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How my internships and extracurriculars got me a Balfour Beatty graduate job

Through gaining internships and acting as a course rep, graduate civil engineer Sabina learned to speak up and shake off her innate shyness: something that has been vital to having a successful career at Balfour Beatty.
Employers see so many CVs that you have to do something to make yours stand out.

Coming originally from Malawi, which has an under-developed transport system, I’ve always been interested in how highways and infrastructure can boost an economy. I thought that if I had a career in civil engineering I might be able to give something back to Malawi. At university I made up my mind to do as much as I could; my parents had done a lot to get me there. I held down five jobs and voluntary posts and went to China for three weeks on a study programme.

Finding my voice

My extracurricular activities did help me with my internship and job search; they brought out in me skills that I was lacking. I am naturally very shy, but that changed when I became a student and faculty representative. I stood for elections and soon I was discussing issues with the dean and the registrar. As a STEM ambassador, I went into schools and into parents’ evenings to promote civil engineering careers.

All of this developed the confidence to fit in anywhere and talk to anyone. One thing I was scared about was speaking in English, as it is my fourth language, but I soon realised that I wasn’t the only international student for whom English isn’t their first language. I found my voice and discovered the confidence to speak up and to be myself in interviews.

Informative internships

I knew internships would improve my CV. For my first internship, I wanted something near to my new hometown of Leicester and worked on soil samples as a technician. After this, I wanted to do an internship in highways and transport more than ever. I had completed an optional module in the specialism and I’d received good marks, so I needed to see if highways really was the sector for me. It was.

The best graduate CV tip I was given

The best application tip I’ve had was from a friend who has gone on to be a successful engineer. She said that employers see so many CVs that you have to do something to make yours stand out, such as using graphics or pie charts. I used an image of a design that I’d won a prize for and I made my CV border green to indicate my interest in sustainability. I kept my CV to one page and made it very clear what I had achieved and when. I also highlighted my skills in bold to make them stand out.

A caring, mentoring graduate scheme

My highways internship had been in a design office, so I wanted to use my graduate job to find out about working on site. Balfour Beatty’s recruitment process was smooth – they even contacted me to make sure I had the information required before the interview. I gained the strong impression that they took a lot of care of their graduates and I was right. I have an official mentor (the managing director of the south region), but I also have an unofficial mentor, a contracts manager, with whom I meet once a week. I didn’t approach him; he offered, which was lovely.

The day to day job as a site engineer at Balfour Beatty

Day to day, I am mostly on site, making sure the workforce is informed about activities, checking that the work is done correctly and on time, and resolving any issues. I also spend time in the site office completing paperwork.

The best thing about my role is the relaxed, fun environment on site: it is much louder than in a design office and there is a lot of laughter. However, that atmosphere was the most challenging aspect when I first joined; I was only the girl, and the only graduate, on the project and I worried that I wouldn’t fit in. For a month, I was quiet and then I realised there was no reason to be intimidated. My advice to others going on site is: don’t be shy. The less you say, the harder it will be to learn.

Proud moments

I have a supportive line manager, who nominated me for the European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards. When I reached the final, I realised that I was the only graduate there; all of the others were at least two or three years ahead of me. I came away feeling very proud of myself. I thought: ‘If I can reach this stage as a graduate, I should be able to do better in the future. I’d better keep cracking on’.

But actually this isn’t what I am most proud of: it’s being involved with the Balfour Beatty Academy, our graduate development training programme. I had noticed that there wasn’t as much information about professional development on the website as there could be. I mentioned this to senior management and I was put on the Institution of Civil Engineers steering group where I created the webpages and wrote the information to go on them.

Future career plans

I am working towards my professional qualification and my immediate priority is acquiring the competencies needed to pass. For example, I will probably move into a design role soon. In the longer term, I would like to work on a project in Malawi. Balfour Beatty has worked in Rwanda, so maybe the company will be able to help me achieve that ambition too!

A picture of Sabina Tayub, a graduate civil engineer at Balfour Beatty
Sabina Tayub
Job title: 
Graduate civil engineer

2012–2016 Studied for, and graduated with, an MEng in civil engineering from Coventry University.

2013–2016 Acted as first senior course representative and then deputy faculty chair at Coventry University.

2014–2016 Worked as an unpaid research assistant at Carnell to aid dissertation work; volunteered as a STEM ambassador, promoting civil engineering, at a local community college.

2014 Completed a summer internship at Nicholls Colton Group Ltd.

2015 Completed a summer internship at JMP Consultants Ltd (part of the SYSTRA Group); in September also spent two weeks as a teaching volunteer in Malawi; won IAT West Midlands Golden Branch Award for dissertation.

2016 Joined Balfour Beatty.

2018 Was a finalist in the ‘best young women in construction’ category at the European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards.

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