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How to WIN a summer placement with Laing O'Rourke

The facts

You can win a summer internship with Laing O'Rourke.

If you want to gain an internship with Laing O’Rourke, you should enter the TARGETjobs Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year competition. Winning the award will get you an all-expenses-paid summer placement to add to your CV. Plus, all finalists attend a swish awards ceremony, previously hosted by the likes of Rachel Riley and Konnie Huq, where you can network with a whole host of graduate employers.

Find out more about the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Award competition here.

How to apply for the TARGETjobs Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year Award

The competition opens in October each year and closes at the end of January – those who get quality applications in early impress with their time management.

The stages of the application process are:

  • essay questions
  • online aptitude tests, devised in conjunction with test provider SHL
  • an assessment centre.

Tips on answering the Laing O’Rourke application essay questions

Laing O’Rourke asks that the answer you submit should be a maximum of 500 words long. This may sound like a lot, but actually you will probably find that you have to be quite focused in order to fit everything into your answers.

Application question: ‘Please describe one innovation that you expect to see in the construction industry in the next ten years to support the sustainability agenda?’

Start by thinking about how you would define the word ‘innovation’. Is an innovation something brand new or is it a tweak to an existing method, practice or technology?

Laing O’Rourke is looking for an answer that focuses on an innovation that you would expect to see in the construction industry – not just one that you’d like to see. It also gives you a hint that you might want to cover why you would expect to see it and the impacts it might have. For example:

  • Is there, or will there be, significant demand for the innovation from stakeholders, such as clients or the government? If so, what would this demand be driven by?
  • What challenge or problem does the innovation address?
  • What effects will this innovation have on construction processes, on the environment, on the cost of projects and/or the day-to-day work of construction professionals?

Remember that this question is directly assessing you against the requirement that you have ‘a keen interest in the construction industry, meaning you’ll be up to speed with the latest developments and newest techniques’. So, you’ll definitely want to do some research.

Your own course notes are a great place to start. The 2018 finalist Lauren Wade wrote about stainless steel in structural applications – a topic she was writing a dissertation on. You could also look at Laing O’Rourke’s contributions to thinking on sustainability. Investigate the company’s Engineering Excellence Group and its work on digital engineering and off-site construction. Read about the work behind some of its flagship projects. Take a look, too, at key initiatives followed at competitors, such as Skanska. And finally, read the trade press (such as Construction News and Building) for news stories on research and development that is ongoing – this may well hint at the trends for future innovation.

Application question: ‘What experience have you had in the industry to date and what is your favourite project and why?’

The work experience section of this question is easy to answer if you have completed a construction-related internship, but potentially less so if you haven’t. However, experience in the industry doesn’t have to just mean formal internships; it can also mean any projects or field trips you have done as part of your course (including through Constructionarium) or any informal work-shadowing you have done. If you really haven’t got any, talk instead about how you have pursued your enthusiasm for construction in other ways, such as by attending networking events, completing self-directed projects (such as learning CAD programs), entering professional body competitions and so on.

When writing about your experience, if you have room, write about what you did and what you learned.

The project aspect of this question allows you to showcase your personality and preferences. But how to pick a favourite project – and should it be a Laing O’Rourke project? The short answer is that it might be advantageous if it is, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important thing is that your answer is genuine, as that way your enthusiasm will shine through. The 2017 finalist, Serena Gough, chose a project that inspired her to study civil engineering after doing some work experience at school.

But whether your favourite project is a tiny eco-build in Scotland created to a tight budget or an enormous skyscraper in Dubai constructed using the most innovative techniques, the most important part of your answer will be explaining why it is your favourite project. What does that project mean to you and why does it inspire you to want a career in construction? Why does the project you’ve picked stand out from the crowd? Is it something about the difference that it makes for the end user or about how it was designed or constructed? Write about technical aspects of its design and/or construction, as well as its personal impact on you.

Application question: ‘Tell us about your extracurricular interests and any awards you may have received.’

Use this section to sell yourself: give detail about your extracurricular activities and awards, rather than listing them. Depending on what they are, it would be wise to include details on at least some of the following:

  • what you did and what you achieved
  • what drew you to the extracurricular activity in the first place
  • what you gained from the experience (in terms of gaining additional skills, your personal development or what you learned about yourself).

The 2019 winner, Luke Collinson, had been elected the president of his halls of residence, enrolled on an advance Python coding course and took extracurricular studies in Chinese. But don’t feel you can’t apply if you don’t have a similar range of interests and activities behind you: write about what you have done and/or what you are interested in. Laing O’Rourke use this question to find out more about you.

Tips for the online aptitude tests for the TARGETjobs Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year Award

The online aptitude tests include a personality questionnaire, a situational judgement test (SJT) and an inductive reasoning test. These have quite strict time limits attached: you have just 20 minutes to complete each test. If you usually have extra time for tests due to a disability or similar, contact the TARGETjobs events team to arrange this.

Give yourself the best chance of succeeding at these tests by completing as many practice ones as you can. SHL has free practice tests on its website and you can also access practice tests at AssessmentDay (both free and paid for). For more tips, head over to the TARGETjobs psychometric tests advice section.

Tips for the Laing O’Rourke Undergraduate of the Year assessment day

The format of the assessment day is a closely guarded secret, but we can tell you a few details. If invited to the assessment centre, you will be one of up to 20 candidates. Previously, the assessment day has been held at Laing O’Rourke’s head office and it has included:

  • a group exercise or team challenge
  • an individual presentation
  • an individual interview.

According to Luke, the 2019 Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year, his team challenge involved working in small groups to argue for which project brief to put forward. ‘I believe my advantage was the fact I had researched in advance the current trends in the industry and used my knowledge on DfMA (design for manufacture and assembly) assets to successfully push my case,’ he says. But the exact nature of the group task can differ from year to year.

Previous attendees have reported that the most challenging aspect of the presentation is keeping to time. You can avoid overrunning by having a tight structure and not cramming too much in. As a general rule, a five-minute presentation can cover an introduction, a conclusion and two or three points well. Find out how to structure and deliver a strong presentation.

The best way to prepare for the interview is to research Laing O’Rourke and where it sits in the construction market. Then, practise typical questions such as the ones in this article. Think particularly about your strengths, weaknesses and what you could contribute (in terms of skills, knowledge and enthusiasm) if you won the award. Luke stresses that the interview was informal.

The TARGETjobs advice feature ‘Graduate construction assessment centres: what to expect’ will give you further tips on tackling typical exercises set during a construction company’s assessment centre.

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.