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No internship in construction, QS or engineering? What to do instead

If you aren’t offered a formal work experience placement with a construction employer, there are still things you can do to enhance your graduate CV. There are other ways to build up evidence of your interest in the construction industry and your general capabilities.
On your CV, emphasise your interest in the industry by detailing the site visits, industry talks and mock-projects you undertook on your course.

Although work experience in construction, engineering or surveying is an important consideration for recruiters when reviewing graduate job applications, getting a formal placement is not the be-all and end-all. Below we explore some alternatives.

Apply speculatively for work experience

There’s nothing to stop you from contacting smaller or local construction employers who do not run formal internship schemes to see if they could offer you a short period of work experience or the opportunity to work-shadow (or observe) a professional at work. Applying on the ‘off chance’ in this way is called applying speculatively.

How to apply speculatively for work experience

Consider agency construction work

Contractor recruiters tells us that they like to see ‘non-graduate’ (labouring/agency work) on graduates’ CVs because it provides on-site experience and an insight into how best to manage teams of workers. Building surveyors might get more out of temping at an estate agency.

Think about construction-related voluntary work – not an option for everyone

You might be able to join construction- and environment-related voluntary projects (usually abroad). Most projects last upwards of five months, but some are available for one month or three months. While these could add to your CV, be aware that some organisations charge a fee for arranging the placement, that some charities require you to fund raise in advance and that you’ll probably have to pay for your own travel. This isn’t an option for everyone.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the number of built environment students completing unpaid work experience (as opposed to work shadowing) in the UK is rising. It is one way to get experience on your CV, but there are legal (and, some would argue, moral) questions surrounding it. It’s likely that you are legally entitled to the national minimum wage if: you are not required to complete the work experience as part of your course; you have a contract or other arrangement to do work for a benefit in kind, eg the promise of future work; and/or you have to turn up for work even if you don’t want to. See for more information.

Make the most of the industry speakers and site visits organised by your university

Most university courses and built environment student societies arrange opportunities for students to:

  • gain hands-on practical experience
  • meet employers and industry professionals
  • visit sites
  • take part in mock-projects

Some departments run a formal mentoring programme in which students are paired up with industry professionals – if your department doesn’t, seek out a contact on your careers service alumni database (a list of graduates who’d be happy to talk to, advise or mentor current students).

Your CV will look more impressive if you include details about your site visits, industry talks and mock-projects (write about what you’ve learned from them). You can also use these opportunities to start to build a network (see below for tips on how to do this).

Seek or create a network

Try to build up a relationship with industry professionals. When at talks, ask the speakers follow-up questions and contact them (via email or social media) to say how much you got out of their talk. While they probably won’t be able to offer you a job, they might offer you advice.

Be active on LinkedIn, keeping your profile updated and joining in discussions. Look for other networking opportunities, too: could you join the student groups or any other panels of professional bodies, for example? Networking can lead to you being offered advice or you being given leads for jobs and internships.

Networking advice for construction, surveying and engineering students.

Enter construction, surveying and engineering industry competitions

The TARGETjobs Construction, Engineering & Design Undergraduate of the Year Award gives you the chance to win an internship with a top employer. Professional bodies such as RICS also tend to run competitions for students, often essay-based. Stating that you’ve entered such competitions – even if you didn’t win – enhances your CV. If you do win and receive invitations to industry conferences or winners’ ceremonies as part of your prize, it’s a good way to network.

Squeeze skills from your non-industry work experience to add to your graduate CV

Construction recruiters all agree that work experience – whatever its form, and whatever the sector – makes candidates employable. Your part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities also give you a whole range of skills. When TARGETjobs asked a recruiter from Skanska to tell us about an answer that really impressed her in an interview, she told us one that had nothing to do with a construction placement: 'I once asked a candidate about a difficult business decision and was very impressed to hear that they worked as a manager in a fast food chain and had to decide whether to send staff home,' she said. 'It wasn’t so much the task that was really impressive but their explanation of how they came to that decision and the way they managed the risk. It gave me a great impression of them.’ So don’t overlook your achievements outside of the construction industry.