Jobs for the Girls – Building Surveyor

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.)

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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.’

Pictures in this post - incl this one - are not representative of Cheri's firm or work, just buildings we think are pretty...

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.’

Source

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.’

Source

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.

Categories: Jobs For The Girls
17 interesting thoughts on this

16 Comments

  1. Posted January 15, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Part of the reason I love this series is because it blows my preconceptions out of the water. I had no idea what a building surveyor did, what skills it required, and I finished this understanding a little bit more what it must feel like to love a building, to make it better, to understand what it needs, to be part odd something that will stand the test of time.

    Cheri – I’m also really interested in the points you raise about ambition. Its so different to how I feel but I love that your motivations and values are so different, and that you take pride in that. We would love a post about disagreeing with a woman being expected to have a career – please, start writing! X

  2. snowshep
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Cheri, your job sounds fascinating! As my job is *all* about working with people, I think it’s great to hear about jobs with ‘hard’ skills, where you actually see a finished product/job/process. There must be great satisfaction in being able to close a project and know that it is a job well done. My dad worked in your industry in the 1980s (as an accountant), but to be honest I’d never really understood what it was. Thanks!

    I would also love to read a piece on the expectation that we all have amazing careers and are constantly reaching for the next level. I think that’s something a lot of women (and men!) who have been working for a few years and become established in their role struggle with. We are also very good at comparing ourselves to friends/colleagues/family members and find ourselves lacking if we are not moving at the same pace. It can be quite difficult to admit that you are happy with what you have and it’s not a personal failure to reject taking on more responsibility. There is definitely value in being content with what you have and appreciating it for what it is.

    At this point I should admit that this is one of my pet subjects. I work in HR but have a degree in industrial relations so there are constantly two voices in my head having just this battle: How do we get people to achieve their full potential for themselves and the company vs. let them *be* what they want to be, do their job and go home at a sensible hour and, above all, make sure they are paid fairly. I think this internal war makes me fairly unsuitable for a role as a manager, so I’ve solved my career dilemma neatly!

    Happy Tuesday AOWers!

  3. Posted January 15, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    The ambition point is interesting. It definitely makes me feel a bit better. I’m ambitious in that I want to do well and feel fulfilled and like I’m reaching my potential, but does that necessarily have to mean a promotion?
    Anyway Cheri (if you are the Cheri I think you are from FB and your husband’s twitter) you may have some career/life decisions to be making pretty soon! Good luck and best wishes with that :) xxx

    • Cheri
      Posted January 15, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      That is me!

  4. Lee-Anne
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Great piece Cheri. Sounds like you have an interesting job. A piece on woman and ambition would be good. In my career at the moment it is getting to the stage where I need to think about developing in my profession. However I am not sure if I want to move to a job with a lot more responsibility, I enjoy my job and most days I get to leave work and not worry too much about it. Not sure how I would feel if I had to work all hours and miss out on time with my daughter. Unfortunately with talks of pay cuts and status changes I might not have a choice.

  5. Lee-Anne
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Before I had my daughter I was always thinking next year will be the year I take the leap and go for a promotion, but it never really happened. Now that I have Chloe I just can’t see how it is possible. I don’t have the most challenging career, I am a librarian, but I know that if I want to progress then I need to put in more hours and take on more responsibility. I work in a school as a sole librarian and I am as far as I can go. There is no job progression anymore with council budget cuts so if I want to move on I need to take the leap to another sector. This scares me.

    I better stop there or this could turn into a long comment. x

    • Posted January 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Long comments are fine by me, or write a post! Can’t speak for everyone but you’re describing exactly the kind of thing I’d love to read something about.

  6. Katielase
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I always read these posts and decide I want to change my career entirely. I love the way people talk about their jobs and what they do, so fascinating!

    K x

    • ClaireH
      Posted January 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I know, me too – I have total job envy now!

  7. Posted January 16, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    This was so interesting to read.
    “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?” <—- I'd love to read your post on this, it's always intriguing to hear a different view point and the comments on a post like this make for especially fascinating reading! x

  8. Posted January 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I have a job that is in an almost entirely male orientated field (no pun intended); agriculture. I am an agricultural consultant, which in many ways ticks a lot of boxes about what I am interested in (farming, the environment, working with people). But as the only female at meetings, farm visits etc, I often find it hard to be heard. As a relatively young adviser, I often get comments about how nice it is to have a young woman on the farm telling them what to do, which luckily I find funny, but many would find offensive!

    I am like you Cheri, I’m not overly ambitious. I am supposed to be sitting further exams for my job, but to be honest, I’m quite happy at the level I am at. I don’t want to progress any further than maybe a step up from where I am. A lot of my friends don’t understand it (and most of them work in more “traditional” corporate environment type jobs, so I think they find the idea of my splodging around in my wellies quite funny!), but I think the environment I work in is probably a bit less competitive. Lots of interesting topics around this post. A great read!

  9. Naomi
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    This article was so inspiring. I’ve recently got into university to study surveying and was beginning to become a little unsure and wasn’t entirely sure if this was the correct career path for me. Im only 17 and applying for these courses was a quick last minute decision with the pressure from school. I also applied for architectural technology. When I mention my plans to people they seem surprised as this job tends to be seen as “male dominated”. After reading your article I’m so intrigued and inspired by your work sounds like so much fun. It’s really nice to hear words from someone who has experience within the profession.

  10. Posted May 5, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Hello

    Some of the best building surveyors I’ve worked with are females. Definately give this a shot if your interested.

    All the best

  11. Nick
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    In this she says that she hates working with local authorities due to the fact that they have no competition. I would like to point out that during her whole career building control have been in competition with approved inspectors. This happened in 1985. It annoys me that a representative of the RICS is being negative about building control a lot of whom are RICS chartered when she has no idea that they are in competition and if she is not happy with the service then she could use an Approved Inspector.

  12. Lorna Bambridge
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to be a surveyor but I was a carer for my mother who had cancer so a parttime course seemed great at Anglia Ruskin. They accepted me and this was great but then they said the course was no w full time. They then put on lecture and when a hospital appointment came up I had to ask for mitigation in the first two weeks.. The woman who did mitigation had a chat with me and I expressed concern that the second year was a placement and as I was not a surveyor’s placement (which is why surveyors are boys club because they employ each others children) then I would have a problem getting a placement – by the end of the visit I was persuaded to leave otherwise the university would not promise to help me get a placement. Oncer I signed the form I was out. and then I got a head of dept email that said I neeed not have left and when I sent a email to the university it appeared the mitigation officer had claimed I had left due to lack of funds for the course – which was not true. Ironically the university now will not accept any application I make to them because they were being both ageist/sexist and anti-carer, and now the fees are three times the sum of money I had so as an ex carer on nil income fo rthe six years of my mother’s care I cannot afford the big fat richman’s fees that are demanded and unlike young people of generations before I do not get a loan because I had got a drama degree in 1991! Obviously women retraining or women changing careers are expected to have huge sums of money to retrain out of their own pockets, and being a carer and able doe snot mean anything as the return to work carer career guidance is about becoming care support workers on fees of £5 per hour. This is of course all about the sexism of a society that would not blink an eye if my brother or male cousin refused to look after their OAP parent and dumps the care and carer (end of career) on women. I then got ripped off by a surveyor who lied an died and lied, and due ot my limited interest in building regulations I was able to assess he qwas a quack, but trying to get a non-male surveyor is impossible,because the surveyors sector has no intention of encouraging women into it. If you ask the RICS that you wish specifically to employ a woman they will not offer help as they do not carry this information and I am quite sick of being ripped off by liar males – surveyors – who use quack and lies and the huff and puff of ‘professionalism’ to disguise negligence and sloppiness and of course fraud.

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  • By An anniversary of sorts on March 5, 2013 at 8:57 am

    [...] an eye out) – and learned about (amongst others) the lives of inspiring women who are also building surveyors, family lawyers, PhD candidates, photographers and analytical chemists. I’m certain that [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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