As you might imagine, being a Seattle-based career advisor, I’ve worked with hundreds of people over the years who have held jobs at Microsoft at some point or another, either as full-time employees or contractors.  And how many opinions have I heard about what it’s like to work for the 37th-largest company in the country?  You guessed it.  Hundreds.

Put simply, Microsoft — and other mega-corporations like it — can be extremely hard to pin down, culture-wise, given the enormous number of different groups and sub-cultures that exist in the organization.  While some overarching tendencies certainly exist, one must be careful not to characterize the entire company under a single, sweeping set of generalizations.  Along these lines, too, I have to always keep in mind that the majority of things I hear about this company (and many others) come from folks who are in the process of departing the organization — either involuntarily or by personal choice — so their comments may not be representative of how EVERYBODY feels about working there.

For example, while I’d admit that many of the ex-Microsofties I’ve met with aren’t terribly keen on the company, a quick glance at the 4,241 reviews of Microsoft you’ll find here on the Glassdoor.com site reveals that the average employee satisifaction rating for the company isn’t terribly shabby — coming in at 3.5 points out of 5.0.  And the company fares even higher on Careerbliss.com, where over 500 reviewers have pegged it (as you’ll find here) at a highly-respectable 3.84 score on a 5.0 satisfaction scale.

So again, when it comes to the question of Microsoft, specifically, or the general question of who the “best employers” are in the Seattle area, I’m afraid there are no easy answers — since as these reviews suggest, an employer that’s one person’s “bad fit” could easily be another person’s vocational paradise.

This being said, however, there are still some plenty of concrete tips/insights to be shared about working for the technology behemoth in Redmond.  And if I were to consolidate some things I’ve been told from reputable sources, including internal recruiters at the company, here’s what I’d pass along.

•  Microsoft has an incredibly complex work environment involving tons of proprietary internal technology systems, communications processes, and matrixed management hierarchies

•  As a result of the above fact, the company generally prefers to hire internal candidates or existing vendors/partners who already know the ropes of how to work effectively at Microsoft, whenever possible, versus hiring external candidates

•  The company typically has people go through at least four interviews before an offer is made, including a “case study” presentation exercise for many higher-level positions; as you go through the process, however, your interview series could end abruptly at any time should somebody decide you’re not the right fit for the role in question

•  Microsoft doesn’t tend to lowball people on salary — in an intentional sense — and works hard to make sure all positions and compensation packages are “on par” and have “internal parity” with similar positions throughout the organization

•  The resume screeners and recruiters at Microsoft have three goals as they speak with applicants: to determine if a candidate is 1) interested; 2) viable; and 3) affordable

•  Most jobs at Microsoft come with a healthy dose of stress, politics, and pressure — but at the same time, this culture attracts many amazingly bright and caring individuals who tend to be very generous in terms of donating time and money to the community, as well as in supporting others within the organization during times of need

•  One recruiter told me that while the company recruits an incredibly diverse workforce from all over the globe, including many people with limited English skills, the one universal quality employees need to have is “the ability, whether they accomplish it via brilliant oratory, PowerPoint slides, or sock puppets, to articulate their point of view and influence others around them.”

•  I’ve also been told that Microsoft is making a massive effort to improve its track record of hiring female and diversity candidates; at the same time, however, I’ll confess I’ve also heard allegations that lots more work need to be done in this regard and that a “glass ceiling” exists in terms of women being promoted into management roles

•  Given the vast number of jobs the company advertises, it’s apparently okay to apply to multiple positions at once, if they’re relevant to your skills — but if you apply to a wide number of jobs at random, a recruiter may notice this pattern and penalize you

•  Not all jobs at Microsoft are posted externally, as some only get posted internally and are accessible only by internal referrals; what’s more, candidates who get referred to jobs by current Microsoft employees get special treatment and there is whole separate applicant tracking system and recruiting vendor in charge of handling referral-driven candidates

•  The best place to find job leads at Microsoft?  Check out: www.microsoft-careers.com

So there you have it, for whatever it’s worth.  A quick “data dump” of things I’ve heard about what it’s really like to work at Microsoft and some of the processes that come into play in getting hired there.  Without question, there are probably exceptions to some of these rules on a group-by-group basis, however, so please keep that firmly in mind.

And while we’re at it, since I’d love to make this posting an ongoing “resource” I can share with clients of mine interested in working for Microsoft, I’d kindly ask any of you who have interviewed with the company or who have direct knowledge of working there to chime in with some comments either confirming/denying any of my observations — or adding your own two cents on the Microsoft employment scene!