Weak, rushed answers are the most common reason for candidates not reaching the next stage.
When TARGETjobs talks to Aman Gill, early careers leader at Arup, about the company’s graduate jobs, internships and placements in the UK, one thing becomes clear: you can’t rush its application form. 'Arup places a huge importance on the strength of a candidate’s application form,’ she says. ‘Take time with your application form to demonstrate your research and motivation for applying.’
Most of Arup’s vacancies require you to answer the three application questions listed below, although a few vacancies – such as project management ones – also have role-specific questions. What Aman seeks is very thoughtful, considered answers that are supported by examples from different areas of your life. Previously, Arup has stipulated examples from the previous three years, so it is probably best to keep these examples recent (unless you have an amazing example from earlier in your life).
‘I like to see candidates really thinking about why they are applying for that particular vacancy,’ she says. ‘Weak answers that demonstrate a lack of effort are the most common reason why candidates don’t progress to the next stage.’
1,000 characters is equivalent to, roughly, 175 words so it is wise to draft and edit in MS Word (or similar program) before copying your text into the form. To make the best use of the character count, use an active rather than an academic writing style (see this article for tips on how to do this) and, where appropriate, use lists rather than full sentences. If you’ve had to cut down words, get someone else to read over your answers to make sure that they still make sense and include sufficient detail.
Arup is seeking candidates who believe in the values and behaviours set out in Sir Ove’s key speech; despite its length, you should read it carefully and show in your application answers that you do. ‘The speech really does encapsulate our philosophy and style of working,’ says Aman. The speech can be downloaded in PDF format from Arup’s ‘Our firm’ webpage.
… but also expand your research
Impressive candidates will widen their research beyond the key speech and website. ‘One of the things that our directors want to see is that a candidate has thoroughly researched our company,’ says Aman. ‘We have a wealth of information on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, as well as our website, so I would encourage candidates to make the most of these sites when applying to us.’ Don’t forget also to look up Arup in the recent construction industry press to hear the latest news on the company and how it fares against its competitors.
Arup recruiters want to find out whether you know what makes the company different: whether you particularly want to work for the organisation or whether any built environment company would do. This is the place, then, where you should bring in your research and your knowledge of Sir Ove’s speech.
You should probably write about how much you admire and share Sir Ove’s core values, visions and priorities, and why they make you want to work for Arup. You haven’t got a large word count, but it would support your claims if you could give a brief illustration of how you have already acted in accordance with those values and priorities. For example, Sir Ove talks about ‘a wish to do socially useful work’ and ‘pursue quality’. If you’ve done any of the following (for instance) you will have evidence of sharing those values:
- worked towards a good cause with others
- produced high-quality work
- volunteered on a construction project abroad
- taken steps to reduce your own carbon footprint
- been involved with any zero waste initiatives on any placements
- researched the latest sustainable thinking as part of your course or during a placement.
However, there are other reasons that you could write about based on your research. To get you started, some of the things that we found out include:
- Arup’s ownership structure. It is fairly unusual for a large international company in that it is independent from shareholders. Arup is proud of this and it affects the workplace culture, as, while the firm will need to consider profits, it doesn’t have to consider how the projects it takes on would affect the City. ‘The way that we are owned and managed gives our staff the freedom to be as creative as they can be, which is something that our engineers, architects, planners, surveyors and scientists really appreciate,’ says Aman.
- the value Arup places on curiosity in its graduate employees – being open to new ideas and wanting to learn continuously. Aman says that the type of person who does well at Arup is ‘curious and challenges the status quo’.
- Arup's support for professional development and qualifications, and how that will boost your career ambitions.
- its encouragement of and welcome for diversity. The company was the first construction employer to sign up to Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme, for example.
However, whatever you choose (whatever resonates with you) you need to relate it back to your own career ambitions and values.
How to answer: ‘Please tell us why you are applying for this role and how you feel your skills are relevant.’
This is about what you know about the specific job you’ve applied for and why you would be good in the role. Focus on the specifics of the role and the division.
Start your research by reading the comprehensive job description for the vacancy that Arup’s website provides. Take a look at recent projects the division has worked on. See what Arup’s reports and publications say about the challenges and strengths of the division. Investigate the study and work you will need to do to achieve professional qualification, for example. Think about the skills you will need on the job and when studying.
Use this research to support your reasons for applying. You could mention specific projects worked on in the division (or the types of projects you could work on) and talk about how they’d interest or challenge you, for example. Arup is a consultancy and, if you are applying for an engineering or quantity surveying role, it is likely that your role will be mostly office-based and concerned with the designs.
When writing about your skills, it would be impressive to say how you gained the relevant skills as well as why they are relevant (if you have the character count) – along the lines of, for example: ‘My experience of solving problems using creativity, gained when I..., will be useful when...’. It should go without saying that you should write about the skills and behaviours listed in the job description.
How to answer: 'Describe a recent experience which presented you with a challenge and involved doing something differently, or finding a new approach.'
This appears to be very much linked to Sir Ove’s key speech, to see whether you have the potential to live up to the Arup values, so choose your example wisely.
To make sure that you give sufficient detail for your potential to be assessed, use the CAR structure: explain the context of your example (how and why it was a challenge and involved you doing something differently or finding a new approach), the actions you took and the results of your action. Put more emphasis on your actions and results than the context.
In this case, a challenge can be defined as ‘a task or situation that tests someone's abilities’: if you choose something that was a positive learning experience or fulfilling, so much the better. Remember that your examples can come from any experiences in your life from the past three years. If you are really struggling, consider whether you have done any of the following:
- taken a new approach when completing a research project on your course
- relocated for a placement and had to start somewhere new, or been given your own responsibilities on a project
- been involved in a student society and did something new in order to raise money or increase membership
- run a marathon and had to change your diet and fitness routine
- raised money for charity
- taken on supervisory responsibilities in your new part-time job, which affected how you interacted with your colleagues.