What it takes to be part of the Corporate Service Corps

IBM has about 420,000 employees worldwide.  The Corporate Service Corps has spaces for a few hundred each year.  So how do they choose who gets to participate in this amazing experience?

Well, first there are eligibility rules.

  • You have to have worked at IBM for at least two years.  If you work for a company that was recently acquired by IBM and the combined tenure was for more than 2 years, that still counts.
  • You cannot be an executive level employee.  There is a similar program specifically for executives to participate in.
  • You must have had a PBC 2+ rating in two of the past three years.  This is IBM’s metric for measuring performance; it uses the same mechanism worldwide, and operates on a scale of one to four, one being the best.  The specific mechanics can vary, but broadly speaking this requirement means you need to be in the top 30% of employees.

Next, your manager has to support your application.  This support has to be both passive and active.  When you submit your application your manager gets the first copy, and must indicate their approval, or the application will not be subject to consideration.  But beyond this, managers are also invited to comment on your suitability, and those comments form a key part of the selection process.  And remember that by agreeing to let you participate in the CSC, your manager has to live without your services for a month.  So presumably this will only happen if your manager is genuinely interested in your success above and beyond the degree to which you enable your manager’s success.  The upshot of all this is that having a good relationship with your manager is a critical success factor for participation in the program.

These requirements pare down the field of eligible candidates quite a bit, but with 420,000 employees, we are still talking about several thousand people interested in a few hundred positions.  To make these highly competitive selections, which are evaluated regionally.  Quoting from the selection FAQ:

There are 9 regional review boards comprised of leaders from Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, Communications, Governmental Programs, HR, and various business line teams. Each review board has 4-8 core members who evaluate all the applications in their region. Reviews are blind where the individual’s name is blocked out to ensure fairness. The 9 regions are: Canada, US, Latin America, Europe, India, Japan, Asia Pacific, CEE and MEA.

So that explains who makes the selection, but how is it made?  What is the program looking for in its candidates?  Unsurprisingly, this is something a lot of people want more details on, and the CSC team put together a pdf file that explains what they are looking for. Just as the program itself is modeled on the US Peace Corps, the CSC has modeled its selection criteria on those of the Peace Corps, making adaptations for IBM’s objectives, skill set, and culture. What follows is the text from that publication:

What Makes a Successful CSC Participant?
There are many parallels between what makes a successful Corporate Service Corps participant and a successful Peace Corps Volunteer.  Below, we have taken the list of successful attributes of Peace Corps Volunteers and customized it to the CSC Program.

As a CSC participant, you will likely be placed in an environment very different than any you’ve experienced in your home country.  Letting go of expectations and being
flexible will assist you in handling whatever comes your way.  For example, participants live in cities, in hotels or apartments that are often different than traditional business accommodations.  There may be varying levels of access to electricity, internet and other resources.  Housing is safe but may be more basic than you are accustomed to.  Also, in many countries, the way you dress is seen as an expression of respect.  To be accepted, you may have to conform to the standards in your host country and community.

Having the ability to adjust to the many new and different situations you encounter as a CSC Participant allows you to be responsive to the client you serve.  You may be as exotic to your new community as your assignment environment is to you, and you will need to adapt to a much less private existence than you probably had back home.  Sometimes it may seem like you are living in a fishbowl.

As a CSC Participant, you are a vital part of a larger team assigned to your country.  Not only are you responsible for quality work, but you will be required to adhere to a structure designed to keep you safe and healthy.  For example, while a CSC Participant, you will not be able to drive a vehicle, travel or attend activities without notifying IBM security. There are reasons for the policies the CSC Leadership puts in place and following those policies is a must.
Sense of Humor:

Having the ability to laugh at yourself and at life’s little surprises goes a long way. Your service will be a continual learning process.  Keeping a lighthearted view will help you learn from your mistakes without judging yourself harshly.  Besides, laughter is universal.

You will need to work creatively to develop relationships with your clients and teammates. You will need to build trust and motivate various stakeholders. While this often takes time and not all the client assignments can be completed within the 4 weeks in country, you will come away knowing you made a difference and laid the ground work for ongoing relationships between your clients and IBM as well between you and your teammates.

Being selected as a CSC Participant means you have the technical experience and education needed by your host client.  The CSC strives to staff the teams with a diverse skill
base to include IT support, Project Management, and  Consulting skills, along with individuals with backgrounds in sales, marketing and human resources, just to name a few.  The CSC Program, through its 12 week pre-deployment modules, will additionally prepare
you by providing language, cross–cultural, and business specific training.  Continuing to hone these skills during your assignment will enable you to make a meaningful contribution to the clients you serve in country as well as back home in your regular IBM position.

So there it is then, the basics of how participants in the CSC are selected.  Next time I will share my own application with you, along with some of the thoughts and emotions that I went through in the process of applying.  In parallel, I have been reaching out to some people who have done the program before, and hope to be able to share some of their adventures with you soon.

Until then, take care.

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