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Four ways to get your construction graduate career started

Construction, civil engineering or QS jobs: four ways to get one

There are several ways to find a graduate job in quantity surveying, construction or civil engineering: getting onto a graduate scheme isn't the only route.
Applying to formal graduate schemes is not the only way to find graduate employment in the industry.

Securing a role in the construction industry is not always as straightforward as applying to a graduate scheme at a set time of the year. Graduate vacancies at construction and engineering firms are dependent on the work they win: if a firm has a major new project lined up, they’ll need to recruit quickly. If they’re short on projects, there will be fewer job opportunities.

Your best bet is to cover all of your bases by making use of the four main routes into a graduate construction job:

1) Apply directly to graduate schemes at bigger firms

This is probably the most popular and straightforward route into a graduate construction, civil engineering or QS job. Larger construction firms, such as Arup, Balfour Beatty and Laing O'Rourke, typically begin their graduate recruitment season in September or October. They will initially advertise for a set number of vacancies. Some of these employers will have fixed deadlines; others will keep their applications technically open all year (in case they win more projects) but still expect to recruit the majority of graduates from those candidates who applied before January.

Mairead O’Flynn, graduate construction manager at Laing O’Rourke, landed her job this way: ‘I applied for my current job in September/October while studying, attended an interview in November and an assessment centre in March, and was offered a job in May. Application processes can take a while, so don’t lose heart.’

Search for formal graduate schemes with construction, quantity surveying and engineering employers.

2) Apply for ad hoc vacancies on job sites and firms’ websites

Be aware that individual graduate and entry-level vacancies do exist – particularly as the uncertain economic outlook makes it difficult for companies to predict how many graduates they need. Some employers only recruit for vacancies as they crop up.

Many other candidates won’t think to look for these vacancies, so it’s an opportunity to get ahead of the competition. Graduate structural engineer Alex Howard told us, ‘I got my job by searching jobsites for one-off graduate engineering vacancies. Graduate schemes receive a lot of attention and I applied for as many as I could, but I had far more success applying for individual vacancies. I gained three interviews from only six or seven applications.’

Check this website regularly for new vacancies and sign up for job alerts here. Be sure to check firms’ recruitment sites – smaller firms in particular tend to recruit on a more ad-hoc basis throughout the year.

3) Apply via a recruitment agency

Recruitment agencies will also advertise individual job vacancies as they arise – keep an eye on the websites of specialist construction agencies in particular. These may be a good resource to find regional and local job opportunities, but many large firms will prefer to run their own recruitment processes and will want you to apply directly. Recruitment agencies are free for you to use – beware any charging a fee.

4) Impress construction firms during a work experience placement

Construction work experience placements are highly competitive to secure but are an excellent route into a long-term role with a firm. Large firms, such as BAM Construct UK Ltd, typically run summer vacation placements or year-in-industry placements for those with relevant degrees. If you impress your supervisor and colleagues on your placement, it’s likely that they will offer you a full-time job contract for when you graduate. Quantity surveyor Tom Cawley got his job this way. 

Search for internships and placements in construction, civil engineering and quantity surveying.

If you've already graduated, you may still be able to get work experience with a smaller employer by applying speculatively. It's also worth checking out the organisation step, which arranges internships for graduates. Work experience could lead to a job offer.

Tailor your job applications

When vacancies do come up, don’t just send off your CV and covering letter right away. Spend some time researching the company and the work they do then tailor your application accordingly. Even if you’re growing tired of job hunting, it should never come across as though you’re only applying because it’s one of few jobs you could find – this will only lengthen your job search.