How to tackle IBM's graduate application form

Sweeping, generic statements like ‘I am interested in pursuing a career in IT’ won’t tell the recruiter anything.

Consider timing before applying to IBM. If your online application is successful you'll be asked to sit its online 'IPAT' test, and will have only a narrow window in which to do so – so don't apply shortly before your exams or a holiday.

IBM’s online application system itself mainly involves providing basic factual information rather than writing longer answers about your skills or motivation to join the company. You need to provide this information separately by completing and uploading a Word document form variously referred to as the 'IBM application template'/'application form'/'CV'.

The main sections of this 'application template' are:

  1. Personal details, including personal statement
  2. Education and qualifications
  3. Work experience
  4. Skills and achievements
  5. Role preferences
  6. Social media details

What to put in your IBM 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.

DON’T do this:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Here are some things you could consider to help tailor your answer:

  • Think about the specifics of the career sector and role you’re applying for. Your stated career goals need to be clear and focused, so think carefully about what interests you.
  • Refer to relevant experience. If you’ve previously done an internship at a technology company, include this in your statement, with some explanation of the type of work you did.
  • 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.
  • Consider 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, as these are both key elements of this role.

There is no word limit for the personal statement, but try to keep it as concise as possible, with a maximum of 250 words (though preferably fewer).

Work experience

If you've done work experience, you're required to enter the name of the company you've worked for and your roles and responsibilities into a table. There is only space for you to write about two different positions, so be selective if you have more than this.

When writing about your responsibilities, try to make what you say relevant to the role you're applying for. Emphasise responsibilities you might have had that are similar to ones you would experience on the graduate programme. The key is to be specific and relevant to show that you are well suited to the role.

Skills and achievements

This section includes several themed boxes in which candidates must provide examples of when they have demonstrated the stated competency within a maximum of 150 words.

Point of question: tests written communication skills, understanding of requirements of role, ability to match experience with competencies sought.

DON’T do this:

  1. Use the same example for each competency. The recruiter needs to see the full breadth of your experience and skills.
  2. Waffle on past the word count.

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.

Here are some things you could consider to help tailor your answers:

  • Technical orientation: While technical ability isn’t necessary for most roles, it’s a bonus if you do have some technical examples, such as teaching yourself a programming language. Don’t worry if your actual experience is limited; this is really more of an opportunity to explain your interest in technology and (more importantly) how it can be used to benefit clients.
  • Adaptability: Travel is highly likely in all 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.
  • 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.
  • Effective 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 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 (usually outside academia). 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.
  • 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.

IBM application template question: 'Motivation to apply for this role – please provide reasons why you have applied to this particular role.'

Space given for question: 150 words.

Point of question: tests knowledge of scheme applied for, communication skills, level of research done, knowledge and understanding of career path.

DON’T do this:

  1. Give a generalised answer which could apply to any of IBM’s graduate roles.
  2. Simply parrot the job description without explaining why it appeals to you; saying ‘I want to unleash the power of IBM’s products’ doesn’t actually tell the recruiter anything.

Here are some things that you could consider to help tailor your answer:

  • Pick out the key things about the role that interest you: it could be something like the range of responsibilities a business specialist has, or the level of client interaction a technology consultant has. Explain how you think these aspects would benefit your development.
  • Find out which area of the business the role fits in to. What kinds of projects might you be able to get involved in? How do you know that these kind of projects will interest you (ie have you done something similar in the past that sparked your interest)?
  • Think about the long-term career opportunities the role could give you. Most IBM graduates will work towards accreditation by a relevant professional body, so if this is something that appeals to you, include this in your answer.

Additional information section – please provide us with any other information you feel relevant to your application eg business acumen, achievements, awards etc

This section is for any additional information that you feel is relevant, which must be explained in up to 150 words. Think carefully about each of the examples given (ie busines acumen, achievements and awards) and whether any of them apply to you. 'Achievements' is a broad category, so mention anything you're proud of that you haven't already covered elsewhere in your application. It’s important to use this space: an empty box won’t look great on your application.

Strategic analytics consultant application

The application process for those applying for the strategic analytics consultant scheme is slightly different to that for the other graduate roles.

Candidates applying for this role must complete a separate application form to accompany the online application that includes a list of competency-based application questions, which must be answered within 150–250 words:

  1. What attracts you to applying for a graduate position within IBM? (150 words – tests motivation, knowledge of the company, ability to distinguish IBM from competitors.)
  2. Why are you interested in joining IBM’s Business Dynamics group? What in particular makes you suited to business modelling? (200 words – tests how much research you have done, understanding of the business and the role, self-awareness.)
  3. We look for candidates with excellent analytical and numerical skills who thrive in both team environments and working alone. What evidence can you provide that demonstrates you have these abilities? (200 words – tests analytical skills, ability to identify relevant examples, experience of working in different environments.)
  4. What other skills, awards, achievements or positions of responsibility do you think would be relevant in supporting your application to Business Dynamics? (250 words – tests self-analysis, interest in extracurricular activities, ability to relate experience to job description.)

Tip: When approaching these questions, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what the Business Dynamics group does: make sure you do plenty of research before starting your application.

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