interview.

So here I was, a week before my senior year of college, getting ready for my first real interview ever. What made this experience even scarier was that I was interviewing with one of the most sought-after tech companies in the business -- Google. I had found the job online while perusing Google's careers page. I never expected a response. I mean come on now, Google? They must get hundreds of thousands of applications a year. I was a needle in the haystack.

After a few follow-up emails and a technical phone screen, I was given the opportunity to fly out to its Mountain View campus for an interview. I really had no idea what to expect, or how to prepare. I was so overwhelmed at the time that it was pretty much a blur. My day consisted of three interviews with Google's famous free, on-campus lunch in between the last two. While I won't go into any of the specifics of what I was asked, I can say that from the moment I walked into the room I was grilled about everything -- from nitty-gritty technical whiteboard drawings to logical problem solving. I did my best to keep up, but half the time, I didn't even know whether my answers were correct. I constantly dug through my head, hoping that my education up to that point was sufficient.

I walked away feeling somewhat skeptical about my performance. Did they like my problem solving and rationalization skills? More importantly, had my education prepared me enough for this? Granted, at the time I still had another year left of school, but it was still something to consider. A few weeks later, I got the call informing me that I didn't get the job. Was I disappointed? Yes, but it was certainly an unforgettable learning experience.

Over the course of the next few months, I had the opportunity to interview with other companies. I was provided with a list of jobs that matched my degree via my school's online career site, making it easy for me to apply. This, along with my own research, helped me gather as much information as I could about the types of jobs that were available for new graduates -- from small, high-tech financial trading firms to Fortune 500 IT shops -- and I tailored my skill set to become more comfortable in the interview room.

When it came time to interview with Microsoft, I was more prepared and knew what to expect. Unlike Google, however, I had an initial interview on campus prior to being selected to fly out to Redmond. In similar fashion, I was given questions of varying degrees of difficulty. The position I was applying for required an analytical thinking style with a stronger emphasis on the business aspect of IT. For example, I was asked to explain what cloud computing is to someone with limited knowledge in technology. Communication skills are critical to the consulting trade. Rather than being doused with technical questioning, the interviewers looked to see how well I could communicate complex topics. Overall, I felt much more relaxed and in my element.

One of the unique aspects of my time in Redmond was the interview environment. In between interviews, I was in a room filled with music, video games, and movies. While it may sound unheard of, it actually worked in my favor helping to keep my mind off things for a bit. Not to mention that it was an awesome way to spend a day of interviewing! That same day, I was offered the position as an Associate Consultant. The first and probably most challenging leg of my journey had been complete -- nailing the interview.

I want to reflect on all of this for a moment. Expectations play a mind-consuming role in the process. During each interview, I couldn't help but think about what the person in front of me expected of my performance. Despite the intensive coursework that comes with a degree, I found that it's just as important to anticipate a whole new learning experience. Interviewing taught me just that. Regardless of whether or not my answers were right, I learned that what matters most to Microsoft will be the experiences I encounter on the job itself.

You won't know everything when you graduate, nor are you expected to. Besides, if you think you do, you're going to have a tough time getting a job. In fact, this is what the "real world" is all about.

The best part about technology is how quickly it changes. No matter what role you hold in IT, you will find cool things you didn't know before. This is why I can't wait to start my job -- every day will be a new adventure!

Read more of Andrew Weiss's "Launched!" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @Andrew_Weiss. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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