Developed personal skills while volunteering

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Andrew

At school I was good at Physics and Maths and enjoyed building things and making them work so decided to study Civil Engineering at university. I looked carefully at the league tables for Engineering before deciding where to apply and made my choice on the basis of reputation, the campus and the city. I also took useful advice from my school teachers and the local careers service as my family knew little about higher education.

All through my time at university, I was aware of the need to think about my career and, although I applied for placements in the second year, I did not really take such matters seriously until my third and final years (I did a four year MEng course). I did not manage to secure myself a placement but became heavily involved in volunteering for a charity run by one of my lecturers that provided building services for schools and other clients. I was on the charity board so was able to experience the decision-making and negotiation as well as the more practical site work and found that this developed my personal skills and helped me to deal with pressure.

I gradually learnt about the kind of attributes that employers seek in graduates and found that compiling my CV, with the help of the university careers service in the second year, was useful in teaching me how to articulate my skills and interests. I realised that you have to look outside the box sometimes in order to identify evidence of certain skills that employers value. I used the careers service more extensively in the third year and found them very helpful in their pointing out where to look for jobs and placements and how to reflect on my experience. I was gradually becoming more interested in the water industry by this stage and, although I attended careers fairs, found that often my particular aspirations were not catered for.

I applied for several graduate training schemes in my final year but, despite getting to assessment centres, was not offered a job. Luckily, family contacts were able to point me in the direction of a summer placement with a contractor after I graduated and I worked there for about six months whilst again applying for graduate training schemes. This time I was more successful and was taken on by a large company involving a move from the south-west to the south-east. My previous experience at assessment centres really helped as they asked many of the same questions as I had been asked previously. I feel that this, coupled with the recent experience I had acquired over the summer and my degree background, secured the post.

Looking back, I wish that I had applied for more placements in my second and third years (I focused on my exams and got a first class degree). I would also advise current students to ensure that they build up their CV at university by getting involved in new activities, preferably related to their degree discipline or career aspirations. In the future I would like to travel but I am currently concentrating on getting my chartered engineering status; after that, I will be able to take off in that direction.