Safiya Miller had her pick of job offers from big technology companies after earning an MBA from Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management in New York state.
In the end, she chose Microsoft, becoming an account executive in its Bay Area offices in 2015. Her decision was clinched by the company’s legacy, and the long and varied experience of colleagues. “If I was going to move all the way out west, I wanted a team where I could learn and grow,” says Ms Miller, who until then had worked on the US East Coast and Brazil. “I wanted to learn next to [people] who have not only been in the industry for years but were also experiencing this refresh, rebirth of the company,” she says.
Few tech companies have the staying power of Microsoft. Established in 1975 before many of today’s tech founders were even born, the company is among the top-five tech hirers of MBA students from leading business schools, including Insead, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
It appeals to graduates such as Ms Miller because it is good at reinventing itself. No longer seen as tied to the fate of the PC market, under Satya Nadella, its chief executive since 2014, the company has focused on offering broader services such as cloud platforms, enterprise software and artificial intelligence.
That means a wider selection of jobs for business school graduates, says Chuck Edward, Microsoft’s head of global talent acquisition. MBAs are typically ambitious, technologically proficient and trained in data and analytics. They also tend to have some experience of working life — all valuable to the changing Microsoft.
“With MBAs, we know what we’re going to get,” says Mr Edward. “Our demand [for MBA talent] has gone up significantly in the past two or three years.”
The company says it hires several hundred MBAs a year from nearly 150 different schools in 40 countries. About two-thirds are from the US and Canada. They are sent all over the world to work in divisions from business development and finance to marketing and human resources.
Median starting salaries and signing bonuses for MBA graduates at the Redmond, Washington-based headquarters are just over $160,000 for finance managers, product marketing managers and business programme and strategy managers, according to Transparent Career, a start-up that collects MBA graduates’ self-reported salary data.
Microsoft’s reinvention has also led to redundancies. This year the company laid off 3,000-4,000 employees, mostly sales staff outside the US, according to the New York Times. This came after job losses three years earlier, following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s mobile business. Then, Microsoft laid off 18,000 employees, 14 per cent of its workforce, the deepest cuts in the company’s history.
Mr Edward says recent job losses do not affect demand for MBA talent. This year, Microsoft hired about 30 per cent more MBAs than last, and plans to hire more. Many will be recruited from its summer internship programme. “Our goal is to convert,” Mr Edward says. “When we bring in an intern, [we want them to] become a full-time hire.”
Those who want to stand out at interview should reflect Microsoft’s leadership principles — to create clarity, generate energy and deliver success, Mr Edward says. That process begins with a phone interview and those who make the next round are invited to the company’s headquarters, or another of its large office sites. They meet current employees and have a full day of interviews.
The process usually lasts three to four weeks, according to Microsoft, although that can vary to fit in with business schools’ recruiting timeframes.
The company visits campuses in students’ second year to recruit additional, full-time employees — a move not all big recruiters make, says Michelle Hopping, director of MBA career management at the Wharton School. Ms Hopping says Microsoft not only seeks out Wharton students at recruiting events, but also offers extracurricular activities, such as competitions and educational opportunities in the classroom.
Once MBA graduates have joined the company, most participate in the Microsoft Academy for College Hires. Ms Miller was assigned two mentors through this programme when she joined. In addition to two or three big training events a year, Mach MBA members and alumni have local get-togethers every month. Ms Miller attributes many of the opportunities she received as a new hire to the Mach programme. At the end of her first year she used company funding and facilities to bring together 150 recent MBA hires from 10 tech Silicon Valley companies for a diversity event.
“There’s a spirit to want to give back and do service and have a larger conversation across the company,” Ms Miller says.