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Acing your construction and property industry job interview

Allan Ruddy

Want to land that first job in the construction industry? You’ll need to be ready to first showcase your abilities in a graduate job interview.

Top interview tips for construction and property graduates

Job interviews in the construction and property industry are in many respects like those in any other industry. You can expect to be asked the standard questions about what your career aspirations are, what strengths and weaknesses you possess and why you want to work for the organisation you’re applying to.

But what separates out construction and property industry job interviews is the attention that will be paid to your technical abilities. In particular, to determining what you’ve absorbed from your studies and whether you’re likely to prove a quick study when it comes to learning the many new on-the-job skills you’ll need to flourish.

Construction industry interviewers are usually senior members of the team you’d be joining (particularly in the final interview rounds). Unsurprisingly, they will be seeking to determine whether you’ll make their lives easier or harder. They’ll be attempting to work out whether you’re someone they can send to client meetings. If you’ll fit well in a multidisciplinary project team. And whether you’re the type who gets things done.

The technical case study

Particularly if you’ve got a Construction Management, Engineering (Civil and Structural) or Architecture degree, you may be required to complete a technical case study, either alone or with other grads applying for positions. Frequently, this will involve being presented with a construction management/engineering/architecture problem and given an hour or two to come up with a workable solution.

Past projects  

Interviewers will almost certainly ask about projects you have done during your degree or while undertaking work experience. Expect to have to answer a lot of queries exploring the work involved, the results or deliverables generated, and the specific role you played in any group efforts.

Future projects

Chances are you’ll also be asked about projects of the sort your potential employer regularly undertakes. For example, if the company you’ve applied to does a lot of work with steel structures in the context of constructing oil and gas facilities, you can expect to be asked, for example, in what circumstances steel is a superior choice to concrete. Or what are the standard approvals that need to be gained prior to beginning construction of a large-scale LNG project in Australia.    

Answering the questions

Whether they’re asking you to address a past, future or hypothetical construction-related scenario, interviewers are interested in how you think about and communicate technical ideas.

Be aware that interviewers aren’t necessarily looking for neat and tidy answers. In fact, they are quite possibly posing problems you have neither the time nor knowledge to solve satisfactorily. What’s important is not so much that you solve the problem as that you demonstrate you’ve got problem-solving skills, not to mention a certain amount of persistence and self-belief.

Here are some useful tips from those who’ve nailed these kind of interviews in the past.

  • If you don’t fully understand a question, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification
  • If a diagram will help you explain something, don’t be afraid to ask for a sheet of paper and pencil
  • Give yourself time to think before answering. The interviewer won’t mark you down for pausing, though they will for rushing in and getting it wrong
  • If your knowledge of a subject is limited, explain what you do know and then show the interviewer how you would approach solving the problem based on that
  • Be well versed in any issues that may be of concern to the company or industry (for example, strict new environmental regulations)
  • Research all the areas the company specialises in
  • Practise sketching diagrams
  • Read through your old coursework and be prepared to talk about any projects you were involved with
  • Ask a friend – ideally a classmate – to give you feedback on the clarity of your explanations of technical solutions.

Ask your own questions

It is not the way grads tend to see them, but job interviews are meant to be a two-way street. You should be using the opportunity to decide whether you want to work for the company rather than simply offering yourself up for consideration as someone to be hired.

Ask yourself if you’re impressed with your interviewer(s)? Does it sounds like the company values and develops those who go into its grad program? Will you be expected to move around the country or even the world and, if so, will you be happy doing so? Ask the interviewer what he or she most enjoys about working at the company, and what landmark projects the company’s employees are most proud of. Given the current strengthening of Australia’s construction sector, you may find yourself in the fortunate position of having to choose between multiple job offers. Make sure you learn as much as you can about your potential employer when you have the chance.