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How to get the PERFECT first job

First, decide who you want to work for and why. Find out about companies in your careers library, read newspapers and magazines, such as NCE magazine and website, to find out what firms do and for an independent view of them. If you like the look of them, check out their websites. Your university may also have links with particular employers and be able to tell you more.

It is worth starting to look at potential employers well before you get to your final year so you have a good idea of which ones are best for you when it comes to the crunch. Try working for some of them in the holidays to find out what they are really like (see box).


Most major companies have sections on their websites for graduate recruitment and online forms to complete. Read the instructions carefully and follow them. Complete the form offline and before you send it, read it through – aloud is a good idea – to make sure that what you've written makes sense.

If you are asked to send a covering letter and CV, do so. For many small and medium-sized companies this may be how you apply in the first place. Make sure you identify the right person to approach at the company, and ensure that, if you send a letter, it is addressed to that person.

Do not just send out your CV to as many employers as you can think of with a covering letter – tailor your letter to each employer, but keep it short and to the point. If you have worked for them in the holidays, remind them.

Your CV should be no more than two pages long and should follow a standard format (see box). Check your spelling and grammar. Check you have spelt the name of the company and the person you are applying to correctly. Get any of this wrong and your application is almost guaranteed to go in the bin.

If you are keen on a particular job, telephone the department to which you have sent your application to find out if it has been safely received. And you can ask when interviews are likely to be. They will not mind: it shows you are interested. But only call once. Do not stalk them.

Companies will contact you to tell you the interview time. These may be group or individual interviews. Be prepared for a telephone call. Many firms conduct telephone interviews before deciding on a shortlist of candidates to see face to face. So start answering the phone in your business voice.

When it comes to the interview, everything about you – how you look, what you do, what you say (and do not say) – will be taken into consideration when they decide whether to offer you the job. So make sure you are getting the right message across (see box). Try to make the most of the experience and use it to find out if you really would like to work for that company.

Finding a summer work placement:
Your engineering department may already have links with major clients, contractors or consultants.

 If you want to work near home, look at geographical listings for companies in your area – or if you know you want to try a particular specialism seek out firms in these sectors. You can search companies by area or specialism on the NCE website (
 When you find a company go to its website, as this should give information on work placements and how to apply.

 Large consultants and contractors may visit your university looking for students to join them. Use this to find out about holiday work placements and the deals they offer if your placement works out well. If all this sounds a bit like applying for a job – it is. These companies are looking at you as a potential employee, and they expect you to
be taking it just as seriously.


If you are planning three months at the beach next summer, think again.

For you the holidays might be a chance to recuperate after a hard year, but for potential employers it is the chance to check you out before offering you a job when you finally leave university.

When they employ graduates, companies in the construction sector want people with some experience of working in the industry. A lot of people come out of engineering degrees without really knowing what engineering is like at the ground level and graduates do not have much time to settle in when they start work, so it is important to get hands on engineering experience.

Most major consultants and contractors look at first and second-year students as potential employees. They offer work placements in the summer holidays so that they can assess your technical ability and people skills. If they like you, they may offer you sponsorship for the remainder of your course, and a job at the end of it.

This is not altruism on their part. The competition for good graduate engineers means it is in employers' interest to recruit as early as possible. As a result, if you want a summer placement you have every likelihood of finding one.

Work placements are an ideal opportunity to find out more about the industry, how it works and what the different companies do.

Although the companies would like to snap you up in your first year, they also recognise that it is important for you to find out which area will suit you best.


The information you must include on your CV (in order) is:


(optional - usually just stressing your commitment to the sector you are applying to, eg "I am committed to a career in geotechnics and would relish a role that introduces me to the sector.")

Qualifications: Degree (always put in relevant modules and dissertation topic), A-levels/GCSEs
Work experience: (keep it brief if the work is not relevant)
Skills: (relevant software packages, languages etc)


The CV do's and dont's
Your CV is the first impression that your potential new
employer has of you, so it is essential to get it right first time.


Follow a standard format. Keep it short and to the point - a maximum of two pages.

Focus on what you have learned on your degree course. Use the space to talk about your degree and dissertation.

Write your CV in the first person "I have" rather than "he/she has"

Always send the CV with a covering letter, which should be typed, not hand written.

If you are applying for a specific role, tailor your CV.

List your computer and language skills and level of competence.

Keep a record of when you sent your CV, what position it was for and who you sent it to.

Follow up your CV with a call at an appropriate time to show you are keen.


Use unusual fonts, brightly coloured paper or borders to make your CV stand out. It will - from the bin.

Incorrectly spell the name of the person you are sending your CV to. If in doubt, call the company or check its website.

Attach a photo - it is not required unless specifically requested.

Make spelling mistakes. Ask somebody to check it through before you send it.

Mention things you are bad at, or make negative comments.

Do not just write down your hobbies - be more specific than simply stating that you like cricket and travelling. Being captain of the cricket team and having travelled across South East Asia will paint a more detailed picture of you.

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