July 23, 2009

How I got my job at IBM

July 23, 2009 - Categories: career

Update 2014-01-05: After four awesome years at IBM, I left to experiment with self-employment and semi-retirement. =) Here are my notes preparing for the exit interview.)

Reposting this ancient internal blog post because I keep forgetting where it is and I find that it’s still useful to share with people. (Two people asked me about it today!) =D

On February 13, 2006, I posted my first message to IBM’s BlogCentral. I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto, and I had just started my research project with the IBM Toronto Center for Advanced Studies. Because my research project was about the enterprise applications of social media, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to explore IBM’s intranet. I had read a lot about it in research papers and in articles. I was looking forward to finding out what I could do and what I could learn.


Fast forward one year to February 2007. I was about to complete my master’s thesis. It was time to think about work.

My circumstances were little bit unusual. I was going to finish my thesis sometime in June or August, well outside the normal campus recruiting schedule–so there would probably be no open positions for fresh graduates. As an international student, I needed a good job offer if I wanted to stay in the country. I probably needed to be in a position where a company could honestly say that nobody else in the country could do the job.

So picture that: fresh grad, your first job outside the academe, and the job has to be one where you are the only person who can do it well. Tall order, huh?

I knew I wanted to join IBM. I didn’t even apply anywhere else. I had gotten to know so many interesting people, through blogs, bookmarks, through all of IBM’s social tools, and I wanted to work with them. I wanted to be part of this company which was doing so many interesting things. So the only questions were: how could I fit in, and how could I convince IBM to take me?

Because I still had access to IBM’s Internet, I went through the formal job descriptions on the career planning websites. Information developer, technical sales specialist, consultants, IT specialist… What did they all mean? What were they really like? Where would I be a good fit? And who would be willing to put in the extra effort and paperwork to hire an international student, even one with a master’s degree in an up-and-coming area?

I wrote about my career search on my internal blog, just as I’d been writing about my research for long. I was amazed at all the help I received. People wrote to me about careers I should look into based on what they’d gotten to know about me. They gave me interest interviews and told me what their days were like. They even recommended me to their managers. And all because they felt that they had gotten to know me through that one year I blogged in IBM.

I had interest interviews with people based in Dublin, MontrĂ©al, and Toronto; I talked to people in software development, technical sales, training, and consulting. After I explored many promising avenues, the consulting position seemed like the best fit. Not only that, I already need the team that I’d be joining. After all, I’d read their blogs in the past year, too! My two future team members were among the people I really looked up to, and they had convinced their manager to bring me into their team. Wow!

You know how job interviews are supposed to be really stressful? Well, my formal job interview wasn’t. Because I’d gotten to know my team members, and they had gotten to know me, it was more of a conversation. My technical interviewer asked me about the project I was working on, which he’d read about before. I felt completely comfortable discussing the technical details with him. And I’ll never forget how my hiring manager told me, “It’s an honor to finally meet you. I’ve read your blog.” How cool is that?

My manager and the HR person at my formal interview knew just what to discuss. They knew what I was interested in, what I was concerned about, what I felt I could contribute, and what I wanted to learn. And that told me that if this company that I’m so crazy about was willing to also invest that time into getting to know me… Wow, that’s really worth something.

It’s been a little over three months since I started, and I’m even more in love with IBM. How’s that for a great job search?
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Now two years in, and I’m even happier. And this during “a challenging business climate”–do you mean it gets even better than this?