Getting an Interview
Getting an Interview
Interviews for Top Jobs at Volt Information
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Software Development Engineer in Test III Interview
I applied through a staffing agency. The process took 1 day – interviewed at Volt Information (Redmond, WA) in March 2008.
My contract in March 2008 was ending as a Senior STE and I posted my resume to Career Builder and Monster. Very quickly I was getting lots of staffers recruiting me, mostly for a Microsoft A- Contract position (either as a STE 3/4 or SDET 2/3).
Volt (an IT staffing firm that I've worked with before) and Excell both got me several interviews in March 2008. I don't know about the rest of you, but I generally enjoy the interviews, especially if it's for (what I consider) a cool gig that has the potential to expand my skill set (Also I have interviewed candidates myself at MS, so I am familiar with the format and types of questions they ask.)
First the staffing agency rep will interview you to see if you're a suitable candidate for the open job - generally asking how many years of skill x, y and/or z you have and how proficient you feel about the skill and your level of interest in the work the client wants. The staffing agency recruiter may also ask you to take an online test as well if they feel you may be a bit weak in something (take it - the test will also HELP YOU gauge your skill compared to the world as well. The one time I initially did poorly, I asked if I could retake the test - the staffing agency rep said yes, but I really did some cramming before the retake, and I did much better). Next, I asked the staffing agency rep the salary range - generally if it's in the ball park of what I want/expect I do a little negotiations at this point and usually get a little more than the top range the agency is willing to pay a contractor
The staffing agency rep sends your resume to the client for consideration (and I suspect the staffing agency rate charged to the client for your services). Generally, Microsoft will do a 30 to 60 minute phone interview if they find your resume/application interesting (and affordable). If all goes well, then the client will arrange an interview with you through the staffing agency. I've seen out of state contractor candidates flown in for these interviews (but this may not be typical).
The typical MS interview can last up to 4 hours and consists of 2-3 employees interviewing you serially. If the first interviewer likes your answer's, you are passed on to the next interviewer, if not you are then politely asked to leave. Finally, if all the “underlings” agree you are a good choice, then you will normally be passed on to the team’s General Manager for a final interview.
In my first interview, she asked me to develop a test case suite for testing a traffic light, then coding a c# procedure to manipulate a string on a white board. The second interviewer asked another string manipulation question (on a white board) and then what set of strings I would test it with (Never forget the null case!). Then he asked me about my experiences of deploying databases. Based on my answers, he decided to pass me on to a different impromptu interviewer – she grilled me a lot about my deployment experiences. I was supposed to be interviewed by the General Manager, but he was unavailable, so the interview chain ended and the second interviewer thanked for my time. This sequence of interviews felt weird, so I was a bit surprised when the phone call came two days later from the staffing agency asking if I would accept a different SDET II position then what I started out interviewing for (and I’m not sure if I met the bar for the original SDET III position).
Fortunately I quickly gathered my wits, and negotiated the position back to a SDET III (after all, “that IS what I interviewed for”) and negotiated the salary up by $1.75/hr from the offer. Basically I was still hired as an SDET III, but instead of writing C# Web client test automation, I became the OS/SQL database services setup guy for the (WHOLE - dev, test and PM!) team’s backend servers. My contract which was for six months also got extended out to a full year (Microsoft like many other IT firms, limits the total time a contractor works for them, usually imposing a 100 day between contracts).
Overall, the interviewers where moderately friendly, polite and kept on track. Note Microsoft NO longer asks contract candidates to solve logic puzzels)
- Generally getting the C# sytax correct on a white board (no intellisence to help out) Answer Question
1) Staffing agencies will take from 25% to 50% (or MORE) of the rate they charge their client and turn the rest over to you (less any taxes withheld, insurance, 401K, etc.). About 15% the rate the client rate is used to cover SSI match, workers comp and other government fees - from the rest they have to pay you and their overhead (or even another firm, if they are subcontractors).
2) Many agencies will charge the contractor more for medical/dental insurance then it costs them, thus earning some money this way as well - keep in mind though, this usually is still cheaper for the contractor then to try to get your own health insurance. If your spouse (parent if you're young enough) covers you with their policy, it is probably be cheaper for all not to get the insurance through the staffing agency, or for your spouse to drop his/her insurance.
3) Keep in mind, the client already has invested collectively more effort and time in the interview process and the post interview decision process they you have. By extending you an offer, they really think you are a decent to fantastic match. (Or they may have a lack of well qualified candidates either to skill scarcity and/or internally, the work environment is such that they do not attract many qualified candidates – although this is probably not known until AFTER you start working…)
Based upon the above points, If you don't negotiate your salary upfront with the staffing agency (or even if you do), you might be able to counteroffer and up your rate by a few to several dollars\hr ($1/hr works out to about $2000/year). Don't accept the offer right away and tell them you need to sometime think about their offer. You might also volunteer that you have some other interviews scheduled or other offers on the table. Usually, the first offer is not normally the best offer and the client and/or agency will come back with a slightly to a much better offer. (Although in this time of recession, this may be a risky strategy, unless YOU KNOW you did EXTREMELY well through the interview process and/or you really DO have other offers).