A few months ago I blogged about the fact that IBM was looking for two interns to fill a longterm (paid) internship. The good news is that after an extensive selection process and a hearty dose of governmental bureaucracy (which is not unusual when relocating countries), two students have finally been able to join our DB2 team at the lab.
In case you are curious about who the students are, they’re Marius Butuc from Romania, and Henrique Zambon from Brazil. They’re good guys, feel free to follow them on Twitter (even though Henrique’s stream may be more interesting to you if you speak Portuguese).
The selection process
I received about 100 resumes from students around the globe who wanted to apply for the internship. Of those, I invited the 50 most promising applicants to have an initial phone interview, as I wanted to give a fair chance to everyone (yet at the same time, I didn’t want get the hopes up of those who clearly didn’t have a shot, and thus the remaining applicants were informed that they hadn’t made the initial cut).
Before their first interviews took place, I assigned the 50 preselected candidates a coding project. They could either develop a CSV to HTML converter, a search client using Twitter’s API, or an S3 uploader.
While none of these exercises were rocket science, they were intended to provide us with an general idea of the students’ ability to code. Most candidates went for the CSV to HTML converter. Some chose the Twitter client, and a tiny handful opted for the S3 uploader (one ambitious candidate delivered all three).
After carefully reviewing their code, I held the technical interviews with all of the candidates who had sent in their assignments. During the first interview I asked each person a series of very technical questions, and in some instances we also discussed their assignments. In most cases each interview lasted for an hour.
After the initial round of interviews had wrapped up, I selected the 10 most promising candidates for a second phone call and informed the others that they wouldn’t be continuing on with the interview process.
For the second round of interviews I was joined by my manager, and together we conducted phone calls with each candidate that were based less on the each person’s technical skills. This second interview was meant to test their soft skills, to get a feel for their interests, and to assess their overall attitude.
There were important interviews because they helped us get to know the candidates a bit better. Our aim was to learn about what excited these eager applicants, to see their level of passion for programming, and to observe other skills that were not strictly related to coding. We also discussed the project they’d be working on if they were selected, our team approach (we are more of an Agile startup than the stereotypical image you may have of IBM), and discussed details of the next steps with each of these ten candidates.
At this point Leon (my manager) and I discussed at length which two applicants we wanted to select. All ten students were top notch candidates, so the choice wasn’t an easy one for us. We ended up considering every single bit of information at our disposal about the students, from their their resumes and past experiences to their performance with the technical assignment, what (human and programming) languages they knew, and how they’d faired with both of the interviews.
After a lot of consideration, we ended up selecting Marius and Henrique. (In case you’re wondering, the student who did all three assignment was also from Romania and he was ultimately our third choice, had either Marius or Henrique been unable to accept the internship position.)
What I learned from reviewing so many candidates
What made a resume stick out to me
While I’m not sure what you’ll get out of this article, I thought it was worth sharing as I found the whole process described above to be a fascinating one. Perhaps if you’re a student in a similar position you’ll find tips on what to do when applying for an internship with a company such as IBM. If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar interviewer’s position, you’ll likely find numerous relatable points in this post.
One final note: if you are curious, here’s Henrique and Marius at our first team party (after a few drinks):
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