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Application tips for construction and property graduate jobs

Allan Ruddy

With Australia’s construction sector powering along there’s never been a more exciting time to be a new grad looking to break into the industry.

Australia’s Construction and Property Services industry offers plenty of fantastic career paths for grads with the right skill set. It needs those with Construction Management, Engineering (Civil and Structural) and Architecture degrees to work at the coalface, as well as Marketing, Business, Accounting, IT, HR and many other degrees to provide those on the front lines with all the necessary support.

Potential employers

There are hundreds of construction companies operating in Australia. Some of the better-known ones are AECOM, ADCO Constructions, AV Jennings, BCI Australia, Burbank, Coates Hire, Cockram, Construction Control, Devine Constructions, Downer, Eco World,  Georgiou Group, Honeywell, ISIS, Laing O’Rourke, Lendlease, Mainbrace Constructions,  Monadelphous, Mott MacDonald, Multiplex, Prime Constructions, Probuild, Richard Crookes Constructions, SEMZ Project Management, Stockland, Tamawood Limited, Thiess Australia, Thomas & Coffey, Uhde Shedden, WDS, Westfield Group and Winslow. The first step to launching your new career is to identify which companies are in the market for grads then which of those you’d like to work for (check out GradAustralia’s graduate job reviews for the most up-to-date and exclusive information). For each company you’re interested in, make sure you confirm how and when to apply for a position in their grad programs. Now it’s over to you to put your best foot forward in the application process.

Questions to expect

There are two broad categories of questions you can expect, either in writing or during an interview, during the early stages of your application.

First, there will be standard questions that most organisations will pose to potential hires in some form. Be ready for ready for variations of these generic questions, such as the following:

  • Why do you want to work at this company specifically?
  • What character traits do you have that will make you a valuable part of our team?
  • What have you learnt from your work experience and internships that will allow you to hit the ground running?
  • Have you researched our corporate culture and can you explain why you would fit into it well?
  • What are your career aspirations?

These types of queries are predictable and – if you’re willing to do the necessary preparation – easy to handle. Answering these questions satisfactorily is a necessary but not sufficient condition to making it to the next stage of the application process. At this juncture, you can expect to be asked more demanding questions, such as the following:

  • One of our company’s core values is teamwork/integrity/creativity/accountability. Please provide a specific example of a situation where you demonstrated teamwork/integrity/creativity/accountability.
  • Which of the subjects you took for your degree best reflect your strengths and why? How is what you learnt in those subjects relevant to the position that you are applying for?
  • Please nominate some designs and constructions that impress you. If applicable, give examples of any projects that you have worked on yourself.

Five ways to make your application stand out from the crowd  

There’s a range of questions you can be asked and usually a variety of acceptable responses you can offer. Nonetheless, whatever the query, it’s wise to keep the following in mind when replying.

Do your research

You can’t create an impressive application unless you’ve researched the companies you are applying to. Showing you’ve done your homework proves two things to a potential employer. First, you’re the conscientious type. Second, you’re motivated enough by the prospect of a job with them to invest some time and effort.  

At a minimum, you should find out the following about any company you’re applying to:

  • Is it a contractor or consultant?
  • Which markets and service areas does it serve?
  • What exactly will you be doing if you get the job?
  • What are the company's core values?
  • What are some of the company’s high-profile projects?

Remember that recruiters rate evidence not (self) opinion

Don’t say in your application, ‘I think I’m a great team player and I’ve always liked maths.’ Rather, give evidence - ‘I’ve been involved in sporting teams, including several stints as captain, for the last 15 years. Plus, I maintained a High Distinction average with any subjects related to maths and physics throughout my degree.”

Use STAR to shine

A handy trick to make sure you’re delivering the information the interviewer requires is to employ the S.T.A.R technique. That is, whenever possible answer questions with reference to Situation, Task, Actions and Results.

For example, if asked how you dealt with a conflict with a co-worker you might respond with the following. “I was in a situation where it was unclear who had final responsibility for dealing with unhappy customers. I arranged a meeting with the manager. I suggested that my colleague, who was first point of contact, try to resolve any complaints quickly with the understanding she could refer the customer to me if she was feeling overwhelmed. This proposed solution was accepted. This resulted in a situation where most customer service problems were resolved early on. It also meant more serious issues could receive the attention they deserved.”    

Don’t copy and paste replies (literally or figuratively)

If you apply to more than one company – and you should – chances are you’re going to have to answer similar questions multiple times. The temptation will be, in written applications, to cut and paste material you’ve previously sent to other potential employers. Job interviews are a little different but, once again, it’s easy to default to giving a stock answer you’ve trotted out in other contexts.

No-one is saying you need to reinvent the wheel with each application but offering up reheated leftovers rarely impresses recruiters. It’s likely you’ll fail to specifically address something the company is looking for. Even in a best-case scenario where you do answer the question adequately, you’ll probably come across as disengaged. As exhausting as it may be, make sure to consider every question – written or verbal – seriously. Also, if you’re providing written answers in the early stages of the application process, always do a proof read. Few things set alarm bells ringing quicker than misspellings, grammatical mistakes or incomplete answers on an application form.

Demonstrate a winning attitude

Here’s the reality about graduate programs: give or take a particularly impressive academic record, internship or life story, all the applicants are pretty much the same. By definition, new graduates have the same sort of qualifications and none are likely to have any significant industry experience. So why does Candidate X get chosen over Candidates Y and Z? Often it comes down to that ancient bit of HR wisdom: hire for attitude, train for skill. The candidate who radiates the most enthusiasm throughout the application process will, other things being equal, usually be the one who lands the job.