Microsoft Australia and New Zealand recruitment manager, Andrew Le Lievre, told ZDNet Australia that a competitive field of thousands is cut down to just 10 to 20 lucky interns.
Yet, Microsoft Australia doesn't assess interns solely on their degree program or academic merit for entry into the business. We caught up with one such intern and his boss to tell us all about working for Redmond's Australian outpost.
Marketing graduate Paul Randazzo is an alum of Microsoft's intern program, having been hand-picked from the cast of thousands to complete his internship before working his way up through the Microsoft Academy of College Hires (MACH) program to become a student audience marketing manager with the software giant.
"I never thought I was technical enough to work at a company like Microsoft; however, I found out pretty quickly that Microsoft in Australia actually hires a lot of sales and marketing graduates such as myself, so it was a great opportunity to get involved in a global brand working in marketing. I was surprised," he says.
Randazzo applied for the intern program in his final year of university, writing a 300-word statement outlining who he was and why he wanted to work for Microsoft. The company assessed his statement along with thousands of others before selecting a shortlist of students to contact for a phone interview.
After more candidates were culled, the remaining students were invited to the North Ryde campus for an intensive day of screening where the students took part in group exercises, challenges and one-on-one interviews. Unlike other positions, however, interns aren't subjected to any isometric testing and their entry is based purely on the results of their introduction, phone interview and screening results.
While the work is hard, Randazzo says, Microsoft is very accommodating to the needs of university students.
"I worked at Microsoft five days a week and studied at night, but Microsoft was always very flexible with giving me time off to study, and whenever I had exams coming up, they let me have a few days off."
Randazzo, despite being a marketing graduate, says that he has an extensive knowledge of technology thanks to the training and support offered by Microsoft Australia.
"The personal development and professional development I've gotten from my short 18 months here has been world class, I believe," he says.
"Once you get into the graduate program, the company really invests in you as a person, so that's a huge thing and it's pretty exciting."
As one of the gatekeepers of Microsoft's intern program down under, Le Lievre says that the intern program is becoming more popular each year, with over 1000 applications expected for about 10 to 20 places.
Microsoft plays host to interns all over Australia.
"We post them all around Australia, so Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and we're even looking at Darwin this year," he says. "Around half get a job with Microsoft at the end of the process... It's a competitive program, there's no doubt about that, but I think that's the same for any tier-one corporate," Le Lievre says.
Going overseas is part of the experience provided to those who take full-time graduate positions receive.
"In the first two years, they'll go to our head office in Redmond to take part in a global MACH program, where they'll meet MACHs from all over the world. They'll do a touchstone event in Singapore, where they do a fantastic one-week business case study where they can basically play with all the engines of the business, like being a CEO for a week. They get superb opportunities to be mentored, and a huge level of support as buddies and things like that.
"It costs us about US$650,000 per graduate to get them to the end of the program. Huge investment of time, and they come out the other side as one of the future leaders of the business. It's a highly prized reward for students who are in the program and really, really competitive," Le Lievre says.
Microsoft tries to take the stigma out of being an intern, which has traditionally been associated with being a photocopy monkey, by investing in them and giving them real project work.
"Many interns you talk to will say that they're at the coal face, with the professionals doing really substantial work. All of our interns will ideally get a choice of project that they can work on, and all of them will have direct client engagement. Some of the projects our interns have led involved international or local travel, have had large budgets or have had significant direct client interaction. No photocopying or coffee [work] here," he says.
"I think grads, these days, want to roll their hands up and do real work. They don't want to be silent in a room working on a hypothetical case study. They want to understand what real work is like and we understand that experience."
Le Lievre says that the intern program was also disproving the Generation-Y stereotype, where those born after 1980 are thought to be lazy and disinterested in work and job churners.
"If you give [Generation Y employees] something that they're passionate about, if you give them the autonomy to deliver the results as they make sense to them, they work hard or even harder than some of our current employees," he says.
"Our interns are a breath of fresh air in the organisation, and bring diversity of thought, passion and drive, and they've been a massive success and have run some keynote events and programs for us across the subsidiary that have been recognised globally as best practice."
Le Lievre says that in the future, Microsoft Australia will be less and less likely to hire university graduates who haven't gone through the internship program, so those wanting to work for the software giant will have to seriously consider the program, or risk missing out on a place.
"Our intern program is the feeder for our grad program. It would be a rare year that we hire directly out of the graduate market," Le Lievre says.