Before we get stuck into today’s brilliant post, allow me to point you in the direction of yesterday’s FANTASTIC #aowbookswap announcement. If you haven’t already, get yourself over there and leave us a comment to ensure you’re part of the fabulousness that’s about to take over the world. (No, really. As in, participants from ALL OVER THE WORLD. Cue excited squealing.)
Jobs for the Girls is back this frosty Tuesday morning with a fascinating look into what it’s like to be a Building Surveyor. It’s appalling, really, but I absolutely picture a middle-aged man in a Barbour jacket and steel-toe-capped boots with a clipboard and a hard hat when I think of a Building Surveyor so it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Cheri (most definitely not a middle-aged man) to talk about her career and the why’s and wherefore’s of what she does for a living. When she first offered to feature alongside the Family Lawyer, the Personal Stylist and the Analytical Chemist (to name but a few!) Cheri had the following to say about her job -
‘When you mention that you are a building surveyor most people automatically think of the pesky person that gets sent round to survey a house during the buying/selling process, the person that picks up silly things that mean your buyer wants some money off! Now, I can do that, but I don’t. I work for a large multi-national company and generally deal with industrial and commercial property, managing projects like refurbishments and alterations, from beginning to end. I arrange drawings and specifications, coordinate contractors to tender, advise clients, manage works and contracts on site and deal with finances of projects. I generally work on small to medium sized contracts up to about £500K. Clients would also come to me if they have something wrong with their building and it needs fixing e.g. water ingress or cracking. I’m a bit like a GP for a building – diagnosis and treatment!’
With multiple projects on the go and a job that requires both office time and site visits, Cheri doesn’t have a ‘typical’ day. So what does she do in an average week? Her plans for the day ‘depend on what projects I have on the go and what stage they’re at. There isn’t really even a typical week! Generally I get into the office at about 8am, and leave at about 4pm. I try to stick to a routine, work/life balance is important to me. I could be designing a refurbishment to make best use of a space for a client, writing a specification for the works and preparing drawings to describe the works to the contractors, visiting site to monitor quality and progress of works, I may be managing the budget of a project on site and deciding if the contractor is entitled to things he is claiming for etc.’
With such a variety of responsibilities, I wondered what aspects of her job are Cheri’s favourites – what bits of her day get her excited? And conversely, which bits are the ‘necessary evils’ – we all have them, don’t we? Cheri derives a great deal of pleasure from seeing a change come about, from beginning to end, ‘taking something from a blank canvas, or maybe a really dilapidated mess and turning it something useable. I love working with clients to make improvements to their buildings and to help them solve problems that will improve their home or working lives.’ She’s frustrated by the lack of consistency when ‘working with statutory bodies, for example local authority planning and building control departments, water/gas/electricity companies. They all work to their own timescales, within their own rules and are very picky, with no regard for working together to solve a problem or doing anything with a sense of urgency. Everything is on their terms and you are somewhat beholden to them. They also have no competition so can charge what they like. They can sometimes make or break a project in terms of time and/or budget and it’s very frustrating not being able to do anything about it.’
As always when learning about a job or career I have very little knowledge about, I was fascinated to learn how Cheri qualified to be a Building Surveyor – what the timescales are to qualify and the different routes to achieving the title. Cheri tells us that there is more than one way to qualify, and interestingly that there are clear differences in the skill sets of those who take the different routes. ‘I got a degree in Building Surveying and the Environment. You then take an APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) in order to become a member of RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and become ‘Chartered’. The APC is minimum of 2 years training while working, having certain competencies signed off, and then attending an hour long interview including a presentation. You also have to submit a Critical Analysis of a project you have worked on (this is also what you present on). It’s tough! There are other ways of entering into the profession. Colleagues of mine started at 16 straight from school and have worked their way through HNC’s etc to the degree.’ Does Cheri regret the path she took? ‘I think if I was to do it again I would rather start work at 16 and train on the job. The degree is great but it doesn’t give you much practical experience on how buildings are actually constructed and how they work. I tend to find that people that did it this way are better technically than me, where as I am better with the general management and contract side of things, and am better at administrative tasks like writing reports.’
Clearly, a broad skill set is necessary to become a Building Surveyor. I asked Cheri what makes a brilliant surveyor…what parts of the job does she feel she has nailed? As with most jobs ‘good people skills’ are essential, ‘without good client relationships projects can be difficult and repeat business is important. You need to be organised and diligent, be inquisitive and have a skill for problem solving. You need to be self-motivated, but also able to work as a team. There are a number of people involved in any project and projects are only successful when everyone is working together. You need to show confidence and be able to manage people and time, but also need to know when to defer to someone who is more experienced or knowledgeable than you.’ It sounds like such a balancing act! Cheri does have areas she’d like to improve in, ‘As I said above, I wish I was technically better. But I am learning all the time and try and make the effort to look into something I’m not sure about once a week. I also wish I was more confident. Don’t get me wrong, I come across as confident, and I am known for getting things done and moving things forward quickly, but my confidence in my own ability is lacking. I often approach new tasks with dread that I can’t do them and I’ll fail, rather than taking it as a positive learning experience.’
Is there a Plan B for Cheri? (You know the drill…if I wasn’t a PA I’d be an air hostess/florist/wildlife photographer…!) ‘No Plan B, other than to win to the lottery and retire!’ Cheri goes on to say something that I agree wholeheartedly with and is so reassuring to hear from a strong, qualified, working woman, ‘It probably goes against everything that feminists have fought for, but I’m not that ambitious. I like my job most of the time, but I don’t love it! If I could earn the same working on a checkout in Tesco, chatting to people all day then I’d be happy. I like going to work and doing my job, but I like to leave it in the office. I have no particular desire to take the place of my boss when he retires, although I expect I’d be next in line. I expect that this could be the topic of a post on its own – should women strive to be the best and have an amazing career because that is now what is expected?’ Cheri, we’re waiting with bated breath for that post to land in our inbox…!
With such a varied working week and so many different tasks to tackle, is staying motivated easy? ‘I do find it hard to stay motivated all of the time, but I guess most people suffer a slump sometimes? My motivation comes from being busy and on the go. The construction industry is known for being up and down, often with periods of ‘feast and famine’ and we also suffer at times of recession. At times when we are quiet the motivation can wane.’ I wondered, with the fragile economy, how easy it is for Cheri and her colleagues to deal with the quiet periods. Her answer is inspiring, ‘it’s then that we get out and about and make ourselves known to people and potential clients.’
Where do Cheri’s biggest challenges and rewards come from? The moments of teeth-gritting frustration and joyful satisfaction? ‘I think the biggest compromise is not always being able to do things properly because of time/money/client. As an example a client I had refused to get a drainage survey carried out because in their opinion there wasn’t time, it was too expensive, and we didn’t need to make any alterations to the drainage so it was unnecessary. To cut a long story short there were problems with the existing system that needed to be corrected and it cost a lot of money and time. Of course I advised them of my concerns at the beginning, but it’s frustrating when a client employs you in a particular role and then doesn’t allow you to carry it out fully.’ Luckily for Cheri, there are positives to balance out the frustrations, ‘The biggest reward is seeing a project completed on time, on budget and to a high standard (it does happen!) It’s also great when a client specifically asks for me to work on their next project because I’ve done a good job previously.’ It must be a real confidence boost to be requested specifically, I asked Cheri about this and if she ever feels pushed outside of her comfort zone? ‘Always – but I think that is more as a result of my lack of confidence! Obviously there will always be new things to learn, regulations change regularly for example, but if I actually sit back and assess a new task, is not often as scary as I first thought!’
With a constantly evolving working environment, how does Cheri ensure that she’s keeping on top of developments and gaining new knowledge and skills? Who does a Building Surveyor go to for advice? ‘I don’t have a mentor as such, but my boss is great and I can always go to him for help and guidance. He also bails me out if I mess up! I have to carry out a certain amount of professional development per year as a condition of my membership to RICS. I have to log it with them, and it obviously has to be relevant. I try to broaden my experience and knowledge regularly, at the moment I am aiming to join another professional body in order to be able to offer my services to our clients in a slightly different role, sort of as a bolt on to our regular service.’
We can’t thank Cheri enough for taking the time to talk about her life and work as a Building Surveyor. Anna warned me that these posts were addictive and she’s not wrong – I am fascinated by the breadth and scope of Cheri’s role and wish her so much luck with her progression.