How to answer IBM interview questions

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:35

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

Question mark on a blue background: IBM interview questions

Preparing for an interview at IBM? Here you’ll find examples of IBM interview questions and guidance on what to include in your answers.

Jump to: Prepare for IBM interview questions | What to expect from IBM interview questions

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 or technology. 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.

Prepare for IBM interview questions: show you share its 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 and sporting activities. Come up with two or three for each competency. You can head to our article ‘ How to answer competency-based interview questions ’ for more help on answering this type of interview question.

What to expect from IBM interview questions

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 that these will come up.

Past IBM interview question: Give an example of when you had to work in a team

With this question, IBM interviewers are explicitly seeking to assess your teamworking skills, but you could use it as an opportunity to demonstrate the other core competencies IBM seeks as well. Depending on the example you use, you could also show how driven you are to achieve an objective, how you worked together to come up with a creative solution to a problem, how you had to adapt your plans or ways of working due to changing circumstances and how you took ownership of the responsibilities allotted to you. In your answer, it’s important to emphasise the actions that you took and how these contributed to achieving the overall aim of the team.

For example, you could discuss a time that you helped to run a fundraising event for a university society and achieve a fundraising goal. Which aspect of the event did you take responsibility for and what decisions did you make? Perhaps you volunteered to take charge of promoting the event. In which case, what did you do to spread word of the event? Did you take more traditional measures and put posters up on campus? Did you do this as well as use social media – such as by consistently posting stories on your personal Instagram and/or on the societies social media accounts? Did your event promotion stop once the event began, or did you further help the team out by continuing to talk to people on campus and attract any last-minute attendees after the event had begun? All of these actions would’ve contributed towards the amount of money that your team was able to raise.

The STAR method, which details the s ituation, t ask, a ctions you took and the r esult, is an effective way to structure your answer. If you haven’t already, now would be a be a good time to visit our article on answering competency-based questions – it has more information on implementing the STAR method.

Past IBM interview 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 LGBTQ+ employees? Or are you interested in its work on artificial intelligence and machine learning?

Past IBM interview 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. Some quick-fire facts: IBM began life as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in 1911, through the merger of three other companies; it developed the software systems that guided the Apollo astronauts on their lunar voyages; and, more recently, in 2021, it committed to helping over 30 million people worldwide upskill technologically and professionally by 2030 through the launch of various educational programmes.
  • Research and development is a major element of IBM’s work with a particular focus on quantum technology. 2022 saw the release of its renewed quantum technology roadmap, with plans for the release of both software and hardware to facilitate the progression of quantum computing. Technology moves fast, so keep tabs on the organisation’s press releases and head to the ‘IBM Research’ YouTube channel 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 about how the company is currently living up to it and where it could do more.

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

This question 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.

Give specific examples of what fostered your interest in the technology industry and how you think this interest will be stimulated at IBM. Also link your interests to the transferable skills that you’ve picked up along the way and how these will benefit you on the graduate programme.

For example, have you developed critical thinking skills through essay writing? Or have you become well versed in data analysis by analysing graphs and charts and drawing conclusion from these? Critical thinking and the ability to analyse data are important skills for both consulting and technology roles at IBM.

Past IBM interview 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 traditional competency question only with a focus on eliciting an example from your work or a project and that you were not the only participant. Your example could tie into a number of IBM’s 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.

Past IBM interview question: Where do you see yourself in three years?

With this question, IBM recruiters want to to get a sense of whether you have an understanding of a typical career path in technology or consulting, how serious you are about pursuing the career path at IBM and how ambitious you are.

Think about the direction in which you’d like the take your professional development and how this could be achieved at IBM. Your graduate programme could last up to two years, which is a significant portion of ‘the next three years’, so start by thinking about that.

Consider the graduate role’s responsibilities and the skills and abilities that these will help you to develop. Why do you want to hone these abilities and skills and what projects has IBM worked on that will allow you to implement them?

For example, software specialist graduates work on a range of projects using various technologies such as machine learning and cloud computing. Look into the sections for these technologies under the ‘Solutions’ tab of the IBM website and learn about clients served and projects developed for them. Do you hope to work on projects like these?

In terms of career progression, what roles do graduates of your programme discipline typically go on to secure within the industry in general? Research the individual roles to find out what they entail. Then look to see how this career progression is reflected at IBM. Head to the ‘Experienced Professional’ tab within careers section of the IBM website. This contains descriptions about what working in the the different business areas entails and you can also read the job specs of any open positions within your area of interest – this will give you more detail about what a position entails. Make sure to head to the IBM Careers Blog as here you can find interviews with IBM employees who share insights into their career progression at the firm.

Where do you expect to be in five years? ’ is another question that employers commonly ask to learn about your career aspirations. Head to that article for a detailed breakdown of how to tackle this question.

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

There are different ways of thinking about a challenge – a stretching goal you set for yourself or that is set for you could be considered a challenge. However, the inclusion of the word ‘overcome’ in this question suggests that IBM are interested in finding out about a time that you faced adversity, a problem or difficulty. The question 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. Your example could come from any area of your life – it could be something like how you volunteered to present to a large audience to gain confidence in public speaking. Or it could be how you made changes to your routine to better manage your time having struggled to balance your academic work with your job.

Past IBM interview 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.

Previous IBM interview 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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