CVs and covering letters for jobs in civil engineering, construction and surveying
Some built environment employers like the personal touch of a CV and covering letter. They show off your written communication skills and allow you freedom to present your experiences in the best light, but can open up many a question about how to structure and write a CV.
Your CV and covering letter should tell a recruiter at first glance:
- what course you’re studying and over what dates
- what results you’ve achieved
- what you’re looking for and where (graduate employment, sandwich placement, vacation work etc)
- your previous work experience, including the skills you picked up
Jacqui Brown, an HR consultant at AECOM, says, ‘Presentation and layout are crucial. If the information is clearly presented and laid out it will get noticed and reflect positively on the candidate. Poorly presented CVs (however good the content is) could easily get overlooked.’ Choose a font that is easy to read and ensure that your headings and sub-headings are unambiguous. Using bullet points will make your CV easier to read.
How to structure your graduate CV
A CV should never be longer than two pages of A4 – graduate recruiters won’t have the time to read any more – and for neatness should either be one full page or two full pages.
Use a style that shows you off the best. ‘Those graduates who have done relevant periods of work experience should consider having more of a chronological style, whereas a skills-based CV would suit those who have less related experience,’ suggests Jacqui.
Your CV should include information on your education, work experience, skills/achievements gained outside of your degree, and, briefly, your interests (hobbies). But you can be creative with your headings to promote yourself – you might want to have a section on ‘Positions of responsibility’ or ‘Key achievements’.
- Your educational history should include information on group projects and your dissertation, if you have a construction-related degree. Only list individual modules if they are directly relevant to the job.
- When you write about work experience, focus on the skills you developed and applied rather than simply listing the tasks you undertook.
- Include part-time work or summer jobs, but show how the skills you used transfer to the construction business.
- The TARGETjobs template CVs can give you a good start.
How to structure your covering letter for surveying, engineering and construction graduate jobs
Always send in a covering letter with a CV. Even if uploading your CV to an online system, include the covering letter in the document, unless the form has a separate section asking you why you’re applying for the job. The letter should be no longer than a page. A covering letter has four parts:
- The opening. Say which job you are applying for and where you found the job ad.
- Why you? Tell them why you are a good prospect. Describe how you match the job description.
- Why them? Explain why you are interested in this job and employer.
- The ending. Add a closing sentence, referencing your CV.
Writing tips for your construction covering letter
- Open the letter professionally, with a ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or, even better, address it to a particular recruiter, eg ‘Dear Mr Smith’. Close with ‘Yours faithfully’ if you’ve addressed it to ‘Sir/Madam’, and ‘Yours sincerely’ if to a named recruiter.
- When writing about why you’re right for the job, make sure every single sentence relates to a requirement on the job description or, if there isn’t one, a quality mentioned on the firm’s recruitment site.
- The magic phrase is ‘This means that’. You want to say that your experience of doing X means that you will be able to do X on the job description. If the job description mentions working in a multidisciplinary team, you could say: ‘I worked in a team when I… This means that I will be able to work in a multi-disciplinary team to complete a project.’
- Don’t say how you don’t meet requirements; state the experience you do have. Avoid ‘Although I have not had experience of leading a team, I did have an instrumental role when I…’ The recruiter’s first impression is one of negativity. Instead: ‘I played an instrumental role on a team when I…’
- See Four covering letter blunders (and how to avoid them) for more advice.
Check and double check your CV and covering letter for errors and, just like with an application form, careers advisers will be happy to help you to improve your efforts.
Top CV space wasters
Jacqui Brown, an HR consultant at AECOM, has the following tips to help you save space on your CV.
- Personal information (marital status, age, nationality, gender etc) are still commonplace on CVs but have no need to be included as the information can be captured through equal opportunities monitoring.
- Photos of the applicant also waste space, and detailing GCSE grades is not really important – A levels results (or equivalent) yes, GCSEs no.
- Very broad flamboyant or egotistical statements in personal profiles/statements at the top of your CV, such as, ‘I consider myself to be a highly talented and accomplished civil engineer with an excellent eye for innovative design’. If you choose to use a personal profile (and you don’t have to), keep it brief, be honest and be prepared to justify any statement at interview. See Are personal statements a waste of space on graduate CVs? for more advice.
What to do with the space you've saved
Use the space you’ve saved to explain final year projects, interests or gap-year experiences in more detail. These often provide good additional information to get a better overall impression of the applicant.