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Microsoft's personnel puzzle

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Sorkin, who holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of California, Los Angeles, said he first received an unsolicited invitation to Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters in about 2000, on the recommendation of a senior Microsoft manager.

But rather than attempt to win him over as a prize prospect--Sorkin specializes in operating system design and computer security, among other areas--Microsoft interviewers challenged him with a technical "pop quiz," he recalled. No one tried to sell him on either the company or the job, he said. He withdrew his application.

Then, during the past year, Microsoft called Sorkin to say it had scheduled a phone interview with him for another job. He hadn't applied for it, and no one had asked if he was interested.

"It displayed a certain degree of arrogance and presumption," Sorkin said. The approach also backfired: The consultant, who splits his time between Los Gatos, Calif., and Mesa, Ariz., didn't join the software maker.

Microsoft won't comment on Sorkin's claims. But he is one of many observers within and outside of Redmond who's raising questions about the way the company recruits and retains its work force. The issue has come to the fore in part because of comments made this month by internal Microsoft recruiter Gretchen Ledgard, who blasted some of her company's managers as "entitled, spoiled whiners" who assume that everyone wants to work for Microsoft.

Ledgard's comments also lifted the curtain on a broader debate about personnel practices at Microsoft, which now finds itself competing for talent with a host of new start-ups, and established rivals such as Google, IBM and Sony.

Among the charges leveled at Gates, Ballmer and crew: Job candidates have been turned off by Microsoft arrogance, and the company's extensive interview process works against hiring fresh thinkers.

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