One of our side tasks at IBM Design is to help with the recruitment process, with an end goal of hiring top design talent globally. Hiring 2000 formally trained designers to become the largest design organization in the world brings a lot of challenges. We had to hire on a scale and tight deadlines, but our process and tools were not really a delightful experience.

Me and 2 other IMBers (Marion Bruells and Oleksandr Sabov) saw an opportunity to fix that, and what started as a small side-project back in IBM Studios Boeblingen, became an award-winning official recruiting platform for every single IBM Studios.

An image of a Zenhub board utilized for recruiting.

Outstanding Technical Achievement Award presented to Ondrej Homola for Design and Implementation of Recruitment as a Serice for IBM Studios worldwide

Spring 2016 - Winter 2016

UX Designer, Visual Designer,
Front-end developer

Revolutionarized recruiting and hiring at IBM Design worldwide

Project Management, Sketch, HTML, CSS

Design Challenge

In Germany, besides working on our main projects, we each had to spend many hours helping with the recruitment process and screening candidates. I found 2 problems while doing so:

Problem n.1

To recruit talented designers in a short period, the IBM Design needed to manage its four-step application process (portfolio screening, phone interview, design challenge, and management interviews) for a huge number of candidate applications. The standard tool at IBM provided very little transparency on the hiring steps or status, therefore, different IBM Studios used various tools to manage the recruitment process - ranging from Box Notes to online excel spreadsheets to Google Docs. Not to forget the recruitment of candidates was, in general, a tedious process requiring many manual steps. No more Box, Community, Spreadsheets flow.

Problem n.2

IBM wanted to attract and hire passionate problem-solvers, who can empathize with users and turn that empathy into delight. Well, if we at IBM wanted to have such amazing talent, then the candidate application experience needed to match such expectations. Long story short - it frankly did not.

"Why do I have to register to apply?!"

    - an applicant

Some of the less user-centered solutions were used and they certainly did not excite the potential applicants to apply to our enterprise. Additionally, our studio next to Stuttgart, in Germany, lacked visibility and not so many people knew about us. How do we attract new talent and make sure they stay engaged during the application process? A photo from IBM Studios Austin with Phill Gilbert giving a talk.

My role

This project started purely from my initiative, therefore, I naturally became the lead. My job was to manage the project and design a delightful experience at the same time. I managed to get other people excited about this project, we formed a team and together we successfully delivered a product that changed recruiting at IBM Design.

The Journey

Back in 2016 at IBM Studios Boeblingen, our studio was still very young and we had a very cumbersome recruitment process. It involved a number of people updating an online spreadsheet, which was once a week send out and copy+pasted into Box Notes. Once it was in a Box Notes, a studio manager had to email a designer to assign the candidate. After that, the designer would follow some steps in the Box note and report back to the manager as to what is going on. There was no automation, no notification system, no transparency and therefore the hiring sometimes took longer and the designers were not as engaged. I know it because I was one of them.

To do something about it, I started researching and trying out multiple recruiting systems in my spare time. It ended up being hard to find anything suitable. Most of the tools lived on Cloud, and that would be a problem for IBM - as confidential data needed to remain behind the firewall. Knowing that I spent some time prototyping some sort of a recruitment system and with Marion Bruells we found something interesting.

"Hold on, could we use Zenhub for ...?"

    - Ondrej Homola

Majority of the teams at IBM Design use GitHub and Zenhub for project management. Zenhub with its boards made it super easy to track issues and see the overall progress of work being done. Suddenly we got an epic idea. Instead of creating yet another new tool, which would have to be designed, coded, deployed and maintained, what about using Zenhub boards for the recruitment process? An example of how Zenhub is used for project management.

You can easily rename the columns and create a pipeline where the users move candidates in the process and can comment and notify others. The best part of it is that every single IBMer has access to Github Enterprise, which makes it a free and approved tool behind the firewall. We felt like we found a gold mine! Zenhub board with columns ready for recruiting.

After realizing that, within a couple of minutes, together with Marion we translated the cumbersome recruitment process into a Zenhub board and the first prototype was born. That was an epic feeling. Our Studio Manager got very engaged in making this become real but also noted that we might need a way of getting the candidates into Zenhub. Zenhub recruiting

That is when Oleks Sabov joined the team as we went to him with the idea. Then we asked if it would be possible to create an online form, that would send data directly into GitHub. He said that should be doable, but his concern was the firewall. Anyway, within a week we had a prototype of a form that would send data directly into our Zenhub. So now the candidates could apply on a website and without any need for online spreadsheets, Box notes, emails; it would be pushed directly into our Github repo! It worked very well. Zenhub board with columns ready for recruiting.

Check a mockup of the IBM Studios Boeblingen website.

Right after that, Marion and I collaborated on a design of our studio website, which would not only streamline the application process, but it would also create an online presence for our studio and drive even more talent to join. Here are some designs and sketches of the website. Once we were done with the website Oleksandr was then able to build the main part of it and I added some CSS.

The Worldwide Adoption

We deployed this solution, onboarded our local team in Germany and started using it. The speed and engagement grew enormously and we were suddenly able to screen, interview and hire the candidates much quicker. Due to the website and our social media strategy we got much more applicants than ever before!!

A photo of the IBM Studios Boeblingen crew.
Half of the IBM Studios Boeblingen was hired via IBM RAAS.

Seeing how well it worked in our 30-person studio, we thought about pitching it to the IBM Design Talent Organization, which provides resources for IBM to source, recruit, hire, on board, and retain top design talent globally. That was a pretty big deal and we only had one shot.

"OMG! We want exactly that."

    - Amber Atkins, Head of Global Talent at IBM Design

Long story short - they LOVED it and within a few weeks, the official IBM Design website started to push applicants into its own IBM Design Github repo!!

An image showing how the website which we have created in IBM Studios Boeblingen could be used for other studios around the world.
Expansion of the website for other IBM Studios

After a successful trial period, the tool was renamed to IBM RaaS (IBM Recruitment as a Sevice) and it was chosen as IBM Studios’ central and global recruitment platform. For the first time ever, all IBM Studios worldwide would use a standardized recruitment process, which even allowed forwarding of applicants to other studios, to share comments and applicant ratings, and to transfer.

A map of all IBM Studios Worldwide
IBM Studios around the world

IBM RaaS, lead by Amber Atkins, has been initially rolled-out in a number of IBM Studios including in Austin, Canada, Shanghai, Boeblingen, Hamburg, Dublin, and Hursley. It has helped the hiring managers worldwide to manage and process over 6000 applications over year in significantly less time and in a more efficient way than was previously possible. The other Studios joined later.

In addition to IBM Design, the RaaS concept has also been deployed by other organizations in IBM: IBM Marketing and IBM Digital use it to track their applications, and the IBM Design Thinking University applied the concept to manage Design Thinking badge requests. Overall, the RaaS has been a global success story: it allows for streamlined and efficient management of the application process at scale, it works behind the IBM firewall, and it can easily be adopted and used by all IBM organizations worldwide.

Pretty epic moment. Again this whole "thing" started as a small project and now we are talking about this being used worldwide?

The Award

Surprise Surprise. 2 years after RaaS started and evolved into a full-blown platform Oleksandr, Marion and I got a very significant award from our IBM. We received an outstanding Technical Achievement Award what is considered to be the highest technical award at IBM. It felt great to be recognized for our work yay. Outstanding Technical Achievement Award presented to Ondrej Homola for Design and Implementation of Recruitment as a Serice for IBM Studios worldwide.


I must say I wasn’t expecting such a journey. I’m very excited that we helped IBM Design to streamline its recruiting process and that we elevated pain from Studio Managers, designers and also applicants. I reckon this was a perfect example of acting on something that needs to be fixed, even if it was not our main task at work. That shows how dedicated we were to help IBM and that we were able to find a solution, that scaled and made a difference.

PS: RaaS opened doors to other side projects. Parallel to it, we noticed we need a better onboarding process in IBM Studios Boeblingen, internships need to be better structured as well as mentorship. We packaged all of that into one project and redefined everything.

Marion and I organized an Intern meetup across the IBM Boeblingen lab.
Intern meetup across the IBM Boeblingen lab

UPDATE May 2018: Due to GDPR regulations, the external part of RaaS had to be turned off so you might not see it live on the website. GDPR made it more complicated, but RaaS continues in a modified version.


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