Hello my name is Greg Jaworski. I am a Transactional Premier Field Engineer with Microsoft. A very common question is what it takes to join Microsoft. What kind of skills should I have? How many years of experience do I need? A comment from one of our blog posts is what it takes to join PFE. While others have probably posted some tips it never hurts to post this information again. I will provide some of my own personal background as well as some of the things that we look for. While this does not guarantee you will get hired by Microsoft it will give you a general idea of what we are looking for.
What is Premier Field Engineering?
Before we even get into becoming a PFE we probably need to go over exactly what PFE does and some of the terminology that we use. Many of the people who read this blog may have never even heard of us. In future blog posts we will go over the life of a PFE in greater detail.
Premier Field Engineering is a part of the Microsoft Support organization. Our primary focus is to go onsite to customers that have Microsoft Premier Support and either provide a Proactive Service (we may assess an environment for potential issues or deliver training as well as many other things) or a Reactive Service (troubleshooting a DC that is not replicating). We also may do remote case work as well. Generally these are 1-2 hour calls where we answer questions about a technology a customer is implementing. We don’t handle reactive cases over the phone since we have an entire group at Microsoft that already does that. We are available 24x7x365 to go onsite and provide assistance to Microsoft Premier Customers. We provide solid guidance and advice to our customers on how to run and support their Microsoft software.
We have two facets of Premier Field Engineering. We have transactional PFEs and dedicated PFEs. Transactional PFEs generally go on a different engagement every week. This role requires a fair amount of travel. Transactional PFEs get to see many different environments and one week could be troubleshooting a down DC and the next week delivering a workshop to a classroom full of students. Dedicated PFEs are assigned to 1-4 customers. This role tends to travel less since they have a dedicated set of customers they are working with. In this role the PFE is much more familiar with the environment since they typically are working in it multiple times a week, up to five days a week if they are local. In some cases we have DSEs working out of our support centers. They provide support remotely and will travel to the customer location(s) when needed.
This blog is a Platforms blog and all of the PFEs who post here are Platforms PFEs. Microsoft has a wide range of products and technologies so our resources are broken into skillsets. Platforms PFEs handle items related to the Windows OS and components that are installable as a part of Windows. We also have PFEs for SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, and so on for the products, solutions, and technologies that Microsoft produces.
What are some tips to become a PFE?
- Apply — The first tip is to apply. We have numerous open positions and they are all listed at http://careers.microsoft.com/. The worst that can happen is you don’t get hired. Don’t fret if that happens. Work on your weaknesses and apply again.
- Communications — The PFE role requires good customer service and communications skills. We are onsite with customers just about every day and in the transactional role you are working with different people every week. In most cases you are meeting new people each week and only working with them for 3-5 days. We need to be able to work with the helpdesk staff all the way up to C-level people at the organization. I personally have gone to dinner with the CIO of a major company to discuss SAN issues they were having. Being able to work with different people and communicate effectively is critical to this role.
- Leadership — Leadership is also another key ability. This might sound odd since this is not a management position, but you need to be able to take charge of a situation. In many reactive cases everyone is going in different directions. Taking charge of a situation and making sure the right things are happening many times resolves the issue in a much quicker fashion.
- Technical — Yes this is a highly technical role and requires a deep understanding of how the Microsoft product(s) you support work.
- The PFE role does not look at your years of experience. We look at what you have been doing in your role. This can be hard to express in your resume, but you need to be clear and concise on exactly the type of work you have done.
- How many DCs do you support? Exactly what kind of support do you do? Is it 3rd tier support troubleshooting replication issues? If you do architecture or design type work generally PFE is not the right role. Microsoft Consulting Services does architecture and design type work.
- Troubleshooting – As mentioned above troubleshooting is a major part of this role. Having solid troubleshooting skills and a troubleshooting methodology is something we ask about in our interview process.
- Certification – While we do not have a hard and fast rule on certification you should have your MCSE or MCITP:EA or be working towards it.
- Don’t lie about your skills. If you list Windows Server 2008 R2 AD on your resume and maybe you installed one DC in a lab don’t list it. We will ask you questions about the AD Recycle Bin, ADWS, and so forth. We ask these questions based on the skills you have told us in your resume. If you are going to list a skill on your resume you should be Level 200+ in it.
- Be honest – While I am starting to touch a little bit on some of our interview process this goes the same as above. If you don’t know something don’t try to guess or stumble your way through it. While we look for people who are already technical we are also looking for people who can learn and adapt quickly. We provide significant training and are looking for people who have a solid base of skills to build on. If you think maybe we are touching on an area where you might not be as strong as you thought provide us direction on an area you are strong in.
The Interview Process for PFE
I will just provide a high level overview here, but this will give you an idea of how we hire in PFE.
We have a group of recruiters here at Microsoft dedicated to PFE that look at the resumes and online applications. If they find a candidate with the skills we are looking for they will contact that candidate. The recruiter will discuss the role with the candidate as well as ask some technical questions. If the role is a fit for the candidate and the candidate did well on these technical questions the candidate will be setup with an interview with one or two PFEs.
This process can vary some based on scheduling but the candidate will have one or two technical screens with a PFE or two PFEs in that skillset. If we are trying to fill a Platforms role the PFE will be a Platforms PFE. As mentioned above this is a good place to be honest with the recruiter and yourself. While you may be excited that you are in the interview process maybe you have some Platforms skills but are stronger in Exchange. I have interviewed candidates that are being interviewed for a Platforms position, but based on their resume were stronger in Exchange. They did not do well on the Platforms interview, but maybe they would have been a great Exchange PFE. Another tip here is that the Platforms interview is generally very Active Directory heavy since this is a high demand area for us. If you are stronger in clustering or something else Platforms related you want to make that known especially to the recruiter so the right PFEs are assigned to perform the interview.
If you make it through the technical screen(s) then you will have a manager interview. The managers are the ones gauging your communications and leadership skills. If you are highly technical, but can’t convey your message then this can be a problem. The managers are looking to see how well you will interact with customers as well as with coworkers and other teams inside Microsoft.
My Personal Road to Microsoft and PFE
As I mentioned at the beginning I will provide some detail on how I came to Microsoft as well as PFE. Most of what I have listed above is based on my own personal experience both in the hiring process as well as being someone who interviews candidates.
My first tip above was to apply. Microsoft was a dream job of mine since I had gotten my first 486 PC running DOS 6.0 and Windows 3.1. For some reason though as I progressed in my career and my own personal passion for computing I never applied. Maybe it seemed like one of those unattainable dreams or I didn’t think I was good enough. Finally at the company I worked for previous to Microsoft one of my coworkers was hired by Microsoft. I then thought to myself I should be working for Microsoft. I asked him how it was to work for Microsoft and what kind of jobs they had, but due to how busy he was we were never able to connect. My wife finally prodded me and said why are you waiting for him just go and apply yourself and I did. Several months went by and I didn’t hear anything. My wife happened to make a comment and said I guess you aren’t good enough and ironically they called me that day. So long story short apply and see what happens.
Once I was called by the Microsoft recruiter they lined up the first interview. This first interview is an interview with someone in the PFE role as mentioned earlier. I thought ok no big deal I am the go-to person at my company and I am strong in Active Directory and Windows. Well I was not as strong as I thought however as I mentioned above I had a solid base and a wide range of experience in my resume. I had a second technical interview. Where, again I had some weaknesses, but was honest if I didn’t know the answer to the question. I then had the manager interview as I had listed above and did very well. So as I mentioned previously we will provide deep technical training. We look for people that have a solid technical base, can clearly convey their message, and who are willing to learn.
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So to recap and close out this blog post if you are a strong leader with great communications skills and a passion for technology we would love to have you join our team. It is a rewarding career that changes almost every week.
Thanks and I hope you found this useful. We are hiring and it is a great place to work.