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How to get a graduate job at Laing O’Rourke: six performance-boosting tips

It’s better to have a one-page CV full of relevant information than to have two pages stuffed with irrelevant filler.

Laing O’Rourke is certainly active in the graduate recruitment market this year: the firm has around 80–100 graduate vacancies and 50–60 placements – and this doesn’t count the international internship that they are offering as a prize for wrinning the TARGETjobs Construction, Engineering and Design Undergraduate of the Year Award.

The key stages of the graduate recruitment process include:

  • an application form, which includes submitting a CV and answering application questions around why Laing O’Rourke and why the job role
  • a telephone interview, conducted, unusually, by managers within the business instead of HR
  • a half-day assessment day, which typically includes you being given scenarios based on projects to work on in groups and a written exercise.

According to Alexandra Walton, early talent attraction and selection manager at Laing O'Rourke, the purpose of the recruitment process is not to scare you, but to see whether you are the best fit for the company and whether the company is right for you: this is why the telephone interview is conducted by managers within the business and the assessment day is designed to convey a sense of the culture and projects. It gives you the chance to get to know the company and the people.

After talking to Alexandra, we’ve identified six actions you can take to boost your performance during the recruitment process.

1. Apply as early in the academic year as you can

‘Apply as early as you can, as we do close once we have sufficient numbers of quality applications,’ says Alexandra. Candidates are taken through to the next stage on a first-come-first-served basis as quality applications are received.

2. Show that you understand the business

‘One of the things we are looking for is that you have a good understanding of the business,’ says Alexandra.

To gain an understanding of the business, you obviously need to complete some basic research into the company. For example, you need to know that Laing O’Rourke is a contractor and know how that will shape the day-to-day role of graduates within the company: civil engineers, for example, are likely to work more on site than they would at consultant organisations. You also need to research the sectors it works on, some of its separate businesses and some of the projects it has recently taken on. You need to have read its annual report.

However, to take your understanding one step further, you need to understand what differentiates Laing O’Rourke. Compare the organisation to its competitors: what does it offer in terms of its design–manufacture–construct approach and its emphasis on digital engineering, for example?

‘There are two reasons, I believe, why Laing O’Rourke is different from our competitors,’ Alexandra says. ‘One is that we are structured differently: we are still a privately owned business and we don’t subcontract work, so we have our own supply chain. It also means that we have tradespeople who have worked at Laing O’Rourke for a long time, which leads to an environment on site where knowledge is shared. The second is the sheer scale of the projects we work on.’

How do you show your understanding throughout the recruitment process?

  • If there is something from your research that resonates with you – for example, its emphasis on digital engineering/BIM or the scale of projects – say so in your application.
  • For interview, use your research to back up your answers to questions about why you want to work for Laing O’Rourke, why you would be successful in the role and how you could reach your career goals with Laing O’Rourke.
  • Use your research to form detailed questions to ask your telephone interviewer about the role. ‘Our interviewers are managers in the business who know the ins and outs of the role, so do take the opportunity to ask them detailed questions,’ says Alexandra.
  • The assessment centre will usually involve you being given project-based scenarios. If appropriate, use your research on how the company operates to inform your decisions.

3. Show that you have realistic expectations

‘I always tell graduates that they will never have so many people who are as invested in their career as they will on the graduate scheme,’ says Alexandra. ‘We are looking for candidates who have a realistic understanding of what they will be doing as a graduate and how their career will progress, so that we can help them make the most of it.’

What is realistic? Well, it is hugely unlikely, for example, that as a construction manager or a civil engineer you will be managing a large project at the end of your graduate scheme, but it is probable that you may be managing part of a large package. You also need to know how soon you will gain your professional qualification and what comes with qualifying in terms of career opportunities.

It’s key that you give the impression that you are willing to learn – in fact, you would be doing this if one of your reasons for applying to Laing O’Rourke is the opportunity to learn from the company.

Where can Laing O’Rourke gauge your expectations of the role? ‘It becomes quite apparent from the questions we ask in the telephone interview and how they are answered,’ says Alexandra.

4. Cut the filler from your CV

‘I’d advise you to be succinct on your CV,’ says Alexandra. ‘It’s better to have a one-page CV full of relevant information than to have two pages stuffed with irrelevant filler.’

‘Filler’ in this context can be anything that doesn’t directly highlight that you have the experience, knowledge and skills that would make you a good Laing O’Rourke recruit.

How important is industry work experience? ‘If you have industry work experience, this will work in your favour – purely because you will truly understand the reality of working in the industry,’ says Alexandra. ‘However, you don’t have had to have had numerous or long-term placements – even a week can make the difference.’

5. On the assessment day, communicate and help make decisions

The exercises at the assessment day are designed to test your ability to work under pressure, your initiative and problem-solving skills, your teamwork and your communication. When you are given the project scenarios or the written exercise, don’t be thrown if you are given no specific guidance on how to approach the tasks. The assessors are interested in how you make decisions as a group; there are no right or wrong answers. For example, how do you agree on the best course of action to take? Do you each champion a course of action and then vote? What use of the resources – the task ‘brief’, flipcharts and pens – do you make?

There is very little you can do to specifically prepare for the project exercises, but what you can do is to:

  • read up on the company’s strategy and its priorities: sustainability, commercial constraints and client needs.
  • analyse how you have worked in groups in the past and consider what worked well and how you could improve.
  • if you can, go to a mock group exercise or assessment centre run by your careers service (or our commercial partners at Job Test Prep also offer practice opportunities) to familiarise yourself with the process.

Don’t forget, too, that you can demonstrate your communication skills by talking respectfully and appropriately with the assessors. ‘Our managers are extremely knowledgeable, so do ask them questions. Everyone likes to share their knowledge and experience.’

6. Don’t compete: emphasise your teamwork at the assessment centre

‘You need teamwork in order to come to successful conclusions in the group exercises,’ says Alexandra. ‘Don’t try to compete with anyone because you are not in competition; if we have sufficient places, we will offer places to everyone on the day. The candidates who work with others – and show passion and a genuine interest in working with us – always impress.’

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.
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