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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.

IBM’s online application form: Work experience | Your CV | Skills IBM wants to see

The first step for applying to one of IBM’s graduate programmes will be to fill out a short application form. This initial application may seem fairly brief, but don’t get complacent – make sure that your work experience and CV show that you have the skills and competencies that IBM seeks. Here we look at the best way for you to approach both of these parts of the application.

NB: Not all of IBM’s graduate schemes have exactly the same application form (its software developer graduate application form may differ slightly from the form for its Consulting by Degrees programme, for example) so you may need to be selective about which sections of this article apply to you.

Making your work experience count

As the initial application form does not include space for a covering letter or personal statement, you need to show why you’re suitable for the job through your work experience. For each piece of experience you choose to include, you’re given some space to write about your responsibilities and the skills that you demonstrated in every role. This section tests written communication skills, your understanding of the requirements of the role, and your ability to match experiences with the competencies sought.

As with your CV, the experiences you include in this section do not all need to be directly related to the role you are applying for, but you should make an effort to highlight times when you’ve developed required and desired skills and competencies that match those asked for in the job description. The same applies when putting together your CV, which you’ll find more advice on below.

It’s important, however, that everything you include is truthful and specific to the experience you are discussing. Don’t just list the competencies IBM looks for (eg ‘In this role I was an adaptable, client-focused individual with excellent communication and teamworking skills.’), as everyone is able to do this. Back up each claim with a specific example. Below we’ve picked out some of the core values and skills that IBM looks for in its graduates, with some pointers for the type of examples you could support these with.

While there is no word or character limit to what you can include here, it’s probably best that you keep your response short. Write too much and the information that you want to get across will be lost. Keep it concise, but write in complete sentences. After all, effective communication skills are something that IBM’s recruiters have previously stated that they specifically looks out for.

TOP TIP: Show you’re a STAR

There is no specific requirement for how you should respond to these questions. In order to best showcase your skills, 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.

What to include on your graduate CV for IBM

The final stage of IBM’s graduate application form is uploading your CV. You’re given the option to use information from your IBM candidate profile in place of uploading a separate file, but in order to ensure you’ve included all the information that you need, it’s advisable to prepare your CV in a word processor beforehand and upload it.

IBM doesn’t specify a particular type or style of CV for you to include, so there’s a degree of freedom for how you can approach putting your CV together. You can choose to follow a chronological structure, a skills-based structure or to put together a technical CV. However, it should always be specific to the role you are applying for and to IBM, and should be clear and easy to read. Even though you are uploading your CV online, you should still keep the length to either one or two sides of A4 and include your contact information. Format your CV as if it would be printed – you never know how the recruiters will view it.

Your CV should include details about your education and outline relevant work experience and positions of responsibility, detailing some of the responsibilities and skills that you demonstrated in each position. As well as showing off your skills, you also want to show IBM that you have a range of experiences and that you are a well-rounded candidate. Don’t list all of your skills under one piece of experience; try and find the best example for each, even if the experience may not seem directly relevant to IBM’s graduate scheme.

TOP TIP: Include a personal statement

A personal statement is a concise statement of your career goals and your achievements so far. Usually, TARGETjobs does not advise including personal statements on graduate CVs. However, as you do not submit a cover letter to IBM, a strong personal statement may be a way to convey your aims and motivations for applying.

Keep it brief and avoid sweeping, generic statements like ‘I am interested in pursuing a career in IT’, as this won’t tell recruiters anything about you. Instead, state specific career goals that are clear, focused and achievable at IBM. Prioritise the qualities that are needed for your chosen role. For instance, 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.

TOP TIP: Try a technical CV

If you’re applying for a technical scheme, such as IBM’s software development graduate programme, you can structure your CV especially to showcase your specific technical skills. A technical CV is a CV that foregrounds your technical skills and qualifications, as well as your level of ability, before backing them up with details about your work experience and your transferable skills.

Skills and achievements IBM wants to see

Throughout the application form, IBM wants evidence that you have particular skills. The online application form doesn’t include a specific space to talk about these skills, so you need to show your skills off through your work experience and your CV. IBM has previously indicated that the following skills are particularly important.

Technical orientation

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. A recruiter at IBM has previously told TARGETjobs: ‘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? 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. Just showing that you have learned a language is not enough; you need to demonstrate that you have solved problems with your technical knowledge – this can be at home, during your degree or at work. For instance, you may have coded a program to keep track of society expenses and membership as part of a society committee.


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 varying 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.

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 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.

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.

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