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How I became a graduate engineer at AECOM

Holly took the time to personalise her graduate job applications and was impressed that AECOM's interviewers took the time to get to know her too.
Holly Brown
Job title: 
Graduate civil engineer in AECOM's water resources and infrastructure team.

2014–2018 Studied for, and graduated with, an MEng in civil engineering from Newcastle University.
2015 Completed a week of on-site work experience at a construction company.
2017 Undertook a project management and project engineer summer placement at a water company.
2018 Completed a two-week joint partnership with industry as part of degree; joined AECOM's water resources and infrastructure team.

The interview was about the kind of person I am and how I would fit in the team, rather than being based around lots of technical tests.

The modules and projects I had chosen at university led me to specialise in water engineering, but it was only during my summer placement with a water company that I started to think about it as a career option. I worked on a tunnelling project and, before that point, I didn't realise how exciting and technically challenging the sector was, and how many projects there were. People often aren't aware of how vital the projects are and the amount of technical work they involve.

Getting ready to apply

When looking to apply for jobs, I went to an engineering-specific careers fair and used websites and careers publications to get a feel for different employers. We had a good careers service, with strong links to employers, and we had an industry liaison officer who was particularly helpful. She checked my CV and gave me tips on how to put my work experience in the best light, such as ensuring that I included keywords and started each bullet point with action words. This is the kind of thing that improves a CV but you don't always think about, so I would advise you make the most of your careers service.

During the application process, rather than submitting lots of applications quickly, I only applied to four or five companies and spent time developing and tailoring each one. I think writing specific responses showed recruiters that I had researched the company and genuinely wanted to work for them.

I liked the sound of AECOM when I applied but its interview process made me really want to work there: it was a lot more personal than at other places. It involved a one-to-one interview rather than an assessment centre with lots of technical tests, which can be daunting. The interview was more about the kind of person I am and how I would fit in the team. My interviewer was also keen to explain the development opportunities to me, so it felt like they were genuinely interested in me.

Working against the tide

Since starting at AECOM, I've worked on the Thames Tideway project, which is the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the UK water industry. I design surface water drainage systems, using different software packages to make calculations.

I work in a large team of different engineering disciplines (for example, structural, mechanical and architectural) and also with professionals at different companies. AECOM has over 100 people working on the project, but my core team is made up of around ten. One valuable lesson I've learned is to coordinate my designs with the work of others. I found early on that you can't design in isolation; you have to be careful that your work doesn't negatively affect that of other professionals.

I find it satisfying to work really hard on something that has been challenging, to finally submit it to my managers and the client, and to look back and realise it has made a difference. I like that I have the opportunity to complete my own work, but I have the right amount of support when required.

Sharing knowledge

I'm on a two-year graduate development programme outside of my day-to-day work, which largely consists of residential training programmes. These expose you to topics that you would usually encounter later on in your career, so they are really useful for future development. I've attended courses on project management, project delivery and negotiation, for example. Alongside this, I am being supported to gain my professional qualification with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

At AECOM we have a number of knowledge-sharing programmes, too: each month a different team will run a workshop on the projects they're working on and set us a task so that we can gain exposure to different types of work. We can also attend workshops run by suppliers and it's been really useful to learn about different equipment and materials because that knowledge informs my designs.

Throwing darts... and axes

One of the best things about the graduate programme has been meeting graduates working in other offices, with whom you might not come into contact day to day. In my office, too, there's a large number of other graduates, which is great for socialising. Everyone's friendly and there is a sports and social club that organises all sorts of events: everything from going to the pub to axe throwing. I went to a darts evening two weeks ago.

First week nerves are normal

I relocated for the role. I had a few problems with my tenancy dates, so AECOM adjusted my start dates to make things easier. If you do feel stressed during your first few weeks in the workplace, know that most graduates do. Things do get easier and probably in less time than you'd think. I remember that I was quite panicked early on because I felt that I didn't know anything. However, it only took a short period of working with colleagues and clients to pick things up.

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