The Gherkin, the Beijing Olympic stadium, the Sydney Opera House. Arup’s engineers have worked on some of the most iconic and impressive buildings the world has ever seen.
No wonder it’s so hard to get a job there: over 5,000 people applied for just 200 positions in the UK last year.
But we spoke to the man who leads Arup’s graduate recruitment, Simon Stoker, to get the inside scoop on how to make your application stand out and what you can do to impress him.
1. Make contact
‘Come and see us when we’re on campus or doing an event because the people there are my team who will be looking at applications,’ says Stoker.
‘If we meet somebody who’s really personable, who asks intelligent questions, then they stick in our mind and we look out for their applications.’
Arup prides itself on being a people-focused business. What that really means is that if you can build good relationships with a network of people in the company – whether the recent grads on the career-fair stand or the director you meet on your placement – you may well be marked out for success.
2. Concentrate on your studies
Arup only accepts applications from graduates with a first or 2:1 in a degree relevant to each job. If your grades are slipping it’s time to knuckle down. If that boat has already sailed then you should be looking elsewhere.
Such is the competition for jobs at Arup that if your A-Levels weren’t great – the company looks for at least a B in maths and/or physics – then it’s time to seriously consider whether it’s worth spending the time on the application.
3. Don’t fret about experience – just take the initiative
It’s the Catch-22 of job-hunting, especially in engineering: you can only get a job with experience but you can’t get any experience without a job. Luckily, Arup appreciates that not everyone who’s good enough to work there will have been through its placement scheme.
Instead, Stoker’s team is looking for people who have done something – anything – outside their university classroom that shows off their skills.
‘Grads sometimes get hung up on the fact they’ve done something but not in a company like ours,’ he says. ‘You could have been captain of a chess team or a football team, you could have organised a trip to Alton Towers. It’s those examples of where you have taken the initiative and delivered something.’
4. Know the company
Most companies don’t have a manifesto. But Arup isn’t most companies: for one thing it’s owned by a trust on behalf of its staff – not shareholders or a small group of bosses.
In 1970, founder Sir Ove Arup laid out his guiding principles for the company, including commitments to social usefulness and “total architecture”. This “key speech” is still referenced regularly thin the company today.
‘You’d expect someone, if they come for an interview here, to have done some research, read the speech and got a feel for what we’re all about,’ says Stoker.
5. Demonstrate your passion – and ambition
Arup don’t run a broad graduate programme where you get to try out different parts of the company. Instead it recruits separately for different roles in different teams.
This means you’ll need to show why you want that specific job over any other. Don’t just cut and paste in a standard letter – all applications are read by real people, not a computer. ‘You can tell when someone’s just chucked in an application,’ says Stoker.
But that doesn’t mean you have to have your whole career path mapped out, or that you want to stay in one area. Arup wants people who will develop at their own pace but who aren’t afraid to grab opportunities when they come along.
‘We want them to work it out for themselves, and when they find the real direction that gives them a rewarding career they crack on,’ says Stoker.
6. Have an opinion
One way you can show you’re right for the job is by understanding what’s going on in that sector, and taking a position on it.
‘It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of detail, but if you’re interested in transport, know about [proposed high-speed rail network] HS2, the case for and against and have an opinion,’ says Stoker.
‘You don’t always have to agree with what we say. We like people with opinions so be curious about us and what the possibilities are.’
7. Don’t miss an opportunity
Arup is best known for civil and structural engineering but it actually operates in 29 different business areas, through over 100 offices in 42 countries. If you’re set on joining the company, make sure you consider as many opportunities as you can.
The company operates in a number of niche areas that you may well have missed (depending on your degree) from blast engineering to lighting technology, as well as other non-engineering disciplines where your skills will still be highly valued such as management consultancy and infrastructure finance.
If you see a job you want to apply for, get an application in as soon as possible. Arup might receive several hundred applications for a single position and if the calibre of candidates is high it sometimes closes the recruitment process early. But don’t forget to spell check.
8. Practise your communication skills
If you make it to the interview stage, there won’t be any group exercises or day-long knock-out challenges. You’ll have to undertake a technical challenge – design a bridge in half an hour, say – and then a personal interview.
You’ll also have been asked to take a personality questionnaire but don’t let this stress you out. It’s there to give Stoker and his team an idea of how best to interview you.
Given Arup’s focus on personal relationships with both clients and colleagues, it’s crucial to get across your ability to work well with other people – whether you’re better as part of a team or leading one.
9. Be flexible
If you aren’t offered the job you applied for it doesn’t necessarily it’s all over – as long as you’re willing to be flexible. All the places in London (by far the most in demand area) might have been filled but if you’ve stood out then Arup may well make the effort to place you elsewhere.
‘The people who are successful are sometimes those who say yes they’ll consider Bristol, for example,’ says Stoker. ‘Some grads are very flexible; others not so much.’
If you’ve applied for Arup or been successful in getting a job there, tell us what your tips are.