Top networking tips for student civil engineers, quantity surveyors and construction managers

Networking can make your search for graduate jobs and internships easier – it’s a skill that construction professionals use all the time.

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Networking tips and tricks: Be confident | Vital research | Build a network | Networking at virtual events | Online networking | Maintaining relationships

TARGETjobs frequently asks graduates working in the construction industry about how they started their careers and ‘via networking’ is the increasingly common answer. Others say they wish they’d networked more while at university. Here are a few stories of successful networking:

  • Ashley Dunsmore, a quantity surveyor at Kier Group, used LinkedIn to contact professionals and through that got invited to conferences, internships and a graduate job offer (see below for her tips).
  • Tori Shepherd is now an assistant technical coordinator at Hill Partnerships: ‘I got both my work experience places through talking to people,’ she says. ‘My first placement was with Ross Thain & Co. Ltd, a small architectural practice. It just so happened that I went to buy a dog from Ross and I got chatting to him about my course. He said that I should email him if I wanted any work experience. I did and he offered me two weeks. After this, I bumped into a family friend who told me that she worked for Kier and kindly gave me the contact details for the head of design. I emailed him and we had a phone conversation to work out whether the placement was suitable.’ This week’s work experience turned into a summer internship, which turned into a graduate job.
  • One graduate said that it’d boosted her job chances when her CV had been recommended to the graduate recruitment team by one of the managers who worked there.

A networking tip for before you start: be confident in what you have to offer

Networking isn’t about using someone as a way into a job – it’s about creating an ongoing relationship with people as you go through your career. You will want to start networking not by asking people directly whether they know of any vacancies, but by asking them for careers advice or their opinion on the industry.

Be confident when asking. You might feel that you haven’t much to offer your contacts now, but in time you will have. Remember, too, that people tend to be flattered when their advice is sought and when interest is taken in them as a person.

A networking tip for before contacting professionals for the first time

Before approaching a professional, learn what you can about the work they do and who they work for. Also read widely about relevant developments and current news topics affecting the news industry. Doing this will allow you to speak or write to contacts about appropriate topics and give you ideas for thought-provoking questions, ensuring that you remain memorable.

Note: don’t come across as a stalker. Keep your research to what is available on their LinkedIn profile, their employer’s website or their contributions to any industry publications. Stay away from the personal!

How to create a network when you don’t think you have one

’I haven’t got a network – I haven’t got family in the industry or work experience’ is something TARGETjobs often hears from students. But you actually do have the makings of one. Your network can be found through:

  • your lecturers: many of them were (or still are) working in the industry and many keep in contact with former students. They might be able to give you advice themselves or put you in touch with someone working in the speciality that interests you or at the company you want to work for.
  • the careers adviser/placement officers for your faculty: again, they should be in touch with recruiters throughout the year and may have stayed in contact with former graduates and placement students. They should also have access to your university’s alumni database.
  • your professional body: if you’ve joined a professional institution as a student (and it’s a really good idea to do so), you’ve got a lot of opportunities to network. Join discussions on LinkedIn and other social networks to connect with industry professionals. If your institution runs a group for students and recent graduates, join it and get involved with their activities. For example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors facilitates RICS Matrics, a formal group for students and surveyors with fewer than ten years’ experience.
  • visiting professors and speakers from industry (even if they have delivered lectures virtually): there is nothing to stop you emailing them or messaging them on LinkedIn afterwards to thank them for their talk and to ask them further questions about it. This could be the start of an ongoing conversation and relationship.

Of course, if you have done work experience in the industry, keep in contact with your line manager and any colleagues you get on well with. And if you don’t have any relatives or family friends in the industry, it’s still worth chatting to them about your job hopes. You never know whom they might know.

How to network with construction professionals and recruiters at virtual events

The good news is that a number of networking and careers events are still going ahead in the wake of coronavirus. They haven’t been cancelled – they have just moved on to virtual platforms So, you will still have opportunities to network with professionals and/or graduate recruiters at:

  • virtual careers fairs
  • virtual recruitment and networking events arranged by your university
  • other career events, such as the now virtual TARGETjobs Future Female Engineers event
  • virtual talks and networking events arranged by your professional body
  • when attending any site visits arranged by your university (when this becomes possible)

Before you ‘attend’ an event, see if you can gain an attendees’ list so that you can do some research.

Tips and tricks for effective networking include...

Keep your introduction simple. If you are talking into a camera, act as you would in person: maintain eye contact, smile and say something like ‘Hello, I’m Jane Smith and in my penultimate year of a civil engineering degree at Smith University.’ If you will be typing into a message box, have your similar introduction ready so that you can copy and paste it across.

If you are an introvert or not good with lots of screen time focus on one person at a time and try to give yourself breaks from the screen..

Be ready to save and log contact details – but only if they are offered. The event organiser may ask permission to share people’s contact details, but it’s likely that not everyone will be comfortable with this, so it is best approaching this on a one-to-one basis.

Follow up with an email or LinkedIn communication, if you have contact details. Quite promptly afterwards – the following day is best – get in contact with the professionals you meet to say how much you enjoyed meeting them, to ask for further advice or to continue the conversation, or to gently remind them if they had promised to send information to you or similar.

Have good opening topics of conversation. These will partly be decided by your research but, depending on the context and the nature of the event, non-contentious opening questions include:

  • How has your day been?
  • What does your role involve?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • Which project have you enjoyed working on the most?
  • Do you enjoy your work?
  • What do you think is the biggest challenge or opportunity for the industry at the moment?

How to network via LinkedIn

When TARGETjobs’ sister publication, the UK 300 2020/21 surveyed students interested in construction, civil engineering and surveying careers, it found that a massive 81% of students used LinkedIn for careers purposes – but are they (and you) using it effectively?

LinkedIn is essentially both an online forum of CVs and a way to contact recruiters and professionals. The first step is to create a compelling personal profile.

The second step is to connect with industry professionals and recruiters and to join discussions by professional institutions.

‘To get my work experience placements, I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn,’ says Ashley Dunsmore, a quantity surveyor at Kier. ‘I searched for “surveyors”, “commercial directors”, “construction in Dundee and Glasgow” and for anyone connected with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Then I would message them to ask for their advice and whether they knew of anybody offering work experience. ‘ It was successful: ‘Muirfield Contracts actually contacted me to ask if I was interested in a placement. The Muirfield recruiter had asked one of my contacts whether they could recommend a placement student and they’d put my name forward,’ she recalls.

If you are sending a connecting message, don’t use the standard one. Write a short, personal one. For example, if you are connecting with a graduate employee who is an alumnus of your university, you could introduce yourself, say that they have followed the career path that you are interested in and ask if you could catch up with them about how they are finding it.

Gain more advice on how to use LinkedIn to network and build your brand.

A networking tip: how to create an ongoing relationship

Keep in regular contact: remember, it’s an ongoing relationship so drop them a line periodically to say hello, update them on what you’re doing and to ask about what they are up to. Make sure you get the amount of contact right: you might want to send a catch-up email every few months.

Oh, and don’t forget to say thank you! Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

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