I was at a birthday party for my son’s friend today and someone asked me “How do you go about getting a job at a big company like Microsoft?” It’s a great question and definitely not one that has a straight forward answer. It would be great if there was a really well-written computer program that could exactly match the right person with the right job. I wish it were that easy. There are lots of resources on how to interview at Microsoft, but I don’t think that is what was behind the question. I think the uncertainty around applying for a job at a big company has little to do with the interview. At a company as large as Microsoft, there are a lot of hurdles to jump over even before you get an interview, many of which you have no control over or even ways of influencing. The interview itself is time consuming and expensive, so before the interview is scheduled, we’re looking for any reasons not to interview a candidate. There are many things you can do to help get the interview and there are things you can do to guarantee that you don’t get an interview. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you get that interview:

Make sure you are right for the job and the job is right for you. This seems like it should be obvious, but we receive a lot of resumes from people who must not have read the job description. There are very few jobs at Microsoft that are going to accommodate a complete career change. You need to at least have the core skills and experiences required for the job and show that you can grow in the other areas.

Get someone (who has hired people before) to review your resume. There are a couple pet-peeves that I have with resumes. First, I hate resumes that are too long. Resumes should be 2 pages at most. They should reflect what is recent and important in your career, not everything in your career. They should also include only what is relevant. Don’t include hobbies, don’t include your first job at a fast food restaurant and don’t include an endless list of skills or technologies that have nothing to do with the role you are applying to.

Improve your online presence. One of the first things I do when I receive a resume is do a search online. I’m looking for a website, blog, twitter feed, or presentation at a community event. I’m not looking for “dirt” in their social network to disqualify them. Rather, I’m looking to see how a candidate communicates and represents themselves online. Can they write clearly? Are they credible? How do they handle questions, conflict, etc?

Network, network, network. The best way to get the attention of the hiring manager in a large company is through a peer of the hiring manager. This does not mean a random person in the large company forwarding your resume internally. It needs to be someone known (and respected by) the hiring manager. Keeping a healthy professional network will make sure you are ready to take advantage of opportunities that come up with people in your network.

Submitting your resume is not enough. At a big company like Microsoft, there are several filters that your resume must pass through before it reaches the hiring manager. Never expect that your resume will reach the hiring manager on its own. If you have a way to contact the hiring manager, you should follow-up to make sure they know your resume was submitted.

Ask for an informational meeting. An informational is a 15-30 min meeting that gives you a chance to ask questions and make the hiring manager more familiar with yourself. It is much easier to setup than a full interview. Be careful not to oversell yourself in an informational. By asking the right questions, you can show that you understand the role and are self-aware enough to know whether you are right or wrong for the role. If you get the interview, congratulations! Getting the interview means that you’ve got good experiences on your resume and have done the right things to get the attention of the hiring manager. Interviews can take a full day. Show up well-rested and with an extra dose of energy and passion.