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CVs and covering letters for jobs in civil engineering, construction and surveying

How to write a graduate civil engineering, quantity surveying or construction CV

Use our step-by-step guide to structure your CV for graduate jobs and work placements in construction, quantity surveying and civil, structural or building services engineering.
Employers see so many CVs that you have to do something to make yours stand out.

We’ve put together tips on how to structure a CV for a range of different construction-related roles, based around excerpts from sample CVs.

Provide the essential information construction employers want to know

Your CV should tell a recruiter at first glance:

  • your contact details
  • your degree course and previous education, with the appropriate dates
  • what results you’ve achieved or are predicted to achieve
  • your previous work experience, both industry-related and non-industry related, with the appropriate dates
  • any extracurricular activities, interests or achievements that have developed the skills and attributes that would make you a good recruit.

Make sure that this information can be easily found during a 10-second initial scan of your CV.

Choose the best CV layout for you

There are two main CV formats – chronological and skills-based – and, for university students and graduates who have limited work experience, the chronological CV format (enhanced by a few tweaks) is often the most appropriate. If you are not sure which is right for you or you want to see how a chronological CV is laid out, read the TARGETjobs guide to chronological, skills-based and ‘the great British compromise’ CVs.

Ultimately, you do not have to stick to a rigid format. How you section your CV and what headings you use is entirely up to you; you have the option of either one full page or two pages to fill. In general, devote the most space to the activities that indicate that you have the skills and experience to thrive in the role you are applying for; use whichever headings will work best to emphasise your selling points.

How to put your personal and contact details on your CV

Start your CV with your contact details and put your name as the overall heading. We have put student membership of professional bodies after this, but you could put this in a section focusing on your interest in the construction industry if you have one (see below). We have also added in a link to the candidate’s LinkedIn profile; if you add yours, ensure it is up to date and matches the information on your CV. You can change your LinkedIn URL in your profile settings to make sure it looks neat.

For UK jobs and internships, you should not add your photo, gender, date of birth or ethnicity to your CV.

If you apply for a position via a recruitment agency, they will remove your contact details so that you can only be contacted through the agency. If you are applying directly to an employer, always include your contact details – and make sure that they are ones you use regularly.

Do you need a personal statement or career aim after your contact details? Probably not if you have the opportunity to also send in a covering letter: see our advice here.

How to write up your education and qualifications on your CV

Your education details should be given in reverse chronological order (most recent first). You could also include in this section any academic prizes you have gained during your degree studies.

Engineering recruiters, in particular, tell us that it gives students an advantage if they have studied modules that are relevant to the role they are applying for, so it is good to highlight relevant modules on your CV. But should you include all of your degree modules? Some recruiters like to see them, while others prefer more detail on your work experience and extracurricular activities instead. Certainly, if you have lots of work experience, it is better to allocate more room to that than to your academic achievements. So, on balance, we suggest selecting particularly relevant modules for your CV and then putting together a transcript of your modules into another document that you can submit upon request.

Recruiters often ask you about your university project work at interview and so it is often a good conversation starter if you include details on your CV. If you have worked on a joint project with an industry partner as part of your final-year project or dissertation, you should note that in your education details as well as in any work experience section you might have.

We have added individual module grades for our fictitious candidate and we have put the highest marks first, so that they have the most impact. You do not have to add any of the results of your academic qualifications. But if the employer has stipulated minimum entry requirements, it is best to show the recruiter at a glance that you meet them.

How to write up your construction, engineering or surveying work experience

Above and below are an example of how a quantity surveyor could write up their placement year experience and an example of how a design engineer could write up their summer internship.

If your work experience employer isn’t well known, it is good practice to define whether it is a contractor or a consultant so that the recruiters can understand your role. It is also helpful to provide brief details of the projects you worked on.

When writing up your experiences, focus on what you contributed. It is a good idea to include numbers where appropriate to scale and quantify your impact. Use strong words, such as ‘managed’ instead of ‘did’, but also don’t overstate your involvement. As an intern, it is unlikely that you will be running the company! It is fine to say that you ‘assisted with’ or ‘helped’ and to indicate where you observed or ‘gained exposure’ when appropriate.

If you have gained credit towards your professional qualification while on a placement year you probably should include it as one of the first items when writing it up, as we have done above. However, it would also be appropriate to put it in your education section or a section covering professional training.

It is essential to tailor your work experience section for the vacancy you are applying for. When writing about your skills, use the same language as you found on the job description. For example, where we used relationship-building above you could use ‘stakeholder management’ if the job description includes that phrase.

How do you organise your work experience and what headings do you use? If you have completed a number of construction-related work experience opportunities (for example, internships, joint research with industry on your dissertation or field work organised by your department such as Constructionarium) alongside some more typical student part-time jobs, you may want to divide your work experience into categories, such as ’Industry work experience’ and ’Further work experience’. If your non-industry work experience has been wholly in retail, you might want to use ’Retail experience’. But if you don’t have at least two or three pieces of construction-related experience, you might want to put all of your employment history together under a heading such as 'Work experience'.

How to write up your non-industry work experience and your extracurricular activities

You can write up your typical student part-time jobs and extracurricular activities exactly how you write up your industry work experience, quantifying the impact of your contribution. Stress any skills or duties that transfer to the construction industry. For example, if you had to follow health and safety legislative requirements – such as when prepping food or supervising children – that will translate well to working on site.

Don’t just list your hobbies and interests: emphasise the attributes they require. For example, if you are part of the football team, say whether you were captain or involved in coaching; mention that you regularly turned up for practice in all weathers, as this will convey your stickability. Read our advice about adding your interests and hobbies to your CV.

How do you present your extracurricular activities and what headings do you use? If you have been involved in multiple volunteering activities and/or sporting activities, you could have a section called 'Volunteering achievements’ or 'Sporting achievements’ as appropriate. Alternatively you could put your achievements in an ’Interests’ section.

How to write up other sections on your CV

As noted above, you can be flexible with how you organise the information on your CV and the headings you use. If you have been actively involved with your professional body and/or a construction, engineering or surveying-related student society, you may want to have a section entitled 'Involvement with the profession’. This is where you could put your student membership of professional bodies, attendance at any networking events and conferences, any professional body competitions you’ve entered or bursaries you’ve applied for and so on. It is impressive to group together evidence of your interest in the construction industry. However, if you haven’t been active in your professional body, you could put your student membership of professional bodies as a line in your contact details instead.

When writing about your skills, use the same language as you found on the job description.

Consider whether you need an 'IT skills' section or a 'Professional training' section or whether you would include your use of systems such as AutoCAD or advanced knowledge of MS Excel in your write-ups of your work experience. Either is fine, as long as your technical training and abilities are evident. Remember that the purpose of a CV is to showcase why you would be a good hire.

Consider using colour and graphics to make your CV stand out

‘Employers see so many CVs that you have to do something to make yours stand out, such as using graphics or pie charts,’ Sabina Tayub, graduate civil engineer at Balfour Beatty, told TARGETjobs’ sister publication the UK 300. ‘I used an image of a design that I’d won a prize for and I made my CV border green to indicate my interest in sustainability.’

It would be a particularly good idea to include diagrams or images of your work if you are applying for a design- or architecture-focused role.

But if you do use colour and diagrams, make sure that your CV can still be read if it is printed out in black and white. Make sure, too, that your CV looks OK in various different file formats, eg .docx and .pdf, in case the employer requires a specific file format.

Ensure that any typeface formatting you use – bold, italics and so on – is consistent throughout and that your CV remains easy to read. Read our answers to CV layout FAQs, including which font to use and whether to use bullet points.

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