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CEO who hired for Microsoft, Amazon: Top 3 in-demand skills—and the questions employers ask to see if you have them

Manny Medina, Contributor

The rise of artificial intelligence is rapidly changing the workplace. And while there's less demand for basic cognitive, physical and manual skills, the job market is still absolutely electric.

But the growing competition for top talent has been choking HR departments — especially for those in tech. My managerial roles at Amazon and Microsoft have largely shaped the way we screen candidates at Outreach , the sales engagement platform I founded in 2014.

What's important to note is that many companies — especially large ones like Microsoft , Amazon and Google — all have one thing in common: We utilize A.I., machine-learning and data science to enhance our products, so hiring people with the right skills to fill those gaps is a huge priority. The real struggle, however, is being able to successfully separate the wheat from the chaff.

According to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute , the three most in-demand skills by 2030 will be:

  1. Social and emotional skills
  2. Higher cognitive skills
  3. Technological skills

If you're looking to fill a role at a large tech company, here are the types of interview questions employers ask to determine whether you have the right skills:

1. Social and emotional skills

Employers want to know you have human intelligence, so they'll ask questions that determine how well you work with others, how emotionally intelligent you are and whether you have strong managerial skills.

Interpersonal and leadership questions

In order for a team to succeed, it must have members who can work together in harmony and a leader who can manage, delegate and motivate everyone. (Leadership skills will no doubt be the most sought after.)

Example questions:

  • "Tell me about a time you worked through a disagreement with a colleague. How did you handle the situation and what was the outcome?"
  • "How do you monitor and measure the performance of the people you manage?"

Empathy questions

At Amazon, we would ask questions that helped gauge a candidate's empathy skills. We essentially wanted to know: Can you put yourself in another person's shoes?

In hospitality, you might be asked about how you'd improve the booking or check-in process. In sales or marketing, you might be asked to create a deck to explain what you changed and why.

Example questions:

  • "Are their any problems or things we can do to enhance the customer's experience in using our products?" (Hint: There is always something that can be improved.)
  • "Name one competitor our market and what they're doing better. What can we do to win over their customers?"

2. Higher cognitive skills

Data analyzation and decision-making questions

At Microsoft and Amazon, we would ask questions that reveal a candidate's perspective on things like inquiry, data and experimentation. What do they consider as reliable evidence? How do they interpret different forms of data? How do they scrutinize their own instincts and assumptions?

Strong candidates might explain how to A/B test specific situations, and maybe even suggest repeating the tests to compare different categories (i.e., age groups, zip codes, income brackets). We're not looking for the "perfect answer," but we do expect more than just hunches or half-baked thought experiments.

Example questions:

  • "How would you calculate the benefits of asking people to buy a protection plan after they've added all their items to the cart and proceed to checkout?"
  • "If our HR department were to institute a work-from-anywhere policy, how would you access its impact?"

Advanced writing, communication and literacy questions

Microsoft makes sophisticated products with an overwhelming list of features — and only humans can make them interesting and understandable to customers. Hence, Microsoft recruiters seek out people who can explain (through written or verbal communication) things in a simple and accessible way.

Your interviewer might skim through your resume and look for something that sounds complicated and foreign to them (i.e., hobbies like chess or martial arts) — and then hit you with a series of questions on that topic. Don't expect a second interview if your answers are filled with jargon.

Example questions:

  • "How do you play chess? What are the most important rules? What are the cognitive benefits of playing chess?"
  • "How did you get into martial arts? What were your strengths and weaknesses in the sport? How did you improve from matches you lost?"

3. Technological skills

Advanced and basic technology skills

Depending on what role you're applying for, your interviewer will look for technology skills that range from advanced (i.e., coding, programming) to basic (i.e., social media, troubleshooting).

For the post part, the questions will be related to computer science fundamentals, proficiency in software and open-ended problems that you might solve through coding.

Examples questions:

  • "Tell me about a technical decision you had to make in your last engineering job. How did your decision impact the results?"
  • "When was the last time you downloaded a utility from the Internet to make your work more productive? What was it? Did it help you be better at your job? Why or why not?"

Human intelligence is key

Employers place a premium on technical skills, but what we really want is a candidate who can feel and think emotionally. These are the skills that A.I. can't replace.

We're looking to understand how your mind and emotions wrap around a process, concept or problem. Do you ponder an issue solely from your background (i.e., data science, engineering, marketing), or do you shed your biases, go beyond your technical training, and view the picture from different perspectives?

If you really want the job, be empathetic and decisive, yet analytical. More importantly, speak like a human being. If you can do all those things, you'll not only look good on paper, but you'll be seen as someone who can transform the company.

Manny Medina is CEO of Outreach , a sales engagement platform. Medina joined Amazon's AWS team as an early employee, and helped Microsoft drive the mobile division from launch to $50 million in annual revenue. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a master's degree in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @medinism .

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