How Steve Ballmer Sizes Up Job Candidates

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-05-18 Print this article Print

The New York Times has a Q&A interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, some of which is career-related advice for job seekers. Ballmer also chimes in on leadership and shares what he wants Microsoft's culture to be more of and what it's like to be in a meeting run by him, among other things.

By the way, Ballmer wants Microsoft culture to be more "efficient" with 90,000 employees, a competitive software space, and businesses and consumers spending less on PCs and office applications. To his credit, he throws in innovation along with efficiency, but his answer is well-dominated by CFO-speak. Kissing up to Wall Street again?

Seeing as how Microsoft recently announced round two of 5,000 layoffs, it's a little ironic to see Ballmer talk about careers-y things for Microsoft. Doubtful that Ballmer is involved in developer and OS hires, so this is probably more about executive positions.

If you could be evaluated for a job by Ballmer, then you probably have some great career options in technology already. But in case you might have an interview with him down the road, here are some things that Microsoft's CEO is looking for ... (from the New York Times):

Q. How do you assess job candidates?

A. If they come from inside the business, the best predictor of future success is past success. It's not 100 percent, but it's a reasonable predictor. For an external candidate, what I've found is that reference checks are super-important. I didn't used to believe so much in reference checks. You can always get somebody to say something nice about you. But the truth is, if you ask enough questions and you ask around, you can really get a profile of who's accomplished various things and who hasn't.

And I try to figure out sort of a combination of I.Q. and passion. I just ask somebody to tell me what they've done that they are really proud of and tell me about it. And if it's something you are proud of, you should be able to answer any question I can come up with, at least at a level that would satisfy my interest. I ought to be able to see your passion. It might be quiet passion; it might be bubbly passion. But I should be able to sense that you are one of those people who just sort of throws themselves into things.

Q. Is there a skill or qualification or trait that you're looking for in prospective hires that didn't matter as much 10 years ago?

A. Mostly, I'm still looking for what I've always looked for: extremely smart and talented people who love to work hard, who are passionate about technology and who have a great foundation in math and science. But compared to 10 years ago, technology is more complex, products and services span people's lives in new ways, and our business is much more global. So it's more important that people can think outside the confines of their individual expertise and their product group and connect the dots between technologies, customer needs and markets in new ways.

Once again, reference checking comes up as one of those important issues. It's one of those areas of career advice that doesn't always get a ton of attention, but it's obviously quite important to a company the size and stature of Microsoft and its incumbent leader.

I recently did a post about what you may not know about references and reference-checking services. It's a good reminder of what to look out for and how to avoid getting caught in awkward hiring situations.

Ballmer also said another career for him might have been in education and coaching basketball. Someone should Photoshop in a picture of Ballmer with a clipboard and whistle. |

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