Technical Recruiting

From the moment Watson defeated Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, IBM’s Watson has become an object of wonder and occasional tinfoil hat suspicion. Watson’s ability to interact in natural language, recognize the important content in spoken and written language, and learn from interactions has made it an invaluable tool in healthcare, financial services, and other industries around the globe.

IBM has no problem living on the frontiers of computing, but it takes a special team to usher in a new era for artificial intelligence. Until a couple of years ago, IBM Watson consisted of a team of 200-ish researchers. As IBM identified opportunities to scale and monetize Watson, it became clear more team members were needed—and quickly.

We Need a Hero

To build their Watson team, IBM tapped Obed Louissaint, VP of People & Culture for IBM Watson. Louissaint took inspiration from sprinter Usain Bolt as he developed plans for technical recruiting.

Before every race, Bolt took a moment to do a victory pose, envisioning himself winning before he even started. Louissaint asked his existing HR partners to take a page from Bolt by identifying what winning looked like. They decided victory meant assembling a team with these characteristics:

  • Highly collaborative
  • Passionate about clients
  • Agile
  • Unafraid to take initiative
  • Eager to think big

After identifying what victory looked like, Louissaint’s team took apart every step in the candidate experience. They had to do more than just expand Watson’s team. They needed to inspire a new generation of talent to see IBM a whole new way. Louissaint started with a bold move—he cancelled all of IBM’s scheduled on-campus technical recruiting interviews. He decided he didn’t want to take people into a barebones room, have a committee fire questions at them, and stare at them while they wrote code on a whiteboard.

New Team, New Technical Recruiting Ingredients

One of Watson’s hobbies is creating recipes. He analyzes ingredients and flavor profiles, suggesting potential dishes we humans haven’t considered just yet. Louissaint set up a Winnebago to take to different campuses, and he filled the Winnebago with food based on recipes suggested by Chef Watson.

Louissaint’s team wanted to inspire candidates to consider Watson’s true potential—less about answering questions and more about inspiring humans to think differently—within the microcosm of cuisine. After candidates had fun sampling Watson’s creative and sometimes creepy dishes, they went to onsite portals IBM set up to complete on-demand digital interviews.

At first, the IBM team worried about candidates refusing to do video interviews, but they realized Watson employees had to communicate via video in remote environments if they wanted to function in a multi-national company. Candidates who couldn’t demonstrate digital savvy and comfort with video just weren’t candidates for right for the Watson team.

A Challenge, Should They Choose to Accept It

Initial digital interviews taught Louissaint’s team their biggest challenge wouldn’t be finding people who could do the work. Their biggest challenge was finding people they’d enjoy working with all day, every day. They’d identified what success looked like—collaborative and passionate about clients. Video interviews helped them screen out candidates who didn’t share those ideals.

Candidates who made it through the digital screening interviews then received a coding challenge through the CodeVue technical recruiting platform. Ultimately, CodeVue helped Louissaint slash his pre-select pool of 10,000 candidates by 40 percent. After conducting more in-depth digital interviews, the Watson team identified their top 75 on-campus recruiting finalists. Watson’s team then created an amazing experience for finalists, which they called their Finish Line event.

Find Out More

In the next chapter of this story, we’ll explore what Finish Line included and how IBM accepted and sent offers to their final candidates. We’ll also take a look at how the Watson team took the data they gathered from digital interviews and CodeVue to create customized coaching plans for each new team member.

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