Motivated individuals who have researched the company, projects and clients always stand out. – Aman Gill, early careers leader at Arup
In pre-pandemic times, the typical interview process for Arup’s UK graduate jobs has involved an assessment centre, which typically lasted a little less than a day and comprised a group exercise, an interview and a technical or written exercise that you might have been asked to discuss during the interview. Placement students were usually interviewed by phone or video instead; some previous graduate candidates also reported having a telephone interview before the assessment centre.
At the time of writing (November 2020), Arup is still planning to hold graduate assessment centres from December 2020. We don’t yet know whether the employer will switch to virtual assessment centres due to coronavirus restrictions or whether in-person assessments will go ahead in a socially distanced manner. So, the article below still discusses in-person assessment days. However, bear in mind that the sorts of interview question we mention below could be asked virtually (via a video platform, for example), as well as face to face. You can also find advice on virtual assessment centres in our ‘what to expect in a virtual assessment day’ advice feature.
What do Arup interviewers look for?
We spoke to Aman Gill, early careers leader at Arup, about this. One of the key themes that came across was the importance of communicating your passion for the construction industry. ‘We hope to find students that are articulate, passionate about their degree subject and have an idea of how they want their career to develop,’ she said. ‘A lot of students can’t really explain why they chose their degree or what they hope to do with it, which is disappointing, We want people who are genuinely interested in the construction industry; our managers are passionate about what they do and want to work alongside people who feel the same.’
Make sure you complete detailed, appropriate research for the interview stages. ‘Motivated individuals who have researched our company, projects and clients always stand out,’ she added.
And remember some of the key skills Arup seeks. Aman summarised: 'We are looking for people who have excellent communication and teamworking skills, are passionate about what they do and are creative in their approach to problem solving.’
If you have one, what should you expect in a telephone interview with Arup?
The telephone interview might be with HR or a manager. It’s likely that the questions will be mostly focused on:
- your reasons for applying to Arup and for the specific role
- your skills and your experiences
- your values and behaviours and whether they match with Arup’s – so make sure you reread Sir Ove’s key speech before a telephone interview.
It’s wise to expect a mixture of open, motivational questions (‘Why…?’), competency questions (‘Give an example of a time when you used X skill’) and some hypothetical questions (‘Imagine you are a graduate working at Arup. What would you do if…?’). If you are interviewed by a manager, you might be asked a technical question related to the role such as: ‘What are some of the ways you could make a building more energy efficient?’
What should I expect during Arup’s assessment day?
Your assessment centre is usually held in the office where you will be working, so that you get a feel for the office (although this isn’t always possible). Aman says that you will have the opportunity to meet current graduates as well more senior professionals. It is likely that you will be given a tour of the office by current graduates. From what one candidate has said, the group exercise, your technical problem and tour are likely to last 30 minutes each, and your interview an hour.
During the interview itself, you might be asked:
- competency and situational questions (‘Give me an example of a time when…’ and ‘This has happened. What would you do next?’)
- questions arising from your CV and application form – including why you are interested in Arup, the role and the business division
- questions aiming to gauge your understanding of the industry, as well as your knowledge of general industry trends and how they could affect Arup
- about the results of your technical problem – or, as an alternative to this, you might be asked technical ‘exam-style’ questions
How do you impress when interacting with current graduates?
One of the reasons that you will have the opportunity to chat with graduate employees is to give you a better feel of the office. However, remember that they’ll probably give feedback on what they thought of you. Ask questions, but frame them in a positive way. A question such as ‘What do you like best about working here?’ will come across more positively than ‘Do you like it here?’, for example.
What should you do during an Arup group exercise?
The group exercise’s exact nature has been kept under wraps, but reports suggest that it is likely to be based on a construction-related scenario rather than on a general topic. Typical construction-themed group discussions include deciding whether the company should bid for a project or deciding on which contractor should get work from a consultant – but there’s no guarantee that these will be your group exercise.
When tackling the group exercise, keep in mind the value Sir Ove placed on teamwork and organisation in his key speech (essential reading before any interview) and try to demonstrate those skills. Try to help the group come across as organised by offering to take notes, keep time or summarise points. Do speak up in the group exercise and make your points, but do so inclusively. Build on others’ points (eg ‘Yes, I agree, [NAME], and we could achieve this by…’) or by politely disagreeing instead of shouting them down (eg ‘I think you have a good point, but I think we may be overlooking or forgetting [Y POINT].’).
How do you tackle Arup’s technical problem and exam-style questions?
These can change each year and will vary according to the role you are interviewing for. However, the following will give you an idea of what to expect.
A building engineering candidate’s technical problem involved preparing a design proposal for one of a choice of two given structures. The candidate stated that the task involved ‘no numbers at all’ and that interviewers were looking to see how he approached the problem and how well he identified the context surrounding it; for example, if designing a roof for a theatre, recognising that it would have to support heavy lights. He was asked to pitch his design proposal as if to a client or project manager. He said that the follow-up questions were all ‘basic’: ‘They asked specifically about how the structure would carry a load (basic things like tension and compression, not at all complicated), and they were also looking at how I approached the problem and took in the context around it.’
Another engineer was asked to estimate the average pressure on the foundation of a 12-storey building. Other engineering candidates recall being asked ‘What's the difference between laminar and turbulent flow?’
One previous transport planning candidate was asked to write an assessment on a transport planning topic and then discuss this during the interview, but other transport planning candidates reported being asked the following ‘exam-style’ questions in their interview instead:
- How would you justify the economic need for building a new railway line between a residential area and a business district?
- What are the justifications for allowing more trains operators on a franchised line and what are the problems?
- What technical issues will affect transport planning in the future?
Design problems and technical questions are intended to test your problem-solving skills and ability to think laterally. So explain your thinking in your answers: describe how and why you came to each decision. Take ‘how would you justify the economic need..?’ as an example. Transport planners need to consider social, environmental and economic issues, so tell the interviewers what information you would need in order to make a proper decision.
Don’t worry too much if you are stumped by the exercise: ‘It obviously helps if a candidate gives a correct result in the technical exercise,’ said Aman. ‘However, we are more interested in how they tackle the problem. Even if the candidate doesn’t complete the exercise, the discussion around their responses can give us a good insight into their problem-solving skills.’
How can you answer Arup’s values, competency and CV interview questions?
The values questions are most likely to be phrased as hypothetical or situational questions, where you’ll be given a scenario and asked what you would do. They’ll be used to gauge whether you would act in accordance with Arup’s values, as set out in Sir Ove’s Key Speech – so it’s worth reminding yourself what they are. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewers for more details on the scenario if that would help you to answer – and don’t be afraid to ask for some time to think.
The competency questions will ask you for examples of times when you used a particular skill – and will be based on the skills and qualities Arup seeks (see above). ‘Among other questions, we tend to ask about leadership skills and building client relationships, in order to gauge teamworking abilities,’ says Aman. Previous candidates report being asked the following questions:
- Give an example of when you were a leader in a group project.
- Describe a time when you worked in a group and things did not go the way you wanted. What did you do?
- Tell us about a time where you had trouble with a teammate on a project and how you resolved it.
- Describe a situation when you encountered something new and how you approached it.
- Describe how you would go about explaining a technical process to a non-technical person.
While you won’t necessarily be asked these questions, they are useful practice questions for you. Start by drawing up a list of examples of when you have demonstrated the skills Arup seeks. Practise delivering your examples using the STAR approach (explained in this article). In the interview itself, if you are unsure what the interviewer means, ask for clarification.
The question ‘Give an example of when you were a leader in a group project’ automatically calls to mind the projects you’ve done on your course. You don’t have to choose one of these as your answer. Your example could come from any area of your life – perhaps if you supervised a team in a part-time retail job or helped to organise a fundraising project.
Other questions might call upon your skills and technical knowledge: for example, one candidate was reportedly asked ‘Think of a building on your campus that could be more sustainable. What would you do to improve it?'. Here you could bring in your technical knowledge and non-technical skills, for example you could explain how you would outline your plans to the chancellor and consult with the student body.
Know your CV back-to-front in preparation for the interview, including rough dates and length of your experiences, the tasks you completed and what you learned. A past candidate was surprised to be asked about his first placement when he was 17 rather than his more recent placements. Another was asked about any problems they experienced on their work experience.
How do you answer questions about why you’ve applied to Arup?
You can expect to be asked about your reasons for applying to Arup, the business area and the individual vacancy. Previous questions are said to have included:
- Why did you choose to apply to Arup and why should we hire you?
- Why would you be a good fit for Arup?
- What do you know about Arup?
- What's your favourite building and why?
- What’s your favourite Arup project?
- What do you think about Ove Arup?
This is one of the best places to show off your research. ‘Our directors want to see that a student has thoroughly researched our company and the role or area that they are applying for,’ Aman told us. She added that, when the team make decisions about job offers, they consider the whole process but put more weight on the final interview. Don’t miss your chance of a job offer because of lack of preparation.