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Quantity surveying and building surveying
Brooklyn Bridge

A quantity surveying intern speaks: how to get an internship

A student who has completed a placement year in quantity surveying advises you on making successful work experience applications.
Ensure that covering letters are always company-specific.

Tom Cawley was a placement-year quantity surveyor at a global surveying consultancy. He was actually studying building surveying at the University of Ulster, but decided to pursue a quantity surveying (QS) career when he realised that he found the modules that he shared with the QS students particularly interesting. Thanks to his work experience placement, the employer is now sponsoring him through his final year and has agreed to take him on as a graduate. His tips on how to apply for a work placement are well worth a read.

Having construction work experience before a placement year is helpful

Tom had gained work experience at a house-building contractor and he thinks that having directly relevant experience did help. ‘The advice I would give to undergraduates is to try to gain an internship in the summer before your placement year,’ he says. ‘Relevant experience is an added advantage.’ However, if you don’t have any industry-related work experience, it is still worth applying for a placement year. As Tom explains below, your typical student jobs and extracurricular activities impress recruiters too.

Placement application tip 1: discriminate when choosing employers

You may have got the impression that you should apply to every placement position you see – but that’s the wrong approach. You need to make each application sound as if you really want to work for that company and, if you are applying for every vacancy you see, you won’t have the time to do that. Tom deliberately only applied to organisations that he was truly interested in working for, using this website and the RICS website to research companies and draw up a shortlist of recruiters. ‘Ensure that covering letters are always company-specific,’ advises Tom. To do this, give specific reasons for why you want to work at that company in particular and talk about how you have the attributes it seeks in new recruits.

Placement application tip 2: refer to your ‘typical student’ jobs and social life

Your time participating in student societies or doing typical student part-time jobs, such as working in a supermarket, gives you good opportunities to develop skills that would be useful in the construction industry – so do mention them in applications and interviews. For example, Tom’s experience of working in a part-time job at a supermarket would have showed the interviewer that he was used to working in busy environments and creating good relationships with customers/clients – both useful skills for the would-be quantity surveyor. ‘Working at the supermarket was also something my interviewer could relate to because he’d worked at a supermarket during university too,’ says Tom.

Placement application tip 3: explain what your positions of responsibility actually involve

'I also mentioned in my applications and interviews that I was a class representative,’ said Tom. ‘I explained that I would volunteer my time to help other classmates and convey concerns or issues raised at committee meetings.’ By explaining what the role involved, Tom showed the recruiters that he could take on responsibility and communicate diplomatically. These are important attributes that recruiters may have been unaware of if he hadn’t given some detail.

Placement application tip 4: be interested in the company, career and industry

'The whole recruitment process is a lot easier if you have a natural, genuine interest in working for the company you have applied for,’ says Tom. ‘I’d first become aware of my employer when I’d visited New York and saw a project on Brooklyn Bridge Park that it had provided cost management services for (there was a sign with its logo). The company and the scale of the project stuck with me, and I was pleased to discover they had an office in North Lincolnshire where I was based.’ You can expect to be asked about what you know about the company, your reasons for joining the profession and about events in the industry. ‘Research the company, its projects and areas of expertise and keep up to speed with construction-related news and developments,’ advises Tom.

Was the quantity surveying placement worth it?

Yes. ‘After my placement, I would recommend a career as a QS. Those that work in the field are really making a difference to the built environment,’ Tom says. ‘Though I had an idea of what the work would consist of, I wasn’t expecting it to be so varied and complex. Learning so much about the profession that simply could not be taught in a classroom was incredibly stimulating.’

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