Graduates: what to expect from IBM's application process

25 Jan 2023, 13:35

The initial stages of IBM's application process may seem fairly simple, but don't get complacent. You need to show that you have the skills and qualities that IBM seeks.

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IBM’s application process: What to expect | When to apply | The work experience section | Your CV | The skills section | Online assessments | Answering IBM’s application form questions | IBM’s core competencies

The first stage of your application will consist of a short, initial application form, where you’ll be asked to input the following:

  • your personal details and contact information
  • your education history
  • details of your work experience
  • a list of skills you possess
  • a CV.

This is then followed by a number of online assessments, which include a ‘learning agility assessment’ and a cognitive ability game . The former looks at your way of learning and the latter assesses your problem-solving skills.

If you’re successful in passing these assessments, you’ll be asked to a complete a longer application form, which includes questions about your skills and competencies and your motivations for applying. These questions will require longer, more in-depth answers.

Lastly, successful candidates will be invited to attend an assessment centre and a final interview. Find out about IBM interview questions and how to answer them.

NB: Not all of IBM’s graduate schemes have exactly the same application process. The details of the questions on the application forms and the online tests are likely to differ between programmes. It’s important to look closely at the job listings for each responsibility, so you know what IBM’s recruiters are looking for.

When to apply for IBM’s graduate schemes

Previously, IBM has used a system it calls ‘sprint hiring’ for some of its graduate roles, such as the consulting programmes. Sprints Sprints are short periods of time in which IBM accepts applications for a role. They usually run for a week at most and may close sooner than this if enough applications are received. As such, it’s important to stay on top of deadlines and get your application in as early as possible. To be notified of the opening of a sprint , you must register your interest in the role by filling out a form to provide some personal and educational details. It would also be a good idea to follow its UK careers site on Twitter for any updates on when you can apply.

Some graduate programmes, internships and work experience opportunities still follow a more ‘traditional’ timetable. See our article on when graduate schemes open and when to apply for more information.

Making your work experience count

As the initial application form does not include space for a covering letter or personal statement, you need to show why you’re suitable for the job through your work experience. For each experience you choose to include, you’re given some space to write about your responsibilities and the skills that you demonstrated. This section tests written communication skills, your understanding of the requirements of the role, and your ability to match experiences with the competencies sought.

Make an effort to highlight times when you’ve developed the skills and competencies that match those asked for in the job description and IBM's eight core competencies: adaptability, communication, client focus, creative problem solving, drive, teamwork, passion for IBM and taking ownership (more on these later). Remember, these do not need to be from tech-related work experience.

It’s important, however, that everything you include is truthful and specific to the experience you are discussing. Don’t just list the competencies IBM looks for (eg ‘In this role I was an adaptable, client-focused individual with excellent communication and teamworking skills.’), as everyone is able to do this. Back up each claim with a specific example.

For example, if you’ve previously worked in retail, and had sales targets, mention times when you exceeded your target, by how much and how this helped contribute towards the store’s overall target.

Keep it concise, but write in complete sentences. After all, effective communication skills are something that IBM’s recruiters have previously stated that they specifically look out for.

TOP TIP: show you’re a STAR

There is no specific requirement for how you should respond to these questions. In order to best showcase your skills, try the ‘STAR’ technique: first describe the Situation, then the Task you had to complete, what Action you took, and what the Result was. Give the most words to describing your Actions and the Results so that your skills and achievements are not overlooked by you setting the scene for your example.

What to include on your graduate CV for IBM

The final stage of IBM’s graduate initial application form is uploading your CV. You’re given the option to use information from your IBM candidate profile in place of uploading a separate file, but in order to ensure you’ve included all the information that you need, it’s advisable to prepare your CV in a word-processing programme, save it as a PDF file (unless otherwise instructed) and then upload it.

IBM doesn’t specify a particular type or style of CV for you to include, so there’s a degree of freedom for how you can approach putting your CV together. You can choose to follow a chronological structure, a skills-based structure or to put together a technical CV.

However, your CV should always be specific to the role you are applying for and to IBM and should be clear and easy to read. Even though you are uploading your CV online, you should still keep the length to either one or two sides of A4 and include your contact information. Format your CV as if it would be printed – you never know how the recruiters will view it.

You should include details about your education and outline your work experience and any positions of responsibility. Make the most of all your experience by focusing on what you achieved and detailing some of the duties and skills that you demonstrated – even if the experience is seemingly unrelated to the role at IBM.

TOP TIP: include a personal statement

A personal statement is a concise statement of your career goals and your achievements so far. Usually, targetjobs does not advise including personal statements on graduate CVs. However, as you do not submit a cover letter to IBM, a strong personal statement may be a way to convey your aims and motivations for applying.

Keep it brief and avoid sweeping, generic statements like ‘I am interested in pursuing a career in IT’, as this won’t tell recruiters anything about you. Instead, state specific career goals that are clear, focused and achievable at IBM. Prioritise the qualities that are needed for your chosen role. For instance, if you’re applying to be a technology specialist, you could emphasise your flexibility or your previous experience in a customer-facing role (even if it wasn’t in technology), as these are both key elements of this role.

TOP TIP: try a technical CV

If you’re applying for a technical scheme, such as IBM’s software developer graduate programme, you can structure your CV especially to showcase your specific technical skills. A technical CV is a CV that foregrounds your technical skills and qualifications, as well as your level of ability, before backing them up with details about your work experience and your transferable skills.

Skills and achievements IBM wants to see

Throughout both of IBM’s application forms, recruiters will be looking for evidence that you have particular skills, which will typically listed on the job advert. In the first application form you will be given a space to include a list of up to 50 skills; these can be more general transferable skills (such as ‘teamworking’) or details of specific qualifications and technical knowledge.

This section is your opportunity to give a broad overview of your skillset. Refer back to IBM's eight core competencies and the desired skills for the role and ensure that you are fulfilling those. If you’re applying for a technical role, definitely include details of coding languages or frameworks you have a decent knowledge of. As tempting as it may be, however, don’t go overboard and tick 50 random skills. For every skill you select, be prepared to speak about it and how you developed it during the later stages of the recruitment process.

What to expect from IBM’s online assessments

After the initial application form, you can expect to be invited to complete a handful of online assessments including a game-based test and a learning agility assessment . The game-based test will present you with a number of interactive games and problems to assess your numeracy and problem-solving skills, while the learning agility test will ask how you respond to various scenarios.

The online psychometric tests are not necessarily something that you can (or, even, should) prepare for. These are used to find out how you approach work and whether your working style would be suited to the role you are applying for. Recruiters have repeatedly told targetjobs that applicants should not try and second guess these tests and answer in a manner that you think the recruiters will like, as this is unlikely to lead to success. However, while you may not be able to prepare for the content of the test, it may be worth taking a practice test or two to become familiar with the format. Being more comfortable with the format of the tests will help you to answer these in a more authentic way.

Answering IBM’s application form questions

The final stage of the application process before the assessment centre is a second application form. This is a lot more expansive than your initial application and you are expected to write considered, longer answers to questions about your motivations for applying to IBM and to the particular role.

The questions you will be asked will depend on the programme you are applying for but are likely to follow along very similar lines. The questions that have previously been asked for consulting schemes include:

  • What attracts you to pursue your career in consulting within IBM Services?
  • What are the key skills and attributes that you have and would like to develop to ensure you have a successful career in consulting?
  • How would you demonstrate your curiosity around technology to us (which you could build upon as a consultant at IBM)?
  • What IBM technologies are you familiar with, how do they resonate with you and why?
  • What prior contact have you had with IBM and how has this influenced your decision to apply?

The answers you give should be informed by carrying out sufficient research into the career path you want to pursue with IBM and relating your findings to your motivations, experience and the skills you’ve developed. There’s a set of specific skills and competencies that IBM has eyes for. The next section details these and how they can be evidenced.

Key skills to show off in your IBM application

Keep IBM's eight core competencies in mind throughout every stage of the application: from adding detail to the work experience section and putting together your CV to answering motivation questions. These core competencies are:

1. Adaptability

Travel is typically required in many of IBM’s graduate roles (especially for consulting roles), so it’s very important that you show you are flexible about how and where you work, and that you can adapt to different situations. More generally, changing location isn’t the only thing that requires adaptability. So, if you are asked to provide an example, your example could be to do with working with a changing team of people (eg varying which shift you were on in your part-time job) or having to work with new technology – both scenarios are likely at IBM.

2. Communication

This is vital for a large organisation such as IBM, as different business areas need to be able to communicate well with one another. Most roles will also involve some form of client contact, either in person (eg strategic analytics consultant), or in writing (eg technology specialist). If you’ve had a part-time job where you dealt well with a particularly difficult customer, or if you got an excellent grade in a presentation exam at university, use these examples – keep them specific and show that you achieved a positive outcome through communication.

3. Client focus

Customer service experience is beneficial here but if you don’t have it, don’t panic: the bottom line is that you need to show you are able to work with the needs or expectations of others in mind. Your ‘client’ could be your listeners if you worked in student radio, or even your lecturers, as your work is structured according to their brief. Think of any occasion when you’ve had to provide a service or deliver work to somebody.

4. Creative problem solving

This is an important one to get right; the technology industry is driven by creativity and new ideas, and IBM cites creativity as a key characteristic of its employees. Your answer should show your ability to think laterally and to identify opportunities for improvement. Show that by using your own initiative you were able to achieve a positive, quantifiable result. See targetjobs’ tips on talking about lateral thinking at interview for more guidance.

5. Drive

Ideally, you should use an example where you decided to do something independently that needed effort, time commitment and discipline to succeed at it. This could include a whole range of activities, such as fundraising work, self-driven learning or sporting achievements.

6. Teamwork

Teamwork comes into almost everything, so examples are plentiful: sports teams, group presentations and drama productions, to name but a few. Think about situations where you couldn’t have achieved the same result alone.

7. Passion for IBM

Passion is a key factor that all technology recruiters look for – they want to see that you, not only want the job, but will be excited and engaged once you start working for IBM. One way to show through your application that you have this passion is by having done your research in advance and being able to write in specific terms about what IBM. Recruiters will be impressed if you can speak genuinely about your interest in a project or product of IBM, or about an element of its culture (such as a particular corporate social responsibility initiative).

8. Taking ownership

Taking ownership could mean two things: it could mean being proactive in seeking out responsibility and helping to lead projects or it could mean accepting responsibility for things that don’t go to plan. Both are key concepts of leadership. IBM don’t just want to hire graduates who will assist other people; they want graduates who are ready to progress and take on more responsibility in their role. In your application, use examples of when you have led teams at university, in societies or during part-time work, and discuss times when you sought out and volunteered for extra duties.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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