To be honest, I think it has always come across in job interviews that I’m prepared to work hard. My first job was as a ‘Saturday girl’ in a hairdressers when I was 14 and I’ve worked ever since. My experiences gave me good examples to talk about when asked scenario questions in interviews. In my quantity surveying interviews, I found talking about being a swimming teacher especially helpful because the work involved risk assessments and health and safety considerations, which are both key concerns in the construction industry.
‘Pester’ power: networking as a student
To get my work experience placements, I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn. I searched for ‘surveyors’, ‘commercial directors’, ‘construction in Dundee and Glasgow’ and for anyone connected with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Then I would message them to ask for their advice and whether they knew of anybody offering work experience. I contacted a lot of people and I wondered if I came across as a pest, but no one minded. Everyone was very helpful and, if they couldn’t assist me, they put me in touch with someone who could. Using this approach, I got a place at three RICS conferences, which developed my surveying knowledge and widened my network. The most valuable piece of advice I received was to keep networking. I would advise you to be as much of a ‘pest’ as I was!
Muirfield Contracts actually contacted me to ask if I was interested in a placement. The Muirfield recruiter had asked one of my contacts whether they could recommend a placement student and they’d put my name forward. I had the most informal interview ever. I was only at home in the area one night to babysit and I didn’t have smart clothes with me. But it all worked out: in my final year, I only needed to be in university one day a week so I continued working at the company for four days a week.
Finding a graduate job
I found my role with Kier via LinkedIn, too. This is different to how most graduates start at Kier, but I had a recruiter contact me to see if I’d be interested in any roles in Aberdeen and he put me in touch with my now operations director. I met him for an informal chat. He seemed to like me and my experience and asked me to attend a more formal second interview. After that, I was offered a job.
Whenever I attended interviews and assessment days, I researched unusual information about the company to differentiate myself from other candidates, such as the share price that day (whether it had moved and why) and any new projects or construction processes. I saw that the assessors ‘tuned in’ when I did this, probably because they were hearing something new, and I think it made a good impression.
I accepted Kier’s offer because I could see that the company was growing and that there were lots of opportunities to take my career in different directions. In fact, what I appreciate most about Kier is the opportunities you have to get involved with a range of things outside of your core responsibilities.
My core role is to be responsible for the commercial aspects of different construction projects worked on in the Aberdeen office. One of my current projects is the Aberdeen Music Hall, which will involve demolition and excavation work and the restoration of original features at the concert hall. I work on a number of projects simultaneously and I split my time between working in the office and visiting construction sites. Our office covers a massive area in Scotland so it could take me an hour and a half to reach a site.
On smaller projects, I’m the only quantity surveyor but on larger ones I work in a team of two or three. As a contrast, on my graduate scheme I visited Crossrail for three days to work with their commercial team – they work in teams of hundreds. I returned this year to see how the project has progressed and I presented to Crossrail’s commercial team about how I worked in the Scottish business.
Even now, I ask lots of questions and I’d advise you to do the same when starting out. If you understand the different perspectives and responsibilities of other professionals, it helps you to give them the information they need and to build better relationships. Plus, people respect you more for saying you don’t know rather than pretending.
Shaping your world
I am heading up Kier’s ‘shaping your world’ initiative in Scotland. We are trying to interest 11–16 year olds in construction. When you pass one of our sites you can scan a barcode on your phone and use Snapchat to explore the project and to learn about different job roles. I presented the initiative to the whole of the Scottish business and am coordinating the work for it on the Musical Hall. I’ve also been able to visit schools, which I love.
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