Company Interview: IBM

Company Profile

Company Name:
Catherine Solazzo (CS), Director, Marketing, Performance Marketing, IBM Japan
TUJ Interviewer:
William Swinton (WS), Director, International Business Program

WS Can you describe how you see internships and the particular experiences of the interns who are here at IBM.

CS I'll tell you some background about why internships are so important to me. I was an intern when I was in college and it was actually not the best experience. I remember going in and having no idea what to do, not understanding what I was going to get from the experience, not having anyone really looking out for me. I remember thinking to myself, "Gosh, what a missed opportunity."

I think it's really important to start internships early—from sophomore year. And to have the students with you for two consecutive years and then, hopefully, join the team. That should be the model. So I started the program in the US. And, since then, I think we've had about 60 students graduate from the program in the US and about 20 or so now from the Japan program. And many of those students have actually been hired into IBM and that's the end goal.

My expectation for the students is that they contribute to the business. They are working on critical business projects. The goal is that they have something to take with them when they leave to put in their portfolio.

When we designed the internship program in Japan, we wanted to focus on giving them a project aligned to their expertise or interest area and pairing them with a mentor.

We've had a lot of tears when the interns leave because we kind of fall in love with each other a little bit. It's been really special to see my team get as much from the students as the students get from us.

WS What would you say to a student deciding whether to do an internship?

CS It's mandatory. Being from the US, to be competitive, to get a job, to understand how to acclimate to business culture, you don't want to go in cold turkey. You have to have some perspective about the world and how business works. I think it's a great differentiator for students to have had an internship. The value that they have against others competing for jobs after graduation is going to be from that internship experience. Learning how to work in teams, learning how to adjust to the specific culture of the company—that's not something you can learn in a classroom.

WS What do you look for when you are interviewing interns?

CS I actually don't look for students who have the specific skills for the team or the project. I hire based on personality. I hire based on passion. I hire based on communication strength. I always kind of look for the hidden talent. Who may have potential that they don't see in themselves? So, I always look for a memorable moment in the interview. And all of the interns I've hired have either asked me very difficult questions or they've been very nervous and I've had to spend extra time with them to understand why they want this. I look for students who have prepared themselves by researching about IBM. They understand what we're doing right now. They've read the recent news articles.

I can teach skill, but I can't teach passion and I can't teach energy. When I'm hiring an intern, I want to consider how can I coach them or how can I support them. But they have to have the right attitude.

WS What can the interns expect on their first day?

CS We do an intro for them, sort of a new-hire training. We talk to them about IBM. What's our brand? What do we stand for? How are we helping the world to work better?

We spend some time with them on what we expect from them in the internship and, just as much, what they expect to get from the internship. We outline the project they'll be working on. We go through all of the SMEs that are assigned to them in that project.

Day one is a little bit intense, but it sets the tone for what we expect.

WS Can you talk a little bit about your team and what your department does?

CS Sure, my organization is really focused on driving what we call demand in the market for IBM—for our solutions. There are a few different teams that are focused on events, for example, so some students may be working on our large client conferences or how we are participating at third party sponsorships or trade shows. I have a team that's focused on digital and social [media], so many of our students have been working on how to reach new buyers through online media or paid, earned, or owned types of strategies. They might be working on our online real estate. I have a team that's focused on campaign planning, so how to build a client journey to attract buyers out there. We have a telemarketing team and then we have a team unique to Japan, which is focused on executive programs. And there are some other things, like an analytics team.

WS Can you describe some of the projects Temple students have worked on?

CS Currently, we have Samuel who is working with executive programs. We have a briefing center near Izu. We have these two or three-day briefing sessions with CEOs and we create a program that helps them to understand about new areas. Samuel is helping on two of those. One is a very new type of event, which is based around a new program called IBM Blue Hub where we support startups in Japan. He is planning a two-day session for those up-and-coming startup CEOs at this briefing center and he is developing this program from scratch.

Tetsujin is working on a social project, using social analytics and competitive social listening to put our messages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc. He's been working both with our social and analytics team to understand how we can do paid social, using things like Facebook advertising or social search with Twitter as well as how to manage our social pages.

Yukino Yabuta [Communications Studies major, class of 2016] was also working on BlueHub, She helped to build a reality show series to track the incubation process of these startups and how IBM supported them. I think she enjoyed it. She got to work with not just IBMers, but also many of our partners, which is a pretty unique experience.

And Jordan Daniels [semester abroad student from Spelman College] was working on so many things, including XCITE, which is our big client conference. It's all about project management. We have about 120 people locally who all have to work together to put on a huge production for about 8,000 clients.

So, it's a good mix of activities.

WS As we talk to companies, we find the companies that integrate the projects into the things they actually need to accomplish have the most successful experience.

CS We never put projects out there that are like an island, completely separated from the work being done, because the student would never integrate into the team. Every project we pick has been nominated by the manager as critical work. It's never been a side project that goes away. We just need somebody to have the time to be left alone to work on it. And that's the benefit of it. The interns don't get pulled into the other stuff happening in the office. They can work on their project and not have to think about anything else.

WS Is there any impact the interns have on your team or the way you approach projects?

CS When I give them the project, it's very conceptual—here's the problem statement; here's what needs to be done; here are people you need to work with. We don't over structure things because we may miss an opportunity for them to teach us something. But I think the greatest benefit for us is the change in the environment.

The interns have created a subculture. When they step foot on the floor, there's a buzz—"oh, the interns are here!" For me, the best thing is when I walk down the floor and see some fresh faces. The energy they bring with them is a good change of pace for my team. Now that we've had some great talent come through. I think the staff is anxious to support them and support the great work they are doing.

WS Can you tell me about the post-internship possibilities?

CS The possibilities are definitely there. I've officially hired a student who interned with us from another university; she'll start as soon as she graduates. And that's the kind of success story we want.

We keep in contact with all of our past interns. We have a team Facebook page where both my team and all of my interns, present and past, are all members. I keep in touch with all of them very regularly.

After the program finishes, I feel the shift of responsibility is with the intern to keep connected to me. I always tell them when I give them their recommendation letter, "Let me know how you are doing. I want to know if your grades are good—if you're keeping up with your studies. I want to know when you're ready to start thinking about full-time opportunities."

So it's about how they want to drive the relationship. If they want to work at IBM, if they are proving that they are continuing to work to improve themselves during their final years of school, then that's a perfect candidate for us. We are always focused on refreshing talent within the organization. And there's no better place for us to pull from than graduated interns. That's the strategy. The reason I wanted to start this program was to bring the next generation of talent into the company.

WS Do you have any comments about our internship program or anything we could do to make the process easier for you?

CS The process is a piece of cake. So far we've had such great success with the students.

Sometimes candidates may not be interested in IBM, because they think, "Oh, it's so structured and not fun, not cool." But we are cool. I think our team is very unique. We are relaxed. We are a global company. We like to have fun. It's not what you would think of as the typical IBM. For students who may not be thinking about IBM for an internship, please ask them to consider it, because it's probably not what they expect.

I would advise students to really work on the interview. Be prepared about what they want me to know about them. We have a set of values at IBM and one of those values is "think, prepare, rehearse." Sometimes when students come in, they let their nerves get the best of them, which means they didn't rehearse enough. So I think interviewing is always a positive thing to work on.

WS Is there anything else you wanted to address?

CS I'm just so happy about the relationship and I hope that this will continue for a long time. I want to grow this program as much as possible and so far we've been focused on marketing and communications, which is great. I'd like to see how we can expand. If there are other areas the students might be competitive for, let's start to think about that. For me, the consistency of having a pipeline of students is really important. So let's see how we can expand to other areas and make this program even better.

Interview date: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

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