Making a Big Impression at Big Blue

IBM's vice-president of global talent discusses the kind of candidates the company is looking forand mistakes to avoid in the interview

IBM calls itself "the world's most forward-looking company," according to its Web site. Its commitment to innovation appears even in its employee recruitment, say executives.

Recently, the company created a "power panel" at Texas A&M University, a move IBM (IBM) plans to repeat elsewhere. Similar to those at industry trade shows, the power panel brings together experts from local businesses, government, and IBM to talk with recruits about 21st century job opportunities and the skills they will require.

Those interested in working for IBM can also take to the virtual world and visit the company's island in Second Life to ask questions of current employees and complete an online application (see, 4/16/07, "I Was a Second Life B-School Student").

The Inside Scoop

And while many other MBA employers are shying away from video résumés, IBM is saying, "bring 'em on." The company is pursuing all these new recruiting avenues because it wants to appeal to a diverse group, says Karen Calo, vice-president of global talent at the company headquarters in Armonk, N.Y. (see, 5/2/07, " Résumés in Motion").

Calo, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology, specializing in human resources, has spent her entire career at IBM. She says growing up in Endicott, N.Y., which was once IBM country, she was keenly aware of the company. Her father, a salesman, so admired IBM that he openly wished one of his children would work there. Calo fulfilled Dad's wish and hasn't looked back. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

What are you looking for in a candidate?We want smart people who exude passion, who are willing to take risks and challenge conventional thinking, and who aspire to make a real difference in the company. When somebody walks in the door to interview at IBM, he has to be up to speed on our company and industry. If someone comes in and he is not well informed, he signals that he is not really that interested in the position.

What can a candidate do to impress you?Clearly, we would expect people to have strong academic achievement. But it's your delivery and the way that you talk about your aspirations that really make a difference and leave an impression with the interviewer. A candidate who impresses me is someone well spoken, who has a clear idea of what he wants to do. If someone comes in and says, "I want to do interesting, challenging work in this specific area," it gives me an indication that he or she really is goal-oriented. I also like to hear folks who talk about the fact that they like to collaborate and continuously learn.

What is the biggest mistake MBA applicants make during the job search and how can they avoid that?A little bit of arrogance or a lack of preparation would be a pretty significant faux pas on the part of an applicant. A person who comes to an interview with a bit of an attitude such as, "I know it all, and I expect to be the CEO in five years," is making a mistake. The best way for people to leave a good impression is to be well prepared.

Do you think that business schools could improve their programs to better prepare students for the work world?Any curriculum can be...

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