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Your must-read guide to construction graduate job applications

Follow our advice when filling in applications for civil and structural engineering, construction, quantity surveying and building surveying graduate jobs.
Avoid writing ‘I’ve always wanted to be a…’. Recruiters have heard this before.

Application forms for construction jobs can take two to three hours to write if done well, possibly longer if you need to do specific research on top. They usually start by asking for biographical, educational and work experience details. These are typically followed by a set of questions. Some forms include aptitude and psychometric tests.

Most employers will ask you to upload a CV and covering letter or supporting statement; however, it is now common practice for the application form to ask an additional set of questions, which allow you to show how your skills and values match those of the firm.

Typical graduate application form questions

The questions you’ll be asked aim to find out:

  • Why you want the job
  • Why you want to work for this employer
  • Whether you have the skills (including self-awareness) for the job

For example, Mace's application forms have included:

  • Why do you want to work at Mace construction? What sets Mace apart from its competitors?
  • One of Mace's core values is 'one Mace'. Please give a specific example of a time when you worked effectively in a team to achieve a common goal.

Arup, meanwhile, has been known to ask:

  • Which modules of your degree best reflect your strengths and interests and why? How is this relevant to the role that you are applying for?
  • Please describe any designs that interest you. If applicable, give examples of any design projects that you have worked on during your studies or work experience.
  • What are your career aspirations?

Tips for completing graduate application forms for construction employers

1. Give evidence to back up your claims

Back up statements with examples or extra details to prove your point. If you just provide unsubstantiated one-liners, recruiters can’t assess you and so won’t invite you to interview. Don’t just say ‘I gained commercial awareness through my part-time job,’ say which job and how you gained this knowledge, using a specific example for illustration.

When asked for an example of teamwork, you don’t have to choose an example where you led a team: employers are just as interested in when you followed instructions and contributed to the whole. Being a team player in construction is just as important as being a team leader.

2. Structure your application answers

At the same time, though, construction recruiters don’t want essays; your application form tests whether you can communicate the right level of detail in the right way. You can judge the amount of detail necessary by looking at the word count. If a word count is not specified, it is good practice to give several reasons for any question asking either why you should be in the role, or what attracts you to the role.

The STAR technique is a great way of keeping your answers free of waffle, especially when asked for an example of when you used a particular skill. Describe the Situation, the Tasks you needed to complete, the Actions you took and the Results.

It’s fine to use subheadings and bullet points. It’ll make it easier for recruiters to read, earning you brownie points.

3. Carry out some basic research

You can’t perform well in your applications for construction industry jobs unless you’ve researched the companies you are applying to. Employers like you to show that you’ve done your homework – it proves that you’re interested in working for them in particular, and that you are the conscientious type of employee they want. To enhance your application and have a chance of progressing to the next recruitment stage, you should at a minimum find out:

  • Is it a contractor or consultant?
  • Within which market and service areas does it operate?
  • What will you be doing in that particular job role? For example, as a civil engineer working for a contractor on highways, rather than for a consultant on bridges.
  • What are the organisation's core values?
  • What are some of its recent projects?

4. Use your research to help convey your enthusiasm for the job

When construction recruiters are faced with two candidates with similar academic results and work experience histories, the deciding factor is usually the level of enthusiasm shown. Construction recruiters look for evidence that you are enthused about construction, surveying or engineering in general, and are interested in working for their firm in particular.

Using the research you have done is essential when answering their questions. You need to demonstrate that you have considered what working in this role will involve, and have found that your skills, interests and values are in line with those of the firm. Show recruiters you’ve done your research by writing about recent projects they’ve completed and using phrases such as, ‘Looking at your website, I see that…’.

In answer to a question about why you want the job, avoid ‘I’ve always wanted to be a …’. Recruiters have heard this before. Instead, talk about the aspects of the job that particularly appeal to you or any construction-related work experience you’ve done. It’s also a good idea to talk about your career aspirations, especially if you can use your research to highlight how this particular employer will help you to achieve them, as it shows you are serious about the job on offer.

5. Know that copying gets you a pasting

The TARGETjobs panel of construction recruiters agree: applicants who get invited to interview have tailored their application to the employer. They haven’t copied and pasted in an answer that’s vaguely related to the question from another application, leaving in a reference to another company by mistake. They’ve written it from scratch, answering the actual question and referring to the correct company’s name. And, whatever you do, don’t copy and paste information directly from the employer’s website – they will know and it will look bad.

6. Check and check again to avoid errors

Many applications are let down by simple errors. Not all forms allow you to save your responses so that you can go back and check them, so always draft your form in a word-processing program beforehand.

It is common for employers, particularly civil engineering firms, to request details of your module transcripts. Saving this as a word document beforehand and then copy and pasting it in when requested will save you time, and will ensure you haven’t overlooked something. Note that this is the only time when you should copy and paste in applications.

Before you finally press submit, check that there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes and that you have filled in every field. If the application form has uploaded details from your CV or LinkedIn profile, double check the details have auto-filled into the correct boxes.

7. Get it reviewed by a careers adviser

You can also draft your form, print it out and take it to your careers service. Careers advisers are more than happy to help you to improve your answers, but you do need to have made a start before you see them.

How not to get filtered out

Online applications are filtered by algorithms to make sure you reach the minimum criteria. This means that, if a job description specifies a minimum of a 2.1 and you have a 2.2, you might be rejected automatically.

If special circumstances mean that you don’t meet the requirements, it’s wise to call and speak to a recruiter directly. They’ll be able to advise you about the best way to proceed. Most construction recruiters do take pains to ensure that all serious applications are seen by a person – you just need to show that you’re a credible applicant.