My Mott MacDonald career from graduate to chartered engineer

Chartered tunnel engineer Emma reflects on her graduate career at Mott MacDonald and gives you her insider tips on impressing at a job interview.
As an interviewer, I'd be impressed if you returned to an earlier question to add extra detail or to clarify a point.

I chose engineering because I did well in maths and science at A level and I really enjoyed them. I also considered engineering as a profession because of my interest in Formula 1, but I didn’t know what type of engineering I wanted to do after graduating. During my degree I excelled in the civil and structural aspects and they were the areas I came to focus on. Seeing big projects going up and how they affect people’s lives interested me – I wanted to be part of these projects so in a few years’ time I could say ‘I was involved in that’.

We had engineering and science careers fairs at university. Not having any family or friends in engineering, I completed my own research into the profession and I found the fairs really useful. I could speak to people from different companies about their experiences, which is helpful when you’re still trying to figure out where you want to be.

Getting a graduate job in engineering is not all about intellect

I think the combination of my academic achievements and my other experiences while at university made me stand out in my application. I won scholarships from my college in my first year because my exam results were in the top ten of the year. I was involved in quite a few different activities and sports teams as well, which I think was a good indication that I could work well in a team. I’d also done some volunteering at schools in Oxford to help students who were struggling with their maths GCSEs.

To get a job in civil engineering you need to have strong communication skills and a good awareness of what’s going on in the world around you. Construction is affected by politics and the economy as they can influence whether engineering projects go ahead, so candidates need to keep up to date with what’s happening. You’ve also got to be confident in the experience that you’ve got, even if it’s not with a top engineering design firm; I did have a summer at the Highways Agency, but I’d also worked in a café and a shop. All work experience is valid and helps you develop useful skills, such as communication and teamwork.

My job at Mott MacDonald

I’m now a chartered civil engineer within the tunnels team. Before joining Mott MacDonald I hadn’t been involved in tunnelling, but since I’ve been here I’ve found that it’s given me lots of experiences because it crosses a variety of sectors and projects. I’ve been on secondment with National Grid to gain on-site experience. I’ve also worked on a number of high-profile projects including Crossrail and High Speed 2.

A highlight was my first time on site. I went on a tunnel boring machine. Being down the bottom of a 30m shaft was quite surreal. You’re used to being up in a building looking down on the ground, not down in a hole looking up to the ground!

I’m currently office based, working on one of the new stations for the Northern line extension. The station is actually about 15 minutes up the road from where I’m living so it’s really exciting to see it happening. I’m involved in coordinating all the different design disciplines to bring it all together. It can be challenging managing different teams, but I find it one of the most interesting bits of the job. I came into the role expecting to focus on the technical side of things – the drawings, the calculations – but what I found was that there was a lot more to a project, such as the commercial aspects and programme (schedule) management. The training I received from the company was very helpful: there was a mix of formal sessions and on-the-job learning. I found this was the best way to learn.

Becoming chartered

While gaining my professional qualification (chartership), I had a delegated engineer and a senior civil engineer to support me. I qualified a year ago and it was a real achievement (and a bit of a relief, to be honest). The run-up to finishing is quite busy: you have got reports to write, submissions to get in and a presentation to prepare for your final interview. It’s actually a good time to take stock and to see what you’ve accomplished in the last few years. Then to have two experienced engineers say that they think you’re of a worthy standard is really encouraging.

Advice from an interviewer

Since becoming chartered, I’ve been involved in the graduate recruitment process and have sat on interview panels. In my experience, everyone’s a bit nervous coming into an interview. My advice is: if you don’t get a point across in an answer or you think of something else you’d like to say, don’t be afraid to revisit that question later on. As an interviewer, I’d be impressed if someone wanted to come back to a question they were asked previously to add an extra detail or clarify a point.

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