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How I got a place on the AECOM graduate programme: a career profile

Graduate mechanical engineer Charlotte Jeffrey shares her advice on asking the right questions at careers event, getting a mentor while at university and tackling interview nerves.
I had seven or eight interviews with different employers. Some were quite offputting, but AECOM’s felt like they were interested in me as a person.

My degree focused on the mechanical, electrical and public health systems required in building structures. The mechanical aspects always made more sense to me and I was pretty certain that I would go into a mechanical role when I graduated. However, I sought a summer placement in sustainability engineering at AECOM because I wanted to find out what the role involved, in order to confirm my career choice. The placement was very useful for finding out what lots of different engineers did; just being in the office helped me to understand the work in practice.

Accessing on-campus career support

While at university, I attended careers fairs. We students were always advised by lecturers to think of good questions to ask the employer representatives, but at the beginning I didn’t know where to start or what to ask. This got easier the more fairs I went to. I would advise staying away from asking ‘What do you do?’ – the answer for AECOM is ‘We do everything’, which isn’t necessarily helpful when trying to work out if a company is for you. Instead, aim to discover something not available on the companies’ websites, such as what graduates really do day to day or what they enjoy the most.

Looking back, I didn’t seek much advice from my careers service – my parents reviewed my CV – but in my third year I did gain a mentor through a university-run scheme. I applied on the scheme’s webpage and was matched with an engineer at AECOM, who encouraged me to apply for a placement with the company and gave me interview tips to help me prepare.

Choosing a graduate employer

Some of the engineering firms’ graduate recruitment processes are so lengthy that you have to limit the number you apply to in your final year. I used a number of careers publications, including The Guardian UK 300, to decide which employers to apply to. I also watched a lot of the companies’ recruitment videos on YouTube to see how they presented themselves. Location was one factor I investigated: in the built environment, there aren’t always jobs available in all of a company’s offices because it will depend on the projects being worked on.

Banishing graduate interview nerves

You can’t really tell what an employer is like until you get to interview. I ended up having seven or eight with different employers. Some of the interviews were very focused on technical tests and were quite offputting, but AECOM’s felt like they were more interested in me as a person.

What helped my interview nerves the most was lots of practice. My boyfriend took me through multiple mock-interviews, using typical graduate interview questions as a basis. It also helped to take notes when filling in my applications that I could read through before my interviews.

Being supported on the job at AECOM

My role is to design the heating, cooling and ventilation systems for buildings. I’ve worked on several projects since I joined, including residential projects and a hospital.

Depending on the stage of the project, I may be working on designs or writing specifications. The team you work with changes depending on project needs, but I typically work alongside electrical, public health, sustainability and fire engineers. In this way, I’ve learned a lot about the systems surrounding mine. This is important because you might come up with a solution that works for your system but it won’t be any good unless it works with the others.

What I appreciate most about AECOM is that you are given the time and space to learn. They have training programmes as part of the graduate development programme and this is supplemented by learning on the job. I attend a number of project-specific learning meetings and I can always ask for extra training or information. When answering my questions my senior colleagues explain not only how to do something but why. As a graduate, I feel trusted to get on with my work and to ask for help when needed.

When I first started, I felt nervous about talking to suppliers and similar stakeholders on the phone; I was concerned that I wouldn’t know the answer if they asked me a question. I also felt pressured that they would expect an answer straightaway. With practice, however, the nerves went away. As I gained more experience, I found that I knew more and more of the answers and I also learned that it was acceptable to say ‘I’ll get back to you about that’. I’m glad that my manager encouraged me to take calls rather than to avoid them!

Gaining satisfaction from problem solving

I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my roles and the ability to make decisions about a design; if I had gone into a role based on a construction site, I would have seen construction taking place but I wouldn’t have so much initial input into choosing which systems are more suitable.

It is satisfying when you are working on a difficult project and you have the feeling that nothing is going to work out but, as a team, you keep going until you find the right solution.

A picture of a graduate mechanical engineer at AECOM
Charlotte Jeffrey
Job title: 
Graduate mechanical engineer in AECOM’s building services team

2012–2017 Studied for, and graduated with, an MEng in architectural engineering at Heriot-Watt University.
2014 Gained a week of site experience via Constructionarium.
2015 Completed a summer placement with AECOM’s sustainable development of building and places team.
2016 Completed a joint university and industry research project placement with UK Water Industry Research.
2017 Joined AECOM as a mechanical engineering graduate.

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