Sunday, October 1, 2006

Microsoft Internal Transfers Just Got a Whole Lot Easier

This past week, Microsoft leadership acknowledged a persistent request from its employees: please - please! - make internal transfers easier. Microsoft acted, and now moving around inside of Microsoft is a bit looser and more in favor of the employee. The new policy, to me, comes with a series of curious contingencies, but on the whole, it's a great move and a great acknowledgement to every Microsoftie who has honestly and directly communicated with leadership that our ability to manage our career by efficiently moving within the company had become exceptionally encumbered. It also addresses concerns people have noted here about getting permission to interview and suffering demoralizing lock-in when their manager deigns them too essential to leave (at least the VP now has to step up and go on record for the lock-in - may they feel the cool breeze of future accountability on the back of their neck with every consideration).

When this was announced, I was at first surprised at how close to the 2006 Company Meeting this change was. Why didn't the HR leadership announce it then? It was on my wish-list. Well, in retrospect, I guess it might have been uncomfortable to hear cheering from the audience regarding the change to easily leave the current group you're sitting with ("Yah! I can get out of my stinkin' group! Oops, I mean, didn't they just mention our team name? Yah, team-name!").

I think for both Microsoft and you to succeed, strategic movement through-out the company, according to your passions and interest, is the best career-management strategy. The longer you continue doing the same-damn-thing the more likely it is you're going to peak and max-out in your career and start going through career atrophy. Want to have full-spectrum experiences? Move from successful cycle to successful cycle from group to group.

The first step in all of this is a successful informational. What does that consist of? A few ideas from me:

  • A super career-site posting that easily resonates with the best-fit candidates, or an efficient campus job peer network to find them.
  • A well prepared potential internal-hire that requests an informational and comes ready to sell themselves and learn more about the position and the team.
  • A well prepared hiring manager who can deftly identify candidates who most likely will succeed in the group.

A lot of people probably go first to the internal career site or subscribe to the internal job aliases. That's alright, but how do you ensure that you find the best fitting job? Sometimes it really relies on how well the job description is written. A much better long-term strategy is to never eat alone at work and to establish strong Microsoft connections now so that you can create your dream job position in the future.

I know we have an internal resume service but I've never used it. Does it work well? It seems at this point it would be ideal to have internal recruiters who see internally the bastion of employees interested in broadening their career by working in a new team and letting those internal recruiters aggressively go to it. In fact, I'd say that the reward for an internal hire should be twice that of an external hire. In this case, there's a lot less overhead for the hiring and it represents efficient rebalancing within the company. I know, I know, you start having people game the system and jumping from group to group. I guess the gaggle of contingencies in the new policy I was griping about above address that so that we don't end up with Enron career games.

As for the informational, both sides have to be prepared. When I was looking for a new position, I had great informationals that ended up taking up an entire afternoon and I had at least one exceptionally poor informational. I put the blame of the poor informational squarely at my own feet because I was unprepared and only mildly interested and knowledgeable about the group. I sucked. And I would have only had myself to blame if that had been my dream job or super career opportunity.

As part of getting ready to do requests for informationals, do you prepare a resume? It can't hurt and it does serve as an introduction and a way for the hiring manager to ask more directed questions. You should update your resume once a year anyway, especially after your review or after shipping. That way, your resume is always fresh and ready to shop around should you want to test the vibrant external Microsoft waters. In Redmond there are some exceptionally knowledgeable ex-Microsofties over at JobSyntax to help you spruce your resume up or even prep.

Then you start asking yourself questions like: in thirty minutes or so, how do I sell myself and learn if this the position and group I might be interested in? How do I close the loop on the informational so that there's a clear direction going forward at the end?

Do your homework. Know the group. If it's a product group, for instance, use their product and describe your take on it and a vision you see for it going forward. What's your passion? How does it align with this group? Show that you're looking forward and engaged and not just desperately looking to abandon a burning, sinking ship and/or a cycle of bad reviews. Talk up the positive aspects of your current group given that it shows the wisdom and IQ you'd be bringing with you. Talk about your long-term plans: do you want to be a Development Manager or such? A Distinguished Engineer? Sorry, but you've got to sell yourself and your future. And maybe somehow figure out how the group's poll numbers are and what recent attrition has been like so that you can have some assurance that it's a healthy group.

At the end of the informational, if you're interested, get a commitment regarding the next steps and show that you're open for a one-off interview (especially if you're crossing disciplines) to ensure an interview loop would be an effective next step.

If you're a hiring manager... well... sorry, I got mentally distracted thinking about the whole Mini-Microsoft thing and wanting to scale-down through cuts and attrition and how hiring just seems to exceptionally wrong at this point. Anyway, I guess it's better to hire from within and rebalance vs. bringing more new people in. Okay, so if you're a hiring manager, your work is cut out for you. Now's the best time, though, to look for internal candidates: the reviews are over and major product groups and getting ready to ship. Everything is in flux and now we have this sweet new internal transfer policy.

You've got to pound the streets. Or at least the websites and conference rooms. How does a job get filled if no-one knows it exists, let alone if the ideal candidate doesn't know it exists? Are you just relying on the internal career website? That seems pretty limiting. Again, you've got to create opportunity to hire people by engaging in presence and connections within Microsoft.

So: transferring within Microsoft. What strategies work well for people out there?


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