Power Players

Watch 33-year-old Bill Gates describe the ideal candidate for a job at Microsoft in 1989

Watch 33-year old Bill Gates explain his hiring process, why he moved Microsoft to the Seattle area
Watch 33-year old Bill Gates explain his hiring process, why he moved Microsoft to the Seattle area

If you wanted a job with Microsoft at the height of the personal computer revolution, you only needed to display two qualities — at least, that's what Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told NBC's "Today" show in 1989.

Gates, who was then just 33 years old and still CEO of the tech giant, told NBC's Jane Pauley that job candidates' age and experience were less important than their enthusiasm for work and their belief in making computers more accessible for the average person.

"Well, we'll hire people at any age as long as they're super energetic and they want to make personal computers easier to use," Gates says before admitting that most new Microsoft employees were on the younger side. "But, we end up hiring mostly people right out of college or business school."

Of course, new hires also needed "to be smart before they come in," Gates adds, but Microsoft also wanted bright, but malleable, candidates who could be easily trained. "We give them a lot of training on the job, we put them right to work," he says. "But, no, we don't expect that they know a lot about [the work] before they get there."

In other words, in 1989, Microsoft didn't exactly expect every job candidate to be as adept at writing software as the company's co-founders — Gates and Paul Allen developed the programming language software that launched Microsoft in 1975. New hires were expected to be smart, enthusiastic and ready to learn.

Gates also tells Pauley why the company was headquartered in the Seattle area instead of Silicon Valley.

First, said Gates, "I grew up in Seattle, so as soon as my company had over 20 people, I decided to move it back here." (He and Paul Allen co-founded the company in Albuquerque, New Mexico.)

But also, "in California, in Silicon Valley, ... a lot of things happen but the rumor mill makes it hard to keep secrets and employees switch from company to company," he says. In Seattle, "we're able to keep our secrets and, you know, be really on our own," Gates says in the interview.

Today, Gates is 63 years old and the world's second-wealthiest person with an estimated net worth of $98 billion. And while Microsoft had a little over 4,000 total employees in 1989, the company now employs nearly 135,000 people worldwide.

What's more, with Microsoft now worth almost $880 billion in market value, the competition to get hired at the company is fiercer than ever, with millions of applicants each year. Last year, the company told CNBC Make It that, depending on the position being sought, Microsoft asks job candidates to provide examples of their work experience, often including showing off their coding skills or sharing a creative portfolio.

One thing that hasn't changed is that Microsoft still wants passionate candidates who are willing to learn on the job. The company told CNBC Make It that it screens prospective hires looking for "a strong desire to learn, high intelligence, a passion for technology and an entrepreneurial spirit."

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