How to answer Arup graduate interview questions

Motivated individuals who have researched the company, projects and clients always stand out.

The interview is the second and final stage of the Arup graduate recruitment process in the UK. Aman Rai, graduate recruitment adviser at Arup, explains why it carries a lot of weight: ‘We do not use online ability tests, telephone interviews or full-day assessment centres, as other employers do. Although the recruitment process is quicker, you have less of a window of opportunity to sell yourself.’

What do Arup interviewers look for?

Keep in mind the attributes Arup interviewers seek. ‘We hope to find students that are articulate, passionate about their degree subject and have an idea of how they want their career to develop. A lot of students can’t really explain why they chose their degree or what they hope to do with it, which is disappointing,' says Aman. 'We are looking for people who have excellent communication and teamworking skills, are passionate about what they do and are creative in their approach to problem-solving.’

’Motivated individuals who have researched our company, projects and clients always stand out,’ she adds ‘Make sure you complete detailed, appropriate research for the interview stage. Focus on communicating clearly. We have a short and simple application process, so whether you are offered a job or not depends on those 90 minutes that you spend with our assessors.’

What to expect in an Arup graduate interview

The interview process will vary according to the scheme applied for. Previous candidates have reported that they were greeted at reception and introduced to other candidates, before being given a 30-minute tour of the offices by a graduate employee. One buildings engineering candidate stated that, after his tour, he was put into a meeting room and left alone with a design case study to complete within 30 minutes, which was then discussed in an interview lasting roughly an hour.

Indeed, Arup says that it is usual for those applying for technical roles to be given a technical problem to think through before their main interview – or, alternatively, to be asked ‘exam-style’ questions during the interview. In addition, it is likely that you’ll be asked:

  • competency and situational questions
  • questions arising from your CV and application form – including why you are interested in Arup, the role and the business division
  • questions aiming to gauge your understanding of the industry, as well as your knowledge of general industry trends and how they could affect Arup

How to impress during your tour of the office

On the tour you have the opportunity to chat with the graduate employee and ask questions about what it’s like to work at Arup. Be warned, though: they’ll probably give feedback on what they thought of you. Ask questions, but frame them in a positive way. A question such as ‘What do you like best about working here?’ will come across more positively than ‘Do you like it here?’, for example.

How to tackle Arup’s technical problem and exam-style questions

These can change each year and will vary according to the role you are interviewing for. However, the following will give you an idea of what to expect.

The building engineering candidate’s technical problem involved preparing a design proposal for one of a choice of two given structures. The candidate stated that the task involved ‘no numbers at all’ and that interviewers were looking to see how he approached the problem and how well he identified the context surrounding it; for example, if designing a roof for a theatre, recognising that it would have to support heavy lights. He was asked to pitch his design proposal as if to a client or project manager. He said that the follow-up questions were all ‘basic’: ‘They asked specifically about how the structure would carry a load (basic things like tension and compression, not at all complicated), and they were also looking at how I approached the problem and took in the context around it.’

Previous candidates for transport planning roles were asked the following ‘exam-style’ questions in their interview:

  • How would you justify the economic need for building a new railway line between a residential area and a business district?
  • What are the justifications for allowing more trains operators on a franchised line and what are the problems?

Design problems and technical questions are intended to test your problem-solving skills and ability to think laterally. So explain your thinking in your answers. Describe how and why you came to each decision. Take ‘How would you justify the economic need..?’ as an example. Transport planners need to consider social, environmental and economic issues, so tell the interviewers what information you would need in order to make a proper decision.

Don’t worry too much if you are stumped by the exercise: ‘It obviously helps if a candidate gives a correct result in the technical exercise,’ says Aman. ‘However, we are more interested in how they tackle the problem. Even if the candidate doesn’t complete the exercise, the discussion around their responses can give us a good insight into their problem-solving skills.’

How to answer Arup’s competency and CV interview questions

The competency questions will ask you for examples of times when you used a particular skill – and will be based on the skills and qualities Arup seeks (see above). ‘Among other questions, we tend to ask about leadership skills and building client relationships, in order to gauge teamworking abilities,’ says Aman.

Previous candidates report being asked the following questions:

  • Give an example of when you were a leader in a group project.
  • Describe a time when you worked in a group and things did not go the way you wanted. What did you do?
  • Describe a situation when you encountered something new and how you approached it.

While you won’t necessarily be asked these questions, they are useful practice questions for you. Start by drawing up a list of examples of when you have demonstrated the skills Arup seeks. Practise delivering your examples using the STAR approach (explained in this article). In the interview itself, if you are unsure what the interviewer means, ask for clarification.

The question ‘Give an example of when you were a leader in a group project’ automatically calls to mind the projects you’ve done on your course. You don’t have to choose one of these as your answer. Your example could come from any area of your life – perhaps if you supervised a team in a part-time retail job or helped to organise a fundraising project.

Other questions might call upon your skills and technical knowledge: for example, one candidate was reportedly asked ‘Think of a building on your campus that could be more sustainable. What would you do to improve it?'. Here you could bring in your technical knowledge and non-technical skills, for example you could explain how you would outline your plans to the chancellor and consult with the student body.

Know your CV back-to-front in preparation for the interview, including rough dates and length of your experiences, the tasks you completed and what you learned. A past candidate was surprised to be asked about his first placement when he was 17 rather than his more recent placements.

How to answer questions about why you’ve applied to Arup

You can expect to be asked about your reasons for applying to Arup, the business area and the individual vacancy. Previous questions are said to have included:

  • Why did you choose to apply to Arup and why should we hire you?
  • What do you know about Arup?
  • What's your favourite building and why?
  • What do you think about Ove Arup?

Expand on the answers you gave in your application form. This is one of the best places to show off your research. ‘Our directors want to see that a student has thoroughly researched our company and the role or area that they are applying for,’ Aman tells us. She also tells us that, when the team make decisions about job offers, they consider the whole process but put more weight on the interview. Don’t miss your chance of a job offer because of lack of preparation.

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