24 Mar 2014, 02:05

Tips for Securing an Internship at IBM (or anywhere, really)

My original post regarding my internship experience at IBM has become quite popular on my blog. Recently, I have been involved in the interviewing process and with this new perspective, I thought I should share some tips. I feel that if you have come across this post, you have accomplished a great first step as the act of searching out this information shows that you are genuinely interested and concerned about your career.

Show passion for what you do

Anyone can spend weeks Googling and learning interview questions to get ahead in the interview session. However, what I believe makes for a truly compelling candidate is someone who is so interested in their field that they have stepped outside of academia and pursued personal learning and experience.

Unfortunately, there is only so much a professor can pack into their lectures. This is not their fault; their job is to give you a foundation and teach you HOW to learn. With this, it is your responsibility to continue the learning on your own time. I highly suggest setting up your own server, write applications, tinker with communications protocols, web apps, phone apps, make a computer game, contribute to open source, start a project on github, compile and modify opensource software, etc. These are examples for Software Engineers, but really you can apply this to any field – you are pursuing a career because you love it, so get in as deep as you can.

This initiative is very impressive to those who are part of the hiring process. Not only is the experience great to have, but what is most important about these extracurricular activities is that you are passionate enough to pursue this material on your own.

Communication is Key

You can be the greatest at what you do, but if you are not able to communicate effectively with others then the organization loses your full potential. I highly suggest doing as much public speaking as you can and get used to making effective presentations. This will overall improve your comfort level in the workplace, and can really shine on a resume. Also, work in teams whenever you can. The lone wolf mentality does not go very far in an organization because it is about working with others…there will always be teams of people in your future.

Some things that helped me here include working at a radio station and working on my own business. Both are experiences that helped greatly and the second one allowed me to graduate debt free. I very much recommend that second one 🙂

Resume should list what you know – Know your resume

Interviewers use your resume, so make sure you can speak to it at a level that you are conveying and don’t pad with feature of the project you worked on…which were features you did not actually do yourself – this will cause immediate distrust of the rest of the resume should this be found. Also, I think it works to list skills in order of ability.

What I’m trying to stress is that your resume sets expectations for the interviewer. If you list Java as your first language and you don’t know what finally is or does, or what a hashmap is or does, you need to study up or else move the language to the end of the list, or remove completely. The best thing I can suggest here is that before the interview, read your resume and start googling interview questions related to the areas of expertise you have listed. Don’t worry too much about what is not on your resume – if you cannot answer a question asked that has no link to your resume, it is not a loss. But, if you can answer it, it is a bonus. However, if you had listed it and cannot speak to it – huge loss.

Another quick suggestion, keep your resume up on your screen or paper during the interview since this is what is most likely in front of the interviewer.

One Last Thing

A job is a very social thing – if there is an uncomfortable feeling during your conversation, it will only serve to hurt the overall impression of you as a potential hire. All you can do here is try to be as calm as possible, focus on the meeting at hand, and present the best image/representation of yourself in the interview. It is easy to become nervous…so, get good sleep, stay away from the caffeine, and present someone whom anyone would want to work with.

Summary/Suggestions

Overall, you want to show that you want the job. The overall impression of you is very important – be someone they want to work with. Know your resume, and be able to speak about every point – make sure you have thought about your experiences listed so you can talk at length about what you learned in those experiences, and how they made you better. And, of course, show passion – get involved in your career as much as possible.

Software specific suggestions:

  • Write a web app with Nodejs and a database backend
  • Contribute to OpenSource – fix a bug in your favorite linux tool
  • Use something other than Windows…Linux!
  • Know your OOO – inheritance, polymorphism, interfaces, etc.
  • Be familiar with the fringe features of your proficient language

At the end of your interview, have at least one question ready about the job or company – this can show that you have a real interest in the job. And, a thank you email after the interview is always appreciated.

As always, best of luck and ask any questions you might have here.