Advice on getting a graduate job, by a graduate construction manager
It wasn't the easiest thing for Mairead O’Flynn to get her job as a construction manager and site engineer. She graduated with a degree in construction management and engineering during a time of financial uncertainty, and she wasn't offered her job until she was completing an MSc in project management a year later. You can learn much from her experiences and words of wisdon.
Don’t apply for every construction job you see – spend extra time on the ones you really want
‘I sort of panic-applied for any job that was going,’ says Mairead. ‘But when you do that it’s hard to convince employers that you want to work for them. I genuinely wanted to work for Laing O’Rourke and they could tell. In fact, I think that made the difference. If I had my time again, I’d start off by being more selective and applying for fewer jobs.’
Honestly, the most effective way to apply is to spend extra time researching the company and using your research to write thoughtful applications and covering letters, explaining why you want to work for that employer, why you want a construction career and how your experiences and skills match up to those sought by that employer.
Expect the graduate recruitment process to take a while
‘I applied for my current job in September/October, attended an interview in November and an assessment centre in March, and was offered a job in May,’ Mairead recalls. This sort of timeframe is fairly typical and, while candidates can get frustrated, this is often due to the sheer volume of candidates that recruiters have to consider – and recruiters need to make sure they assess your application properly.
Build up your teamwork and project-work skills at university to make you employer-ready
‘Everything you do on a construction project is within a complete team environment,’ says Mairead. ‘Anything you can do to increase your experience of working within a team the better. When I was at university, I took part in quite a few sports.’ But your teamwork examples don’t have to come from sports.
Mairead also suggests taking on projects while at university, as it gives you experience of project-based work. This experience does not have to only come from your coursework. Any projects you take on as part of extra-curricular activities, student societies or part-time work will stand you in good stead. Taking part in a project to increase membership of a society, to raise funds for charity or to organise an event would provide good examples of project work for applications and interviews.
Be a pro in graduate assessment centre group exercises
Mairead’s assessment centre included both a discussion exercise (where they discussed why certain trades were declining in the industry) and a group exercise (in which they had to evaluate different construction projects and recommend which were taken on by the employer). ‘They were like informal seminars, except that people were more professional,’ she says. ‘Everyone was careful not to talk over anyone else.’
Consider postgraduate study – if you have work experience
‘The economy was in a bad state when I graduated and I was gutted when I couldn’t find a job straight away,’ she says. ‘My tutors suggested that, as I had work experience behind me, I do an MSc to build my knowledge and skills.’
A word of warning, though: employers have told us that, in some cases, a postgraduate degree won’t compensate for a lack of work experience, so if you have minimal construction-related work experience on your CV, you’d often be better off trying to find all the work experience you can than learning another year of theory. But it may be worth exploring if you want to gain further specialist skills and you have a portfolio of work experience placements to your name.