Job descriptions and industry overviews

Graduate site manager and construction manager jobs: how to get one

21 Jun 2023, 15:40

Site management is a job for practically minded professionals, with a can-do attitude and the ability to inspire trust. Find out how you can start your graduate construction management career.

Person on building site carrying hard hat and paperwork

A key responsibility of site managers is to ensure safe working practices. You may be asked during an interview how you would do this.

Guide to graduate construction management careers: Job and internship search | Employers | Working hours | Job role explained | Graduate job role explained | Career progression | Commanding respect | Skills needed | Degree subject needed | Application and interview tips

Construction or site managers control and co-ordinate activities on site to ensure that construction work is completed on time, to the required quality and within budget. A number of construction employers run schemes for graduates as an entry-way into construction management, and it is also possible to apply for summer internships and placement years, too.

Search for construction management graduate jobs and work experience

If looking for graduate or entry-level jobs in construction management, search for variations on ‘graduate construction manager’, ‘assistant site manager’ and ‘trainee site superviser’.

Who are the employers of graduate site managers?

Site managers are typically hired by housebuilders or the principal contractors on a construction project (those organisations that are contracted to do the actual building work once the designs have been finalised by consultant organisations). But there may also be a few vacancies with construction consultants (if they offer a design-and-build service on a project), utilities companies and within the public sector

Most entry-level and graduate-level jobs can be found with contractors and housebuilders. Contractors Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, BAM Construct, Skanska and Wates, and housebuilders Barratt and Redrow, are just a few of the employers that typically run construction management graduate schemes.

What are the typical working hours and working environment of construction managers?

Construction managers, whether graduate or more senior, work on the site under construction, usually from temporary offices and are frequently out on site – no matter what the weather. The working hours are longer than standard office hours: it is not unusual for hours to be 7.30 am to 5.30 pm and perhaps even longer if under a tight deadline or if a problem has delayed work on site. Most construction sites are operational 24/7 and so it is also not unusual for site managers to work shifts, typically overnight or on a four-day-on, four-day-off basis.

They are also expected to commute (or occasionally relocate) to the site. Most companies will operate in a particular location or region, but if it’s a large company that region may be quite large. Different companies will have different policies regarding reimbursing relocation costs; it is wise to expect a potentially long commute.

What does a construction or site manager do day to day?

Construction managers can work on any type of construction project in any sector: from schools, hospitals and airports to bridges, tunnels and roads, depending on their employer’s pipeline of projects. They typically get involved with a project right from day one on site when ground is broken, but if in a senior position could get involved before ground is broken when preparatory surveys and similar are taken. Site managers then carry on until the building is completed, usually handing over to the client or to the team responsible for the structure’s operational life (often facilities managers or property managers).

Site managers schedule and plan work – known as programme management – and direct or supervise operatives to ensure that it is completed. They complete quality control checks to ensure that all on site adhere to high standards of work, legislation and best practice (especially with regards to safety and sustainability). They have to consider logistics, health and safety, environmental concerns, sustainable development, and the impact on close neighbours and the general public. They often have line management responsibilities for their teams, too, so they review their team’s performance and arrange or carry out training if required.

Among others, site managers (and assistant site managers) typically work closely and communicate with:

  • overall project managers and project planners
  • commercial managers and quantity surveyors, who look after project costs
  • site engineers
  • safety, health and environment advisers and environment managers
  • subcontractors and trade operatives
  • local government/planning representatives
  • the project’s design team
  • the client.

What does a graduate site manager or construction manager do?

As a graduate, you will start out by assisting a more experienced construction manager on site and complete a range of tasks such as daily checks on site, maintaining essential paperwork and sending requests for information to partners and subcontractors. As you gain more experience, you will be assigned a particular part of the project (a package) to manage, such as the foundations or mechanical and electrical aspects.

Good employers will want you to gain a professional qualification (an industry-level standard of quality) and this is usually chartership status with the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). You will usually study for this as you complete your graduate training – your salary usually increases upon getting chartered. You will typically also have a range of formal and on-the-job training; topics often include:

  • people and project management
  • procurement
  • project contracts
  • basic financial understanding
  • environmental awareness and sustainability techniques
  • health and safety
  • first aid
  • softer skills such as communication, influencing and client management
  • various construction processes, depending on the site, such as scaffolding, asbestos recognition, working at height and demolition.

How might your graduate construction management career progress?

Many construction managers are generalists. However, over time it is possible to specialise in an aspect of construction (such as mechanical and electrical, structural or sub-structural work) or in projects of a particular financial value (for example, in projects worth between £5m and £25m).

Career progression can be fairly rapid, as initiative is rewarded. As you gain more experience as a graduate, you might become a site manager on a smaller site or an assistant manager on a more complex, larger site. Career progression and job titles after this will vary according to the employer: you can become a superviser or a project manager or you may take the lead on a portfolio of projects. From there, you might choose to specialise in an aspect of construction or take on a more executive and leadership role within the company.

How do you command respect as a graduate construction manager?

One of the things that graduate construction managers often worry about, they tell targetjobs, is managing and directing operatives who have more experience or knowledge than them. However, all say that this gets easier as they gain experience. The advice they give to brand new construction managers is to be honest about what you know and what you don’t know, and to say if you need time to check on the answers to questions.

What skills do you need to become a successful site manager?

Each job advertisement will list its requirements, but in general the following skills, aptitudes and behaviours are sought:

  • communication and influencing skills
  • leadership and teamwork
  • problem-solving
  • a practical, can-do mindset and a pragmatic approach to work
  • attention to detail
  • decisiveness
  • the ability to inspire confidence
  • a genuine interest in construction.

What degree subjects do you need to get a graduate construction management job?

Most construction graduate employers require a BSc in construction management or another construction-related subject.

You could also complete a construction management or construction project management ‘conversion’ course and then apply.

A few employers, such as Wates, will accept you with any degree subject and sponsor you through a relevant conversion course.

What are application and interview processes for graduate construction managers?

Depending on the employer you apply to, you may get a job just through sending in a CV and covering letter or sitting a face-to-face interview. But larger construction employers, particularly those with graduate recruitment teams, may have a longer process, including:

Remember that interviewers and assessors for construction management graduate jobs will be interested in your skills, behaviour and management potential, so in addition to being asked about your reasons for applying and your interest in construction it is likely that you will be asked scenario-based and competency questions. For example:

  • how you would manage conflict
  • how you would build strong relationships with others
  • how you would deal with or confront incidences of unsafe working (safe working practices are a key responsibility of site managers)
  • how you have worked with others to solve a problem.

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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.

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