Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interning for EC Harris: current third year student from Sheffield University, Nicole Louis, talks about her summer internship experience

It wasn’t until the end of my second year at university that I was met with the sudden feeling of anxiety and fear, as my degree intensified. Today, we are constantly told that securing that all important work experience is essential, in addition to obtaining a 2.1, especially for any geography graduate not wishing to become a full-time explorer. It also enables you to assess whether your desired career path is right for you, just in time before the graduate programmes open.
While I’m a firm believer that geography has provided me with a strong transferable skill set, I knew that work experience was essential to pursuing a career in surveying. After reading horror stories in the form of intern experience blogs, it is safe to say that I was nervous that an internship would wholly entail fetching coffee, and monotonous filing. However, I was lucky enough to secure a 1 month internship in London at the consultancy firm EC Harris. So just days after finishing my 2nd year exams, I delved into the world of construction.

I knew the industry was known for being sociable, so I took every opportunity to meet as many people as possible. While this immediately made the first day less daunting, the word also seemed to spread fast that a young intern was here, willing to take on any work. Albeit overwhelming on the first day with a growing list of tasks to complete, the more people I met brought with it greater responsibility, and not to mention people to enjoy the free bar with. I was pleasantly surprised with the amazing people I got to work with, who instead of ordering me to fetch coffee, invited me, and instead of reducing me to filing, gave me real work to complete.  I would say to anyone that making connections is crucial not only for learning, but making the whole experience enjoyable both in and after work.  One way that you can increase the number of people you meet is to request to rotate around different teams or departments in the firm. In my month at EC Harris I spent time working with project managers, cost consultants and CDM coordinators. Perhaps the most crucial element of this rotation was that it allowed me to explore the different roles available in the industry.

I was fortunate enough to have been treated like an employee, and also to go on exciting site visits which included the East Village and St James’s Square. But on the very rare occasion (perhaps once) where I met the infamous photocopier mentioned in every intern’s story, I approached it as a learning opportunity by reading through what I was copying and asking questions afterwards. Any task which may initially appear mundane is an opportunity to learn, and is part of the exciting bigger picture. But you have to ask questions to find out.

I am no stranger however to the fear that you’ve asked too many, or stupid questions. One day after spending 20 minutes checking that my calculator was working, and spending even longer assessing whether my colleague was busy, I approached them to ask why these figures made no sense. As I walked over I was establishing what face I would make after being humiliated, only to find out there was actually a typo. Anyway, the point that I am making is unless you’re finding out what their cats name is, asking questions that you’ve at least spent time trying to answer yourself first is not a bad thing!

As the time for applying for graduate schemes draws nearer I can reflect on my experience with fond memories. I’ve understood the day to day tasks a surveyor completes, but also the importance of soft skills such as commercial awareness and interpersonal skills required for the culture of the industry. With knowledge of this I can spend my last year of university enhancing these skills through various societies, clubs and projects.

I would say to anyone to make the most of your internship by writing down everything you did, and the skills that you developed.  One final piece of advice is to just be confident, talk to as many people as you can, and keep in contact with them via LinkedIn; this has definitely proven to be helpful for myself.

I am now eager and excited to apply for graduate programmes in the industry.  My internship has certainly convinced me that the world of work can be just as enjoyable as university

Want to find out more info on EC Harris? Visit their page on our site. And for more information on applying for internships read our advice

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