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What IBM looks for in candidates when hiring: Drive to learn, right skills

The tech company will ask prospective managers what they will do in a given situation. And, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a degree as long as you have the skills.

September 20, 2022 / 10:27 AM IST
Demand at IBM is still extremely strong in hardware, software, and consulting.

Demand at IBM is still extremely strong in hardware, software, and consulting.

IBM is moving beyond tier-I cities in India to find talent. With its biggest shift in hiring strategy, the tech company has gone beyond the metros to recruit from places such as Mysore, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Kochi.

“We do have some other things coming in the future,” Nickle LaMoreaux, chief human resources officer, told Moneycontrol.

With many employees wanting to avoid the metro cities or having moved back home after the pandemic, IBM’s hiring strategy allows HR teams to focus on a bigger pool of talent, she said.

LaMoreaux explains what IBM looks for in a candidate when hiring.

What does IBM prefer in candidates?


Demand at IBM is still extremely strong in hardware, software, and consulting.

Other than core skill sets such as new programming languages, the number one thing that IBM looks for is continuous learning – the ability, drive and curiosity of candidates to learn.

“It’s especially true in the IT industry, where the half-life of skills is shrinking,” LaMoreaux said.

She said earlier, if one knew Java, COBOL or C++, the person would last for 30-40 years in their career. “That's not true anymore,” she said.

During interviews, IBM prefers candidates who have “substantial pieces of evidence” to showcase their skill sets.

“One is any prior experience that you have – maybe it’s a work product, maybe something you created,” LaMoreaux said. “I've seen some candidates study the company and bring a proposal to the interview.”

This can be anything candidates think the company should do differently.

“It gives the interviewer a deep understanding of ‘Wow, this person has taken the time, the effort to understand the company.’ It also demonstrates the point about continuous learning,” LaMoreaux said.

Situational questions for prospective managers

When hiring managers, IBM carries out behaviour-based interviews that are situational or role-playing, asking candidates what they would do in a given situation.

“These situational questions help us to understand candidates’ thought process, reasoning and whether the person can apply it to new situations that can’t be predicted,” LaMoreaux said. “Because in our jobs, particularly knowledge jobs in the IT industry, no two days look the same.”

It’s about skills

The drastic shortage of skills and pandemic-induced learning have led IBM to rethink some aspects of its talent strategy. In India, IBM now adopts a ‘skill-first’ approach, where college degrees don’t matter.

“The biggest example is Python, which is a relatively new skill in the data science field that 20 years ago, somebody would not have gone and gotten a degree in,” LaMoreaux said. “Now, why do I care if you learned Python at an IIT or in the military, or you taught yourself at night from your home? It’s all about whether you have the right skills and making sure that you’re not closing the aperture.”

IBM implemented the ‘skill-first’ approach previously in the US in 2012, when it removed the four-year college degree requirement from about 50 percent of its jobs. Ten years later, 20 percent of the present IBM US workforce in hardware, software, and consulting does not have a college degree.
Abhishek Sahu covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.
first published: Sep 20, 2022 10:27 am
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