Recent RGU Surveying graduate, Andrew Thomson, was interviewed by his employer, Berkeley Group, about his new role in the industry and making the big move down to London.
Please provide us with a brief overview of your educational background:
I went to secondary school at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen which the past two generations of my family had gone to and did subjects such as maths, geography and business management. I then went on to study surveying at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in 2016.
When did you first become interested in the property industry and why?
I first became interested in property in the early part of secondary school. I had a family friend who purchased and renovated an old bungalow. I was amazed by the transformation and found the concept of adding value really interesting. This definitely pushed me in the direction of quantity surveying at university.
What drew you to want to work in the property industry?
I was struggling to choose between the oil and gas industry, which had a heavy presence in Aberdeen, and the construction industry. Both of which could utilise the skills from my degree. My decision, in the end, was very much influenced by the recent struggles the oil industry was having relating to the oil price more than halving at one point leading to thousands of people losing their jobs and recruitment being completely frozen.
What drew you to Berkeley Group as an employer?
I had never even heard of Berkeley before I applied to the graduate scheme. I had been looking for a job for a few months. My parents were in London and stayed at a hotel beside one of the developments, Goodman’s Fields in Aldgate. They were really taken by the quality and design touches of the development and the sense of place that Berkeley had created. After they told me, I looked up the company and was very impressed, by coincidence they were accepting applications for the graduate scheme.
Can you briefly explain the interview process and the types of questions you were asked?
The recruitment process was very thorough. I had to fill out an online application, have a telephone interview, an assessment centre, meetings with the different Berkeley operating companies and finally a visit to one of the sites. The questions that I was asked during the telephone interview were generally high level about me, my experience, education and my understanding of the role that I’d applied for. At the assessment centre the questions were more to do with the industry as a whole and it was really more of a conversation than a traditional interview. This makes you feel really relaxed and I think gets the best out of the candidate.
How was your graduate scheme structured – were there lots of variation and learning opportunities?
The graduate scheme is very well structured. At the start there was a two week induction with the rest of the graduates from the other Berkeley operating businesses. After this you go into your division and at some point within the first few months you go out on rotation around different departments within your division to get a feel for what they do. After this it’s back to your department to start your job properly. There is a lot of support from the company, with access to a mentor who’s there as a listening ear and to offer advice if you have any issues during your first year or so.
What types of work have you undertaken as a graduate?
During the graduate rotation I performed a massive variety of work for the different departments. I was involved with creating notices of instruction to proceed, checking that architects drawings matched what Berkeley had requested and that they had incorporated any changes that had been asked for. I’ve been to planning meetings with the local council, undertaken research around new land opportunities and had an inspection visit to a prefabrication factory.
How did you find working with the existing staff?
It was daunting moving into a department as the only graduate but everybody I’ve worked with so far has been so welcoming and friendly. As long as you put yourself out there a bit you make friends in no time.
Can you give us a brief description of your day-to-day activities at Berkeley Group?
I’ve only been back with the commercial team for a short while where I’ve been dealing with invoices and also shadowing one of the packages the team is working on.
Can you describe an experience you’ve had during your time at Berkeley Group, which has been significant to you? (Please explain why)
The most significant experience I’ve had with Berkeley so far has been an event that was put on for the graduates where Rob Perrins, Managing Director of the Berkeley Group, came to answer our questions. It was great to have the chance to meet somebody that high up and get their perspective on the company, politics and the economy. It was really good to see how invested he was in the graduate scheme because a lot of people will work at the company and never meet him.
How would you describe your job role?
I’m a graduate quantity surveyor in the commercial department at Kidbrooke Village. Basically my role involves finding the best value way of building the building and making sure that the project sticks to the budget. If there is an increase or decrease in the cost we have to find out why and justify it. As a QS we’re also responsible for administering and managing the contract with the contractor undertaking the work.
Do you feel that your graduate scheme is a worthwhile experience for your career progression?
Absolutely. I think it’s really important to get a grounding of the fundamentals right at the start of my career. The graduate scheme provides a structure to my learning and will help me to develop skills that I will rely on for the rest of my career.
Would you recommend Berkeley Group as an employer to other graduates/undergraduates?
Of course. The experience you get with different departments as part of the graduate scheme is invaluable and allows you to see what they have to deal with on a day to day basis. It also allows you to see how they interface with your department. The relationships you build and the experience you gain at this point will invariably aid with communication later in your career with Berkeley.
What advice would you give to undergraduates hoping to break into this industry?
Try to get some work experience in any role within the industry. It’ll give you really important experience and give you a massive boost for when you’re applying for graduate jobs. Experience in the industry teaches you how things are actually done rather than just the theory.
What advice would you give to others considering taking up a graduate scheme in general?
I would say, find a scheme that has an underlying structure. Some companies will tell you they have a graduate scheme but when you look into it there’s no structure there so it’s not really a ‘scheme’. If there’s no structure then your on the job learning will be a lot harder.
by Rob Smith
Communications Officer | Design and Technology
Press and Media Enquiries