David Williams talks to Sej Butler, IBM's European Recruitment Manager.


Why are talented people attracted to IBM?
Having IBM on your CV not only shows that you have worked for a blue chip company that is a recognised leader in its field, but also that you have had world-class training and development. This will lead to many opportunities, both within IBM and elsewhere, as your career develops. At IBM, horizontal progression is as highly valued and sought-after as vertical progression. This is simply not possible in niche providers, and it is this breadth that enables much personal development and challenge over an individual's career.

Are postgraduate qualifications valued differently to undergraduate qualifications?
The key element that distinguishes between graduate entry and whether someone joins IBM as an experienced hire following a postgraduate degree, is the length and relevance of their work experience. If you have completed an undergraduate degree and then gone straight into a masters qualification, you will likely be treated as a graduate entrant. Even if you have one or two years of work experience before the masters, it might still not be enough to move you beyond a graduate-entry position.
The only exception would be if the masters degree is in an exceptionally precise subject area which exactly matches what we are looking for at the time, or if the one or two years of experience was with one of our direct competitors or a relevant industry skill. There are also some differences between countries. The higher education culture in Germany means that German candidates tend to be older than those from the UK, for example. They will often have some kind of work experience built into their education and this does affect the level at which they enter. These are only nuanced differences, however.

What specific postgraduate qualifications are you interested in?
A candidate's undergraduate degree can be in any subject for most of the roles we have available. We take people with bachelor degrees in history, sports science or astrophysics, for example. If someone has completed a masters degree in a specialist IT area such as application development, they would be very suitable for roles at our software development labs. They would however still be competing against graduate entrants, even though they have a masters degree.
In the next month or two we will be creating more of a masters-level hiring stream, in that we are bringing in people with business degrees to fill generic consulting roles.  We do however have some roles available for people with PhDs in a very specific subject. For example, we recently hired ten PhDs with Exascale computing experience, to work within our software lab.

Is there an advantage to having a postgraduate degree?
A masters degree makes you more competitive in that it shows that you have an established interest in a subject or a role. It also means that at interview you may be able to demonstrate a higher level of engagement with the area than someone who only has an undergraduate degree and who has done a little bit of research on the web.
However, at a graduate level, whether or not you are hired comes down to demonstrating that you possess the IBM foundation competencies: team-working, leadership, communication, analytical skills and so on. In the end, success isn't just about qualifications. The question is whether you are a good fit for IBM when you are in front of our teams of assessors, not what you look like on paper.
Interestingly, we find there is no correlation between a graduate's performance in the role and  whether he or she has graduated from Oxbridge (Oxford or Cambridge), or some of the other Russell Group universities, compared to graduates who have come from what might be called a more regular university. It really is down to how well you perform in the job, and no degree course entirely prepares you for this.