How to answer IBM interview questions

Find out what to expect at your IBM interview and read our advice on how to answer past interview questions, including 'Why do you want to work for IBM?'

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The number of interviews you might have during the IBM graduate recruitment process will vary according to the job you’re applying for – whether in consulting, technology or design. You could have up to three: a video interview (or video assessment), an assessment centre interview and a final interview. The final interview is said to concentrate largely on your choice of service line.

Interview preparation: show you share IBM's core competencies

IBM states that throughout the recruitment process it assesses candidates against the following eight core competencies:

  • adaptability
  • client focus
  • communication
  • creative problem solving
  • drive
  • passion for IBM
  • taking ownership
  • teamwork.

The majority of the interview questions are said to: be competency-based or scenario-based; stem from your previous history and reasons for applying; and be focused on your knowledge of IBM.

Therefore, the most important interview preparation you can do is to think of examples of how you have demonstrated each of the company’s eight core competencies; practise talking about any achievements and skills you included in your CV and application; and to research IBM.

Your competency examples don’t necessarily need to be work-related; you could consider your academic work, as well as anything else you do in your spare time, such as voluntary work, involvement in clubs or societies, travel, hobbies or sporting activities. Come up with two or three for each competency.

What to expect from an IBM interview

Here are some examples of previous IBM interview questions for graduate schemes, and how you might approach something like them. However, don’t obsess about these and forget to prepare for other potential questions. Questions do change from year to year and there’s no guarantee of what will come up. See the links at the end for other useful advice from TARGETjobs.

Past IBM question: Why do you want to work for IBM?

Be specific. A lot of candidates make the mistake of generalising about wanting to work for a ‘global information technology giant’, which could apply equally to IBM or any of its major competitors. You need to make sure your answer reflects your interest in IBM specifically and why you feel the company is the best fit for you. Think about what elements of the company culture appeal to you, or what kinds of projects you might get involved in. For example, are you impressed by IBM’s work to support equality for its LGBT+ employees? Or are you interested in its work on artificial intelligence and machine learning?

Past IBM question: What do you know about IBM?

This is similar in some ways to the previous question, but is designed to test how much research you’ve done and how well you understand the company. There are no shortcuts with this one; the only way you can really answer it is if you’ve actually done your research.

Things to consider while researching:

  • Find out about IBM’s history. (Your starter for ten: IBM celebrated its 100th birthday in 2011; it began life as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in 1911, through the merger of three other companies.)
  • Research and development is a major growth area – in 2020 IBM received more US patents than any other company for the 28th year in a row. Technology moves fast, so keep tabs on IBM’s press releases to make sure you’re up to date.
  • IBM originally focused mainly on hardware but has shifted towards consultancy and software. It’s important to show that you know about its products and services.
  • Read IBM’s mission statement and think how the company is currently living up to it and where it could do more.

Past IBM question: Why did you choose your particular degree?

This focuses on your interests, career aspirations and the motivation behind them. If you studied something unrelated, such as geography, and have only chosen to look into the technology industry since starting university, explain what made you choose your degree originally and what made you decide to change your focus.

Past IBM question: Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a challenge

This covers several of IBM’s competencies (such as adaptability, creative problem-solving and drive to achieve), so incorporate these into your answer. For example, you could explain about how you thought of an innovative way round a problem, or how your determination to succeed helped you overcome the obstacles. It’s a very open question, so you could choose an example from any area of your life – it could be something like difficulty dealing with someone in authority, or struggling to balance your academic work with your job.

Past IBM question: Tell me about the most interesting project you have done

The purpose of this question is to find out about what makes you tick, so choose something you’re genuinely enthusiastic about. However, stick to the facts about what the project involved, what you did, and what you learned, rather than getting carried away and giving an overly detailed description. Ideally, your example will involve similar tasks or approaches to the ones that will come up in your graduate role: for example, if you’re applying to be a strategic analytics consultant you could talk about an occasion when you’ve had to analyse data and deliver an important presentation – again, only use an example you’re genuinely enthusiastic about.

Past IBM question: When at work or on a project have you had to persuade someone to change their opinion or do something differently?

This is a variant on a traditional competency question and your example could tie into a number of their competencies, depending on its context – but it’s fair to say that this is testing your communication, teamwork and drive. Although the question is asking for a time when you persuaded them, your interviewers will be more interested in how you persuaded them and whether your attempts were successful . Note that it asks for an example of work when on a project, which leads you to think of times when completing internships, part-time jobs or group coursework. However, you can be creative in how you define ‘project’ to bring in your extracurricular activities. Remember that a project can be defined as a discrete piece of work or set of tasks with a specific aim, with a start and end date.

Previous IBM technical questions and tips

While most IBM interview questions are said to not be technical in nature, if you are applying for a technical graduate scheme, you should expect some questions to assess your technical skills. If you do have a technical degree or have indicated some technical ability on your written application, you may want to prepare for some technical questions so as not to be caught off guard.

Some previous IBM technical questions have been:

  • What are your technical skills?
  • What are the advantages of object-oriented programming?
  • What’s the difference between an abstract class and an interface?

The best way to prepare is to look carefully at the job description for information about what kinds of skills will be relevant to the role and find out as much as possible about them. If, when you get to the interview, you’re asked something you don’t know, be honest about it – the interviewer will know if you’re trying to blag it.

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