The interview process for construction and property apprenticeships explained

Interview advice for a construction interview
An interview or assessment centre is normally the key stage when applying for an apprenticeship or training programme in construction, property, quantity surveying or civil engineering.

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If recruiters like what they see in your applications, they’ll invite you to take part in an interview and/or an assessment day. An assessment day (also known as an assessment centre) is a longer interview where you will be given a number of tasks to do alongside other applicants.

What do construction and property interviews and assessment days involve?

Larger construction employers are likely to invite you to an interview and an assessment day, while smaller employers are more likely to invite you to just one interview. Here’s a snapshot of the larger construction companies’ interview processes:

  • Arup invites candidates to a half-day assessment day.
  • Balfour Beatty invites candidates to an assessment day, which can include group exercises, case studies and a presentation
  • BAM Construct UK invites candidates to an assessment day, which includes a group exercise.
  • Galliford Try invites candidates to a first interview face to face, followed by an assessment day, which can include group exercises and a presentation.
  • Laing O’Rourke’s recruitment process involves a first interview over the phone, aptitude tests and an assessment centre, which can include a group exercise, case study and presentation.
  • Redrow Homes and Wates interviews candidates first over the phone or via video and then invites them to an assessment day.
  • Mott MacDonald usually interviews you face to face. Some previous applicants have been asked to give a presentation on a construction project during the interview.

Most property firms obtain apprentices through the Chartered Surveyors Training Trust (CSTT), which means that you apply to the CSTT instead of the property firm. In the past, the CSTT interview process has involved:

  • A first interview with CSTT representatives.
  • Taking aptitude tests.
  • A second interview with the property firm offering the apprenticeship.

About construction assessment days

Think of an assessment centre as a full working day (9.00 am – 5.00 pm) of interviews, tests and other exercises to test your suitability for a company. Assessment days can involve taking part in group exercises, giving a presentation, working on a case study, an interview and taking part in aptitude tests.

The case studies and group exercises set by construction employers can be based around the type of work you would do on a construction project, eg talking about the materials that should be used on a project. One employer asked assessment centre candidates to build a bridge out of stationary.

You can gain tips on how to succeed in assessment centres in our assessment day advice for school leavers.

What interview questions might you be asked?

Construction and property interviewers might ask you questions along the lines of:

  • Why are you interested in construction/property?
  • Why do you think you are suitable for the job?
  • Why do you want to be a [job role]?
  • What does a [job role] do? What skills do they need to have in order to do a good job?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What do you know about our business?
  • What do you enjoy doing? What don’t you enjoy doing?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you manage studying in the evenings and at weekends with a full-time job?
  • Give us an example of a time when [you used a particular skill, such as organisation, took on responsibility or handled a difficult situation].

You will probably be asked about anything that you put on your CV or application form, eg about your interests and participation in groups such as the Scouts or Young Enterprise. If you have completed work experience in construction or property, you’ll be asked about that too.

Most construction and property employers don’t ask you technical questions. But if you have done a related qualification, such as a BTEC or NVQ in engineering, you may be given an example problem to solve – one that is related to the work that the company does. For example, if you were going for a construction trade apprenticeship, you might be shown a blueprint of a particular piece of equipment and asked to explain how it works.

What you need to do before a construction or property interview

You need to have done your research. You should find out about:

  • What the company does: what types of property does it work in or construction projects does it work on?
  • Any news on the employer: check its website and Twitter feed for the latest developments, as well as stories reported in the media.
  • Whether a construction company is a consultancy or a contractor – see our feature on how the construction industry works together, which explains the differences between the two types of companies.
  • What the job role involves – you need to know about the job role you’ll be trained up to do and have reasons for wanting that job.
  • The professional qualification you’ll be working towards on (or after) your apprenticeship. Our construction and property job roles explained articles give you details of relevant professional qualifications.

Tips on succeeding at interviews and assessment days

Sam Saunders, a construction management trainee at Mace, says, ‘Try not to be too nervous at interviews, as the interviewers want you to be successful: they are not trying to trip you up – but one practical tip is to be early for interviews, as it makes a good impression and allows you to relax.’ Other tips include:

  • Practice makes perfect. Practise explaining why you want to do the job and what interests you about the industry.
  • Be prepared to give examples. If you are asked about your personal qualities, don’t just state them: give example of when you demonstrated those qualities. You may also be directly asked to give an example of a particular skill.
  • Professionalise your devices. Does your mobile phone have an offensive ringtone or voicemail? A voicemail should just contain your name and a polite message requesting a name and number for the caller. Keep your phone off or on silent during an interview. Don’t take along any of your other devices during the day, unless you need them for a presentation.
  • Dress for success. You should always be dressed smartly. You may be invited out to a rural office or a construction site, but you’ll still need a smart trouser/skirt suit.
  • Bring your papers. Your initial application, personal statement (if you have one) and any related coursework could come in handy if you can’t remember exact details in the interview.
  • Demonstrate that you can work respectfully with others. In group tasks, contribute to discussions, but don’t try to dominate the group or talk over other people.

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