Internships and placements

Construction, civil engineering and QS interns: how to impress

21 Jun 2023, 15:37

Making a great impression on a summer internship or industrial placement year can lead to a constriction graduate job offer. We reveal how to be a good intern – better than good even – from your first day to your final hour.

Two interns discussing over architectural plans with a laptop and printer in the background on a construction site.

Ask questions about the project and how the tasks you are doing contribute to the overall project aims.

It’s obvious that you should do everything you can to make a good impression on your construction, quantity surveying or civil engineering internship. After all, one placement can lead to a job offer after graduation and funding for your remaining time at university. Some students also get offered a part-time job at the company throughout their final year. Even if you decide not to work for that employer after graduating, a good reference will still enhance your other job applications.

Not got a construction-related internship lined up yet? Search for construction, engineering and quantity surveying internships here.

But, once do you have one, how do you stand out among all of the other placement students? Follow our internship advice for students. These tips will stand you in good stead from your very first day on the job.

Stand out on your internship: be clear on what you have to do

You are likely to be asked to take on considerable responsibility, particularly if you are on a year placement. On site you may be given your own small ‘package’ (part of a project, eg the foundations) to manage under supervision, or responsibilities such as checking that work teams comply with health and safety. A placement in an office role is likely to include responsibility for an aspect of a project under supervision – for example, working on costings for a particular feature, or measuring plans against sustainability benchmarks.

Tom Cawley gained a placement year with a consultancy as a quantity surveyor. When he first arrived he was introduced to the systems and technology and was on probation for the first six weeks. ‘From the start of my placement I worked with other QSs in the office on the initial stages of a multi-million pound refurbishment of a London college,’ recalls Tom. ‘I assisted with the procurement schedule for potential tenderers [contractors who would bid to work on the project] at the beginning to pricing the revised drawings throughout the final construction phase.’

  • Make sure that you fully understand what you are responsible for. Ask questions and ensure you get a brief. Your work experience employer won’t expect you to know everything at this stage, and they’d much rather you clarified any questions than guessed wrongly. Try not to ask the exact same question over and over, though. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions,’ one construction recruiter tells targetjobs, ‘but make sure you listen to the answers!’
  • If you’re invited to team or client meetings, clarify beforehand whether you should contribute or if you should quietly observe.

Stand out on your internship: be enthusiastic

The key to impressing is to demonstrate a good attitude. ‘Get stuck into whatever challenges are thrown at you,’ our recruiter advises. ‘Treat everything – even the most mundane tasks – as a learning opportunity.’

  • Even if you are given something to do that you find dull – such as checking site paperwork is completed correctly – do it conscientiously and avoid giving any impression that you are bored. No checking social media during work time, for example.
  • If you’ve finished one job, find out what else needs to be done and volunteer your services.
  • Show interest in the project and the industry. Ask questions about the project, how the tasks you are doing contribute to the overall project aims, about other projects that your colleagues have worked on and so on. Just choose your moments – don’t ask when they are really busy!
  • Show that you are keeping up with industry news. Tom, who was offered sponsorship and a graduate job at the end of his placement year, says, 'It is helpful to feel part of the industry when you're about to enter. Do this by keeping up to date with your professional membership and the industry press.'

Stand out on your internship: pay attention to details – especially health and safety

Good construction professionals know how vital it is to get details right: if the technicalities are wrong, the structure won’t function. If the work and employees don’t comply with regulations and legislation, there could be some serious consequences for public safety, as well as legally and financially.

  • If you work on site, pay particular attention to the health and safety briefings and follow the instructions. One of your tasks might be to ensure that all of the subcontractors in your team are adhering to health and safety regulations, so you’ll need to know your stuff.
  • Thoroughly check your work before giving it to your superviser – and have guidance and briefings to hand to double check things.

Stand out on your internship: be seen to steer your career

All construction employers are impressed when they observe you using your own initiative to further your construction job prospects and to increase your industry knowledge. Plus, taking active steps will actually make your job hunt easier in the final year if you do decide to pursue an opportunity with a different company.

  • Whether you are working for a contractor or a consultant – on site or in an office – try to find out as much as you can about work ‘on the other side’. If you are working on site, ask your contacts in the office about their roles. If you’re working in an office, ask whether there’s an opportunity for a site visit to see your project in action. Working for a consultancy in an office, Tom didn’t see the construction work being carried out. But in the final week of his placement he visited the college with the project manager who gave him a tour of the completed building. ‘Walking through rooms I have assisted in pricing gave me a great feeling of accomplishment,’ he says.
  • Take an interest in what other professionals do on site or in your office. Charlotte Jeffrey, a mechanical engineer at AECOM, tells us that at university she was pretty certain she wanted to go down the mechanical route, but sought out a placement in sustainability engineering. ‘The placement was very useful for finding out what lots of different engineers did,’ she sayd. ‘Just being in the office helped me to understand the work in practice.’
  • Keep a log of everything you do and the skills you develop. You can show it to your work experience employers to illustrate how far you’ve progressed, and it’s a good way of recording what you’ve learned for future job applications. ‘Think about the transferable skills you’ve learned and how your experiences have changed your approaches to tasks and other people,’ suggests our recruiter. ‘Self-awareness is a good skill to learn early.’ Find out how to write up your work experience on your construction, quantity surveying or engineering graduate CV.
  • Don’t be afraid, too, to ask about other opportunities with the company, even if you are not offered sponsorship. If you’re doing a shorter period of work experience and want to build your knowledge or to find out more about a different role, for example, you could ask if you could shadow an appropriate professional for a day after your internship ends.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.