On October 5, graduates of the first and second classes of the U’s Construction Management program, along with several current students, gathered to talk about the path their careers have taken since graduating nearly 25 years ago. Bill Scherling, the first to graduate in fall 1999, is a project executive for Ryan Companies. He says one of his favorite projects over the past two-plus decades was working on the Guthrie Theater. Andrew Shetter, in the second class of four students to receive the diploma in spring 2000, was in town from Texas, where he’s currently working as a senior project manager, overseeing the development of wind farms for Primoris Services.

“Leadership is intangible, it comes in all shapes and sizes.”

After some informal chit-chat, Bill and Andy took questions from the audience of enthusiastic, aspiring construction management leaders. The group asked many pertinent questions, such as “What are employers looking for?” “How do I take the best advantage of an internship experience?” “What questions should I ask in an interview?” and “How do we become the best project manager we can be?” Here are the invaluable takeaways from their conversation.

What do construction companies really look for when hiring?

  • Employers looking to hire fresh graduates are most impressed by:
    • someone who is eager to learn.
    • a positive attitude.
    • a good team player.

How to find out if a construction company is a good fit in an informational interview

  • One way to find out if a company is a good fit for you is in an informational interview. 
    • Ask about their leadership style. 
    • Will they provide all the resources you’ll need to do your job? 
    • Do they offer career development opportunities?   
    • How do they treat people when they mess up?


Bill Scherling & Andrew Shetter answer questions from an unseen audience of students


Easy practices to adopt to excel in your construction management career

  • In an internship, or when you’re new on the job, touch everything in all areas (e.g., mechanical, electrical) to get as much experience doing and learning everything you can.
  • Networking is important. Find the best way to connect with others in your industry, in the most comfortable way you can manage.
  • To be the best project manager (PM) you can be:
    • Watch and learn from your counterpart (e.g., if you’re a PM, learn from the superintendent or others in the field)    
    • Treat employees like customers, with decency and respect; keep them happy and they will keep coming back.
    • Ask questions—there is never a dumb question.
    • Find a mentor within the project executive team.
    • Build a relationship with the owner’s representative.
    • Listen carefully to all your stakeholders.
    • Know and manage expectations—yours, your employers, and the project stakeholders.
    • Be honest and transparent. 
    • Praise in public, reprimand in private.
    • Sit in on owner’s meetings.
    • While in the learning phase, expect to work longer days, sometimes 10 to 12 hours, knowing that as you go through your career, the hours will adjust to be closer to “normal.” Remember, as someone new on the job, you’ll want to show interest and willingness to help wherever you can.