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Bill Gates has hired thousands of people at Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He knows what to look for in job candidates.
How would Gates handle a job interview if the tables were turned?
During an interview for his new YouTube series called State of Inspiration, NBA star Stephen Curry asked Gates to play the role of a junior software engineer interviewing for a job at Microsoft.
Gates’s succinct answers to common job interview questions provide valuable lessons for college graduates or young professionals interviewing for jobs in almost any field.
Here are the three interview questions Curry asked, followed by Gates’s full responses, and an analysis of why the answers are effective.
Stephen Curry: Why should we hire you?
Bill Gates: You should look at the codes that I’ve written. I write software programs way beyond any classes that I’ve taken. I think I’ve gotten better over time, so take a look at how ambitious I’ve been there.
I do think I can work well with people. I might criticize their code a little harshly, but overall, I like to be on a team. I like ambitious goals. I like thinking through how we can anticipate the future.
Software is cool and I want to be involved.
Gates is concise. In just under 30 seconds, he gives the interviewer a succinct summary of why he should be hired.
Gates doesn’t have to use the word ‘passion’ to show his enthusiasm for the role. His passion is evident from the fact that he goes beyond what he’s learned in class and loves working with teams to solve big problems. And just to put a bow on it, he tells the interviewer that ‘software is cool.’
The answer also demonstrates Gates’s high standards of excellence, an important quality recruiters look for and admire in a job candidate.
Gates’s standards are so high, in fact, he criticizes sub-par performance “a little harshly.” Note how he tempers the comment with a follow-up: “But overall, I like to be on a team.” He also smiles when he says it, which takes the edge off the comment.
Stephen Curry: How do you define your strengths and weaknesses and how would incorporate them into a team?
Bill Gates: Well I’m not somebody who knows a lot about marketing. I wouldn’t enjoy being a salesman.
For a position where you’re actually creating the products and thinking through what those features should be, I’m fascinated by that.
I followed the history of the industry, read about the mistakes that have been made. So product definition, product creation, very strong.
If you have a team that understands the customers, the sales, the marketing, I’m not going to bring that, but I would enjoy working with them.
In a 30-second answer, Gates is very clear about his strengths and where he fits on a team. He’s not looking for a marketing or sales job. He’s a pure engineer and that’s where his heart is.
You’ll note that Gates does call attention to a weakness nor does he offer a trite response such as “I’m a perfectionist.” Instead he simply addresses the roles that he is not fit for. The rest of the answer is a full-throated argument for how he would improve a team.
In his book, Hit Refresh, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that he and Gates look for people who are passionate about learning. A ‘learn-it-all’ is more desirable than a ‘know-it-all.’
Gates reminds the interviewer that he’s a constant learner by saying he loves to read about the industry and to learn from past mistakes.
Stephen Curry: What are your salary expectations for this job?
Bill Gates: I hope the option package is good. I’m able to take risk and I think the company has a great future, so I prefer to get stock options even more than cash compensation.
I hear some other companies are paying a lot, but treat me fairly and emphasize the options.
Although choosing stock options in lieu of a larger salary is a highly personal decision, Gates’s response offers a lot of information. By favoring stock options, he shows the interviewer that he is a risk-taker and believes in the company, its products and its future.
Gates also gives himself leverage in any salary discussion when he says, “I hear other companies are paying a lot.” It reminds the interviewer that this job candidate is in high demand, but treat him fairly and he’ll be a team player.
A potential job candidate can easily conduct a search and discover that Microsoft looks for people who are passionate about technology, exhibit a strong desire to learn, and have a spirit of entrepreneurship. Gates’s answers demonstrated all three qualities.
Look and sound confident in your next job interview by practicing soundbites to typical questions. Watching Bill Gates acting as a job candidate is a good place to start.