Construction commercial awareness interview questions & tips – TARGETjobs

All construction graduates – from architects to civil engineers to quantity surveyors – are expected to be commercially savvy. Here’s how to demonstrate your commercial thinking to interviewers.
Look at the innovative ideas and constraints impacting on the construction industry.
If you have been invited to an interview or an assessment centre for a construction graduate job – for example, as a quantity surveyor, civil engineer, structural engineer, building services engineer or site manager – you will be expected to demonstrate that you can think commercially. You might be asked interview questions related to commercial awareness topics; you might be given exercises that require you to factor in commercial considerations; or you might strike up conversations with assessors and recruiters that touch upon business topics.
However, many graduates don’t fully demonstrate their commercial thinking because they misunderstand what commercial awareness means in the context of the construction industry.
So, we have put together a guide to help you tackle the commercial awareness aspects of construction interviews and assessment centres. In this article you’ll find:
All construction professionals need to be aware of how their actions can contribute to the financial success of a project. Even as a graduate, you have a responsibility to ensure that a project is profitable for the employer and that the employer continues to have a good relationship with its clients and suppliers. You will need to help produce a high-quality, safe and sustainable project that meets the client’s brief within budget, while being aware of financial constraints and profit margins.
Within the construction industry, a commercially aware graduate will be able to answer the following questions:
All construction interview candidates should be able to understand the commercial aspects that directly affect the overall commercial position of the company and their day-to-day job role. For example:
You could be asked very obviously commercially focused questions, some economic and political questions and some questions about how well you know the company – here are some examples of questions that previous candidates have been asked:
Alternatively, you could be given technical or scenario-based/hypothetical questions, for which it would be impressive if your answers included commercial factors alongside other considerations. For example:
William Walsh, a commercial director at Barratt, put it best when he told a previous edition of the UK 300 : ‘My biggest tip is to make sure you research us before the interview; a surprising number of graduates don’t know who our biggest competitors are. It’s impressive if you understand the business performance but also look at the innovative ideas and constraints impacting on the construction industry.’
What are some of these ideas and constraints? Well, here are some broad factors that we’ve identified; you’ll need to delve into the detail behind them yourself.
You can follow Will’s ‘do your research’ advice by:
But rest assured that interviewers aren’t looking for encyclopaedic knowledge; trying to remember specific statistics is not necessary – just make sure you are clued up on the overall picture of the company and the industry and have an opinion.
What if you can’t answer the question? Instead of trying to guess, either admit that the topic has not been the focus of your news reading recently and then try to pick apart the question logically. Or, if it seems appropriate, you should steer the conversation towards an area you are more confident in.
If you are set a case study or a problem to solve as part of a group task, always make sure that the commercial aspects are discussed. If, for example, you are asked to decide which site to develop out of a choice of three (a common case study task), you shouldn’t necessarily go for the most cost effective option – but budgets, costs and potential future value should feature in your decision-making process.
When you are asked if you have any questions for the employer at the end of an interview, you could ask a question that demonstrates your commercial awareness. For example: ‘Have you found that X has affected the company?’ or ‘Do you anticipate X having an effect on Y in the future?’
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