Entry Level Developer: The Secrets to Becoming a Successful Candidate
At IBM, our developers are the transformation that drives solutions to our customer’s most complex challenges. Their ideas, creativity, and curiosity to solve problems inspire new possibilities that make a lasting difference on the world.
To help candidates who are searching for entry level positions at IBM, we’re launching a three-part blog series on the secrets to becoming a successful candidate.
In this blog, we focus on tips for becoming an entry level Developer. You’ll get real insights from our IBM experts on what it takes to become a successful candidate throughout all phases of the hiring process, including how to prepare for working as a developer, apply to an entry level role, interview for an open position, and continue to progress in your career.
What are the top skills required to work as a developer?
The most critical skill you need is the ability to communicate. At IBM, it’s very important to communicate effectively, both verbally and written, and to know what the problems and resolutions are and how you can truly achieve something. Whether you’re completing a code review with a peer (parallel code reviews) or explaining your idea to your boss or client, communication is integral in thriving as a developer.
From a technical perspective, acumen is most important whether you’re a Java, Python, Front End, or Back End developer. However, as most successful developers say, the code is just syntactic; there’s a way to do it in every language and you must know your language well.
Problem solving and creativity are two other skills you need to be successful. You need to be able to get underneath why something’s not working and identify what you expect it to do. Once you figure out what you’re working with and how to make it do what you need, you must be able to get your creative juices flowing and jump into finding an innovative solution to solve the problem.
What prior experience or school projects are useful to be successful as a Developer? If a candidate does not have work experience, what should they focus their resumes on instead?
Experience does not always come from paid work. Many times, people think, ‘I can’t put it on my resume because I didn’t get paid to do it’. If you haven’t had the opportunity to have a paying job, find some way to volunteer your time to gain skills and exposure to technology. For example, maybe a family member or a friend owns a grocery store that you’re working at where you can offer to work in their IT department for free, simplify part of their operations by digitizing it, or help build something that will provide assistance to customers. Your resume content should be about the skills that you’ve learned, what you’re exposing yourself to, and how you’re charging yourself to learn and practice new technologies.
IBM is a rewarding, yet challenging place to work. Do you have any advice for entry level candidates thinking about applying to be a Developer and what they should expect?
There are two important points to keep in mind:
- No one expects you to know everything. Asking for help is okay. It’s better to ask for help when you need it than trying to understand why something isn’t working over and over on your own, which could result in delivering the project late or building a solution based on an incorrect assumption.
- Start Networking from Day 1. IBM is the perfect place to start building your network, which will grow over the course of your career. For IBM developers, we have a two-year program for new IBMers called Jumpstart. This innovative program is community designed to ensure new developers at IBM network with each other, expose themselves to other parts of IBM through stretch projects, and enhance their skills outside of their day-to-day job. We encourage IBMers to leverage this group, so that later in their career, all the same people they knew at the beginning of the program will be there to support them as they grow their careers.
Tackle the Technical Interview
How many rounds of interviews are there typically?
This can vary by your region or location, but traditionally, it involves the following:
- CV screen
- Online coding assessment
- Phone call with the recruiter
- Technical interview
- Behavioural interview with upline management (this interview is about learning who you are as a person.)
How should a candidate prepare for the technical assessment part of the application process?
The problems won’t be too difficult and will be on topics that you’re learning in class. It may be a data structure or networking problem, or it may be focused on a technology where you’ll be asked to demonstrate your understanding on how to move or present the data. It’s all about, how you got the answer, how you understood the problem, and why you wrote the program the way you wrote it. Maybe you came up with the right answer, or maybe you didn’t but think it’s the right answer. Just focus on explaining your work and thought process.
What is the best way to approach a technical interview?
Be knowledgeable about the areas you’re familiar with and be honest about the areas you don’t know. If someone asks you a question that you’re not sure about, tell them what you understand, explain how you would approach the problem, and demonstrate how you would go learn it.
Also in the technical interview, make sure you present what you’re proudest of in your technology expertise and background. Talk about what you’ve done that would be of interest to the interviewer and how it’s valuable to their company. At IBM, we’re looking for technical leaders, so mention how you’ve used your skills in problem solving or creativity when you’re working on problems in class, passion projects, or at a company you may have started in college or high school. Explain what drives you. Passion is so important and will help drive you and your career forward.
What is the best way to prepare for the technical interview?
In most cases, you’ll be given the opportunity to do the technical interview in your strongest programming language. Understand your language well and make sure you pick the right one. Also important is to put yourself in an environment where you’re not interrupted and where you can focus heads down.
Do you have any advice to candidates if they get stuck during the technical interview?
Attempt every question that’s given to you, even if you don’t know what the answer is. If you don’t know something, describe how you would educate yourself on it. Maybe you don’t write an answer down, but rather explain that it’s a new area for you and then talk about how you would go research it and learn more about it. Usually, there’s 3 or 4 questions and you only have a certain amount of time to complete them, so you really need to be focused.
What are some valuable questions candidates should ask at the end of an interview?
Whenever I interview for a job, I always ask myself, ‘What am I going to get from this job that will build and expand my knowledge?’ Make sure that any job you apply to is positioned well for your long-term career.
Here are some great questions to ask the interviewer:
- “Will I get to meet with customers as part of the job?” This question shows you’re interested in talking to customers and the whole process of development vs. just wanting to be a coder in the backroom. IBM is a high-performance culture; we want people who will be engaging with the customer. Demonstrate that you’re interested in the big picture; not just about the code, but rather how the customer uses our code.
- “What’s the career progression like for a developer?” This question shows you’re interested in a career, not just a job. This will make a big difference to companies like IBM since they’re looking to invest in you and want to know you’re here for a career.
- “Is there continuous learning available and what are my on-the-job training capabilities?” This question shows your passion for learning and continuous improvement, which is something IBM values in their employees.
What do candidates typically struggle with during an interview? Any advice on how candidates can address that?
90% of the time, it’s nerves. You would think it would be easy to tell your story and talk about things like where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, how you arrived there, what excites you, and what your passions are. You can practice telling your story to a friend or family member, as well as someone you’ve only met once or twice. You’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself by telling your story to someone who knows you well vs. someone you’ve only spoken with a handful of times. And you’ll get valuable feedback from both scenarios.
What resources would you recommend candidates check out when preparing for the interview?
PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. There are many resources out there to help you get familiar with completing coding assessments online that are free to sign up for, including:
Can you give an example of what a career path looks like for an entry-level IBMer after joining as a Developer and what career progression looks like?
In the first two years as an Entry-Level Developer, IBMers will join our innovative JumpStart program where you’ll get to meet other developers, spend an hour each week with them, and have an opportunity to work on interesting projects to expand your skills beyond your day job. When you graduate from the program, you’ll have learned all about IBM and our technologies and demonstrated your growth capability.
We have two structured career paths for developers:
- Technical Career Path
- Management Career Path (people management)
Here’s an example career path for an IBM Developer:
Entry Level Developer
- Scrum Lead & Agile Development
- Product Manager
- Reliability Engineer
- 1st Line or 2nd Line Manager
You’ll also have opportunities to expand into other projects within the same department or a peer department. If you have the drive to excel, people will be tapping you on the shoulder all the time and pulling you in to stretch projects, which will open many doors for you. The opportunities are truly boundless at IBM if you have the passion and the interest.
3 Tips for Becoming a Successful Candidate
We hope you found these suggestions and advice helpful as you decide to apply for an Entry Level Developer role. Make sure to check out our other blogs on becoming a Technology Seller and a Consultant.
We leave you with three tips from our developers on how to become a successful candidate:
- Demonstrate passion for the field. Ask yourself, why do you want to be a developer and what have you been doing to feed that passion. Make sure to elaborate on both during the interview.
- Show interest in growing your skills, in depth and breadth, in both new technologies and people skills. Think of a capital “T”, where the vertical axis of the “T” is the depth of knowledge in one skill, while the horizontal axis of the “T” is the breadth of knowledge among knowing many skills.
- Show appreciation for the interviewer’s time by thanking them at the end of the interview or sending a follow up ‘thank you’ email.