How to answer IBM interview questions

In previous years, for strategic analytics consultant roles the first interview has been part of a ‘first round assessment day’, followed by at least one more interview at a subsequent assessment centre.

For other graduate roles, there has been an interview at a ‘first round assessment day’/assessment centre, but only if you succeed in the day’s other tasks. There may then be a final interview with at least one business manager.

Interview preparation: show you share IBM's core competencies

Most IBM interviews are competency-based, focusing on the candidate’s past history and motivation for applying. 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:

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

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.

Also take a look at the blog entry on ‘Gwenyth’s Mind Map’, in which an IBM campus attraction manager outlines how she used her own experiences to land a graduate job at IBM, despite not having an internship or anything similar on her CV.

As well as competency questions, past candidates report being asked questions to test their knowledge of the IBM. See IBM’s graduate Inside Buzz to find out more about their experiences.

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 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees? Or are you interested in its recent work on cognitive computing?

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 – IBM regularly receives more US patents than any other company. The technology industry 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.

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 the 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 financial 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 technical questions and tips

In past years, most IBM graduate interviews have not included technical questions; the technical consulting scheme is the only one of IBM graduate roles for which any previous programming knowledge is expected and even so, there is no minimum requirement. However, applicants to this scheme, or candidates who have indicated some technical ability on their written application, 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.

Candidates for any of IBM's graduate roles may also find these articles helpful:

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.