Developers and Designers, Curate Your Portfolios and Tell Us a Story!

By Maria Elavumkal

Maria Elavumkal, External Relations & Global Recruiting Manager for IBM Design
Maria Elavumkal, Global Recruiting Manager for IBM Design.

Disclaimer: This blog post contains recruiting spoilers. You may get hired by IBM Design if you show us these guiding principles! 🙂

As the head of our global recruiting program, I’ve been asked many times by candidates, universities, conferences and design organizations what I look for in candidates for IBM Design.

Today, I’m going to tell you …

First and foremost: We seek individuals who have intelligence, passion and integrity. We believe this is at the core of being an IBMer.

We also strongly believe that the best candidates for IBM Design are the ones who are not only masters of their craft (in visual design, UX design, front-end development, etc.), but are incredible storytellers. “Start a meeting, tell a story,” says Ginni Rometty, our CEO. It’s no secret that storytelling is a critical factor of our evaluation process. Stories are human. So what else do we look for?

We want to see if you can:

Identify good quality. “Don’t be cool. Be good“, a phrase adopted by our Studio Program Director, @Adam_Cutler. This isn’t just the favorite saying around our global design studios, but—in my humble opinion—a truth to live by. Design trends are constantly changing. We’re seeking designers and front-end developers who are passionate about delivering solutions that are timeless. There’s a lot of bad design out there that is not centered on the user. You have to be able to identify the good.

Produce good quality. I think this is the most obvious one. Whether it’s a beautiful visual guide aimed at reducing disease outbreak in a rural location, or a fun mobile app that solves a first-world problem, we want to see the delightful experiences that you’ve created. And we’re interested in seeing them all—with that said, my next point …

Produce good quality consistently. The representation of your work is just as important as the work itself. Curating your portfolio is key. While I’m sure everything is worthy of being posted on your refrigerator door, your portfolio should capture your audience immediately and keep them scrolling for more. Odds are, your design work has drastically improved and transformed over the years—and you as a designer have also evolved. Show us who you are today, what you’re capable of and what you’re passionate about.

Credit: Donnacha Carroll
Credit: Donnacha Carroll

Collaborate well with large teams. Another apparent one (well, for IBM anyway)—we are a 430,000 person company, after all. And the entirety of the IBM ecosystem is even larger than that. We work in large teams around the world. In fact, we operate in 170+ countries, yet we’re dedicated to solving problems that affect individuals in our communities. Nothing gets done at IBM with just one person, and we like it that way. It’s amazing what happens when you take thoughtful designers and embed them in teams with smart product managers, brilliant engineers, creative marketers, relentless sales reps and dedicated support. We get to deliver experiences like these: Made with IBM :: Smarter Planet.

Tell a story and present ideas well. This one is super important. You have to be able to tell a story. You have to be able to convey ideas clearly, concisely and purposefully. We look for this in your portfolio and in our conversations with you. We are absolutely interested in seeing the final solutions to your design challenges. But we’re even more interested in seeing how you got there. Show us your:

  • Personas
  • Empathy maps
  • Wireframes
  • Sticky notes
  • Design thinking process
  • Low-fidelity mockups
  • High-fidelity mockups
  • Prototypes

We want to see what’s under the hood. If you’re a front-end dev, we will absolutely look at your code. Point is: Don’t just show us your end results; show us how you got there. Take us on your journey, and even show us what you tossed out. Explain the design decisions that you made. This is your time to shine. Show us how you THINK. And don’t forget … put the user first in your story.

Credit: Stephanie Hagadorn
Credit: Stephanie Hagadorn

Work well under pressure and amid chaos. You have to be able to do this. At the end of the day, we’re working on solving very challenging problems. The rate at which we operate is extremely fast and things are constantly changing. That’s a good thing. It means we’re changing our strategy to align better with our users’ needs, market conditions and technological advances. The best way to minimize last-minute change is to scope projects correctly from the beginning, and also ensure that key stakeholders are all aligned throughout the research, design and development process.

Seek criticism and adapt well to change. IBM provides you with endless opportunities to learn new things. We’re constantly trying to improve our ways of thinking, designing and developing. One of our key practices is focused on relentlessly reinventing ourselves. We’re looking for individuals who want to continue to learn, perfect their crafts and grow as professionals. This means seeking out criticism, not praise. It requires us to sometimes re-frame our thinking and our processes. It means putting pride aside to listen to our peers. You have to be open to iterating on your designs.

Stand up for design. Empathize with users. Last, but definitely not least: Your purpose as a designer here at IBM will be to serve as the voice of the user. Users are undoubtedly the most important stakeholders of our products. Without their adoption of our products, we will not be successful. Our mission is to deliver delightful experiences for them. Our designers’ role is to stand up for the value of design throughout the entire research and development lifecycle. It is to empathize with our users, understand their needs and design solutions that will not only solve their problems, but do so in a way that makes them fall in love with our products. It’s your job to be a change agent and to collaborate with engineering, product management, sales and marketing to ship iconic products that are critical to solving the world’s most complex challenges. As we look at your portfolios, it should be obvious who the user is that you are designing for.

We believe in practicing what we preach. I spoke a lot about storytelling today. My next blog post will be the story of IBM Design—how we got here and why our mission is so important.

Good luck in your search for your next (or first) careers. We are truly honored that you are interested in IBM and we look forward to being wowed by you!


Ps. you can send us your portfolios right here

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