How to tackle IBM's graduate application form
Don’t be put off by the length of IBM’s graduate application form. The key is to be able think laterally so that you have plenty of examples you can use to demonstrate the skills and competencies IBM seeks. Here we look at the best way to approach three of the different parts.
NB Not all of IBM’s graduate schemes have exactly the same application form (its software developer graduate application form is different to the form for its Consulting by Degrees programme, for example) so you may need to be selective about which sections of this article apply.
How to write your IBM graduate personal statement
IBM asks applicants to write a short synopsis about themselves, called a ‘personal statement’.
The main point of a personal statement is to provide a concise summary of your career goals, key skills, and relevant achievements – effectively, a condensed covering letter. Importantly, it must present you as someone who is suited to working at IBM and on that particular scheme, so don’t recycle a personal statement that you have used in applications to another employer.
These are our tips on things to avoid in your IBM personal statement, and things that you should consider to help tailor your answer.
DON’T do this in your IBM personal statement:
- Use sweeping, generic statements like ‘I am interested in pursuing a career in IT’ – this won’t tell the recruiter anything about you, or your career goals.
- Try to list all of IBM’s competencies, eg ‘I am an adaptable, client-focused individual with excellent communication and teamworking skills.’ Every other candidate has the same list, so this is unlikely to make you stand out.
DO consider doing this in your IBM personal statement:
- Think about the specifics of the career sector and role you’re applying for. Your stated career goals need to be clear, focused and achievable at IBM. They might be to do with qualifications that you know IBM helps its employees work towards, for example.
- Refer to related experience. If you’ve previously done an internship at a technology company or in a role that has some kind of link to the role you are applying for, include this in your statement, with some explanation of the type of work you did. If you don’t have ‘related’ experience, see the final point.
- Talk about relevant university project work. While a specific degree is not required for most roles, your final-year project may have included some relevant content; for example, analysis of business processes is useful experience for organisation and people consultants.
- Promote the qualities that are needed for your chosen role. If you’re applying to be a technical solutions specialist, you could emphasise your presentation skills 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.
- You can read more about graduate personal statements here.
For most schemes there is no word limit for the personal statement, but don’t be tempted to write more than a few sentences (bear in mind that for the Consulting by Degrees programmes, there is a 1,000-character limit). Whatever you do, write in a way that emphasises your key skills and shows how your career goals are a good match for a career at IBM.
Skills and achievements
Here, IBM wants evidence that you have particular skills. For most IBM graduate schemes, this section of the application form includes several themed boxes in which candidates must provide examples of when they have demonstrated the stated competency within a maximum of 150 words. These sections test written communication skills, understanding of requirements of the role, and ability to match experience with competencies sought.
DON’T do this:
- Use the same example for each competency. The recruiter needs to see the full breadth of your experience and skills.
- Waffle on past the word count. It suggests you can’t stick to a brief.
Tip: There is no specific requirement for how you answer these questions. 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.
In-depth technical knowledge isn’t necessary for business roles, though it’s a bonus if you do have some technical examples, such as teaching yourself a programming language. Tim Longdon, IBM hiring team lead for IBM’s Consulting by Degrees programme, says: ‘Showing how you adopt and use technology in an interesting way is a good start. For example, do you use wearable tech to improve your life? Or maybe you’ve been impressed at how something simple like a smartphone app to pay for car parking has made an annoying process effortless (no need to find spare change anymore!) and you have started to think about other ways in which you could apply technology in a similar way. Even using WhatsApp to organise your social life represents a convenient solution to something logistically complex, and the fact that you have thought about a personal problem and applied a technology-related solution will help us see that you “live” technology.’
For IBM’s technology graduate roles, a little more focus on technology skills is expected – but not just knowledge… you need to show how you have applied it. ‘As well as knowing programming languages, how might you have developed a solution using them?’ asks Tim. ‘If you have envisaged or even created a technology solution to an everyday problem, whether at home or in your studies, that will stand out. Don’t just say, “I know programming languages x, y and z” – that doesn’t show passion and doesn’t stand out. If you were self-taught, then yes! Or if you’ve used that skill to solve a problem, yes again!’
Travel is likely in many of IBM’s graduate 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 the example you give could be to do with working with a changing team of people (eg depending which shift you were on in your part-time job) or having to work with new technology – both scenarios are likely at IBM.
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.
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 technical solutions 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.
Self-motivation and drive to succeed
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 things, such as fundraising work, self-driven learning, or sporting achievements.
Initiative and 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. For more guidance see TARGETjobs’ tips on talking about lateral thinking at interview.
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.
The last section on the IBM graduate application form asks you to indicate which social media platforms you use. Don’t panic – IBM’s schools and universities attraction manager, Kelly Markwick, tells us that the purpose of this is for them to determine the best ways of advertising the IBM graduate and student schemes, rather than to check on what you do to socially. However, TARGETjobs always recommends that you manage your online reputation, even as a student, because it isn’t unheard of for employers and recruitment agencies to check out candidates in this way.
Absolutely do take the opportunity to connect with IBM on LinkedIn or other ‘professional social profiles’ you have. See our LinkedIn tips before doing this.