IBM Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

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IBM might not be as new and trendy as Apple or Facebook, but the opportunity to work at one of the originators of modern computing is certifiably cool nonetheless. There’s plenty of opportunities to try your hand at joining IBM, as they have about 500 job openings in the US alone (as of this time of posting). IBM is headquartered in the United States and has office locations in various major metropolitan areas like Austin, the Raleigh-Durham area, New York, and the DC area, just to name a few. Before we look at some IBM interview questions, it’s helpful to understand their hiring process for new talent.

The IBM Hiring Process

If you’ve ever interviewed at other tech companies or startups, you’d know that the typical new age hiring process is one that is shorter, mentally taxing, and full of redundancy. IBM, on the other hand, employs a more “old school” approach to hiring. IBM, for example, often incorporates a standard cognitive assessment in their initial screening process. This is a much different approach than the likes of Amazon, Facebook, or Google, who prefer to assess aptitude and positional competency within their screens or interviews. The timed aptitude assessment will contain sections like deductive reasoning, mathematical foundations, and logic skills.

From there, the candidate will follow a traditional interview process based on the role they applied for, often a mix of behavioral and technical interviews (some through Hackerrank). Behavioral interviews will often center around topics like industry familiarity, teamwork, independent initiative, leadership, and approaches to problem-solving. The length of the hiring process can vary anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the role and the needs of the team. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself waiting weeks to months for updates on your application process. 

Practice IBM Interview Questions:

IBM Interview Questions

1. What is your interest in working at IBM?   

No matter what role you’re interviewing for at IBM, you will probably be asked this question… maybe even multiple times. It’s no surprise that a global company like IBM wants to source candidates that align with their product, mission, and corporate culture. It’s important to consider how you might fit into IBM, and formulate a quick pitch for when you’re inevitably asked this question. The IBM Jobs Blog is a great resource to check out before your IBM interview. You can get a feel for their values, what they’ve been up to, and their company culture.

2. Explain a time that you worked through an ambiguous task? How did you plan, how did you execute, what were the outcomes?

IBM likes employees that work with self-direction and autonomy, as well as ones that can simultaneously work well in teams (we’ll get to that later). When working at IBM, you need to regularly complete tasks with little to no instruction. Try to think of a time in a past role or schooling experience when you made a plan to tackle an unclear challenge. How did you approach making an action plan for the task? How did you execute on your plan? Did you collaborate with other teams to get your goal completed? And lastly and most importantly, what were the outcomes of your work? Did your project have a financial or strategic impact? Did you optimize on a new process that’s still used by the company months later? Answering this question well will really demonstrate how you can talk the talk and walk the walk.

3. Describe your ability as a leader?

IBM looks for leadership qualities in all new hires, from interns and new grads all the way up to senior leadership. Here, it’s important to remember that being a leader isn’t always about calling the shots. In fact, more often than not, being an effective leader is about knowing the strengths of yourself and of your team. Leaders understand when to take charge and how to build up their team to take the independent initiative to get stuff done. Can you remember a time when you led a team by taking the reins and a time when you led by recognizing the strengths of the team around you? When do you take one path vs. the other? Explain what factors influenced that decision.

4. Have there been times where people did not carry their own weight? How did you handle that?   

IBM interview questions often center on group dynamics, teamwork, and collaboration. What’s interesting about this question is that it’s a bit different from the classic “How do you handle conflict on your team?” question. The wording of the question suggests that there is a clear understanding that a person isn’t carrying their weight for the team, but it might not necessarily manifest as a big conflict. The key to this one is outlining how you’d handle a situation like this as a team leader. Try to think about a time when you ensured that everyone in the group remained accountable for their work without causing hard feelings. Think about outcomes: how did you get the group to work toward a common goal? The STAR method is your best friend.

Answer Real Interview Questions From Top Tech Companies

5. What’s something that you failed at in the past and how did you learn from it?

This can be a tricky one because candidates are often wary of appearing vulnerable in an interview. The key to the question is focusing more on the growth aspect and less on the mistake. Nobody’s perfect and it’s important that we can admit our faults, but even more important is that we learn from those mistakes and prevent them from happening again. Try to think about a time when you came up short in your career or personal life and discuss the process you took to ensure that you came out the other end as a stronger person or professional. 

6. What is the last thing that you taught someone?   

This is a good question to consider before your IBM interview, or an interview at any technology company for that matter. The approach to answering this question is the same regardless of what you’re teaching. First, you want to break down your topic into smaller, easily palatable sections. Next, you want to take your topic and relate it to something that your “student” is already familiar with. If you’re teaching something to a child, think of a toy that the student can easily imagine and connect with. This is an important question to consider because you might find yourself teaching or presenting to teams in your role at IBM. Your interviewer will want to see that you’re an effective teacher and communicator. 

7. What are some pros and cons about working in groups vs. working individually? Which do you prefer?

A key misconception about technology companies is that you can sit alone all day without engaging with your team. At IBM, you can definitely carve out time to work alone, but you will be needed in team collaboration as well. The answer to this one is that while both methods have pros and cons, one is not better than the other. Both independent work and team collaboration are required to run efficient and happy teams. 

8. What do you think your coworkers would say about you after a year? 

This is a fun IBM interview question to consider before your big interview. The answer will demonstrate if you’re self-reflexive or unable to see that there is room for improvement in your performance. Discuss how you’d be seen as somebody that works hard at getting better, is diligent, a team player, and a leader. You also want to be sure to let it be known that you seek out opportunities for feedback and like when your team can be honest about your performance at any time. How are you actively looking to get better professionally?

Final Thoughts

1. IBM is a great company to work for, but be prepared for its hiring process that is a bit different and often long. 

2. Behavioral IBM interview questions will center around core competencies like leadership, teamwork, and personal and group accountability. 

3. Practice real IBM interview questions with Interview School and get feedback on your practice!

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Author: Alex Litka
Product Manager at Interview School. Building digital products is the cat's pajamas. Expert in useless trivia.