Working for a big tech company

Many students are interested in this kind of role, but would like to know more about the skills required, how competitive the job market and what kind of roles these organisations offer.

We asked students which company we should talk to, and Psi-Star, the Queen Mary Physics Student Society, replied “IBM”. By a stroke of luck, IBM is a partner of Queen Mary, and definitely is a big technology company, so we arranged a conversation. Although the information below is about working at IBM, it will apply to most multinational technology consultancies, and so we hope you will find it useful!

Can I work for a multinational technology company?

As a basic requirement, IBM requires a minimum 2:1 for its graduate roles, which is where the bulk of their recruitment lies. As they have offices in so many countries, they also require a work permit for the country you are applying to. So, if you are an international student in the UK, you should apply to the IBM office of your country of origin rather than the UK one. However as IBM requires global skills, the fact you have done a degree in a different country from your own should increase your advantage.

Do I want to work for a multinational technology company?

You may think the answer is obviously yes, but companies such as IBM will not suit absolutely everybody. First is the location – for students applying in the UK, the main location is Hursley in Hampshire. Other multinationals will also probably be too big to find the space in expensive London and so will likely be located in more remote places. Another requirement for working in technology, which will be great for most people but not for all, is the need for flexibility and enjoying working in an ever-changing environment.  When a new project comes in, working hours will change, the pressure will mount and then it might all be suddenly over if the company decides to pursue a new track. Add the global element to the mix and you might find yourself having to book an 8pm phone call with your co-workers in Australia, or jetting off at the last minute for a client meeting in Spain. You will also need to enjoy taking responsibility for keeping yourself up-to-date with the latest gadgets, breakthroughs, and technology business deals.

What skills and experience do I need to get selected?

On an average year, IBM gets about 8000 applicants (who meet the basic criteria outlined at the beginning) for about a 300 intake across all roles, with about 50 of those being in research and development.  These numbers are typical for most graduate schemes in well-known organisations across all sectors, including the public sector such as the NHS graduate schemes or the Civil Service Fast Stream. So if you are interested, you need to ensure you show you match what IBM needs more than about 20 other EU graduates with a 1st or a 2:1.

So what are companies such as IBM looking for? Top of the list, as for almost any job, technical or not, are communication skills. Whether you are discussing a new idea with your colleagues or explaining a service to a client, good verbal and written communication skills are essential to get the project finished and the deal done, which is what the company needs to survive. Expect to be assessed on this all the way through selection, from the application form (where spelling mistakes mean an easy way to reduce the 8000 to a more manageable number) to the assessment centre.

Following on with this concept you also need team-work, some leadership skills (although you don’t need to be a natural leader) and the ability to work and motivate yourself independently – contrary to popular misconception, big companies such as IBM are too busy to hold your hand even at recent graduate level and want to know you can trusted with doing your job without having to be watched all the time.

By now you might have noticed a conspicuous lack of absence of specific technical knowledge or degree requirements. Indeed, even for the technical research and development roles (called “labs” in IBM) companies only need good problem solving-skills and a passion for new technology. IBM has got people with all degrees, even history and English in their development roles, and although PhD  graduates might start a few salary points above, there are very few roles that require a postgraduate degree.

In terms of what work experience would look good in a CV, IBM as all major employers, recruits a third of its graduates from students who have done internships or industrial placements with them during their degree.  An internship in a similar technical company will also serve you in good stead. But any work experience that evidences the interpersonal skills described above is important. Finally, as roles such as the ones in IBM are so high-pressured, the company likes to see you have a pressure –escape valve on your CV – i.e. sports, a regular hobby, something that allows you to relax.

Good luck with your applications!

Maya Mendiratta

Careers Consultant

QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre

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