Essential skills for construction industry jobs and how to show employers you have them
Whichever construction, engineering or cost management employer you apply to or whatever the recruitment process involves, recruiters will assess whether you have the skills to succeed in the job. Increasingly, your natural behaviours or responses in certain situations will be assessed – so they will be looking at not only whether you possess a skill but whether you use it. If you have a technical degree, your knowledge of the subject will be assessed, but recruiters are as (and in some cases more) interested in your ‘soft’ or ‘life’ skills.
Nigel Kibler, recruitment and development manager at BAM Construct UK Ltd, looks at the most essential skills employers seek. You can find out what specific organisations look for by reading their recruitment information on the TARGETjobs employer hubs.
Communication: a vital skill for construction, civils and quantity surveying graduates
‘Good communication skills are vital for anyone in the construction industry,’ says Nigel. ‘You will have to negotiate your way through complex communications on a daily basis with different teams involved on a project.’
How do you demonstrate good communication skills to construction employers?
‘Prepare a well written application form and CV. Use positive words to explain your background,’ advises Nigel. ‘Give information with energy and enthusiasm during your interview. Think of a time when your communication skills have been vital to making a difference to a situation; there will almost certainly be a chance to tell employers about this at an interview.’
- A good way to practise your communication skills is to try explaining something that you know about to a person who knows very little about it. This could be anything: something you’ve learned about on your course, for example, or the plot of your favourite movie. Talk it through in such a way that they don’t need to ask any clarifying questions.
- Read more about what graduate employers mean when they say they want communication skills.
Teamwork: the construction industry is based on it
‘Underpinning any construction project is a team. Being able to work successfully with other employees and external subcontractors is crucial,’ says Nigel. ‘It’s worth remembering that most employers also look for people who can lead teams as well as work within them.’
How can you demonstrate teamwork skills to construction, engineering or surveying employers?
‘Recruiters want graduates to show a clear understanding of what makes an effective team,’ Nigel observes. ‘Being a member of a society or club shows that you’ve had experience of working with others outside of your studies. Also mention any previous positions of responsibility you’ve held.’
- You can always talk about times when you worked in a group project for your course, but it’s a bit of a cliché: if you can give a different example about how you achieved an objective by playing your part in a team, do so.
- Explore the difference between teamwork and team management.
Commercial awareness: graduates are expected to be business-conscious in construction
‘On a day-to-day basis individuals can affect the commercial viability of a project. A commercially aware employee will find ways to make projects more efficient, and spot any potentially costly defects,’ points out Nigel.
How can you demonstrate your potential to be commercially savvy?
‘Employers might ask you direct questions about what’s going on in the industry at interview, so be prepared to have some good answers ready,’ says Nigel. ‘Also take any opportunity you can to talk about commercial issues at your interview and mention them in your application or covering letter.’
- Read the construction industry and business news in general, as well as press releases and blogs from leading construction companies. Form opinions on topical issues, such as the demand for housing and property prices, the use of sustainable technologies and designing cities for the future.
- Read our guide to developing commercial awareness for construction jobs and a list of commercial awareness interview questions.
Problem solving: essential whether you are a surveyor, architect, manager or engineer
‘Problem solving is used on a daily basis in the construction industry: from dealing with the unexpected, such as burst water pipes, to minimising delays,’ says Nigel. ‘Everybody has a part to play in driving efficiencies and limiting costly mistakes.’
How can you demonstrate that you have the problem-solving skills to be successful in construction?
‘Use specific examples that demonstrate your practical ability,’ suggests Nigel. ‘It’s good to choose examples that demonstrate that you have an eye for detail and the ability to adopt a common sense approach to solving problems in a pressurised environment.’
- Remember that construction interviewers are more interested in how you solved the problem or overcame a difficulty than what that difficulty was. Give sufficient information for them to understand the nature of the problem, but concentrate most of your answer on what you did to solve it.
- If you are asked a hypothetical or technical question during an interview, make sure you explain your thinking as you answer it. This will demonstrate your problem-solving skills. Find out more about the types of questions that you might be asked in a construction interview.
Time management: every member of the project team needs this skill
‘Complex construction projects require effective organisation and time management if they are to be delivered to budget and on time,’ says Nigel. ‘Every team member has to keep to schedule. Deadlines mean you can’t afford to let things slip.’
How can you show in your application and interview that you are good at organising?
‘Show that you are used to managing your time by mentioning when you have successfully juggled the pressures of academic work with part-time employment, or membership of societies and clubs,’ suggests Nigel.
- When you go to an interview or assessment day, ensure that you arrive around ten minutes early: plan your journey in advance and work in contingency time.
- If you are asked to give a presentation at an assessment centre, structure it so that you don’t overrun or miss out some points. If you have five minutes, you should be able to make two main points in addition to an introduction and conclusion. Get more advice on making presentations.
- If you take part in an assessment centre group exercise, volunteer to be timekeeper and be firm in ensuring that discussions stick to time. Get more advice on tackling group exercises.
Enthusiasm for construction: not a skill, but an important ingredient for success
‘To be successful in construction, you need to be 100% committed,’ says Nigel. ‘If you are genuinely interested in the sector then your input will be greater. Your enthusiasm for the industry means you’ll be more likely to progress, make contacts and be happier in your job role.’
How can you demonstrate your enthusiasm?
‘Employers want to see a candidate’s interest shining through. Demonstrate how proactive you have been in finding practical experience, and keep up to date with industry trends and current issues via trade press and professional bodies,’ says Nigel.
- A common first interview question (which can also be asked on application forms) is ‘What is your favourite building/project?’, so practise talking about projects that have inspired you and why.
- If you haven’t been able to get much (or any) construction work experience, there are other things you can do to demonstrate your interest in the industry: see our advice on how to prove your interest in construction.
Your next action: make a list
As a way to prepare for graduate applications and interviews (particularly for competency questions), write a list of everything you’ve done – education, part-time work, extracurricular activities, volunteering etc – and think about the skills that you developed out of them. Sarah Leggett, a section engineer at Laing O’Rourke, says: ‘The group projects you do during an engineering degree aid teamwork, communication and leadership, but you can also get these skills outside of your degree. I started a netball team with the other girls studying engineering. This showed teamwork, proactivity and the ability to order things outside of the classroom.’