Ready for another year of sitting at the same desk, talking to the same people and staring out of the same window? No? Claire Dodd helps plot your bid for freedom
1 - Should you stay or should you go?
You don’t necessarily have to move to a new firm to move up the career ladder. Talk to your line manager about opportunities within the company and what you need to do to take advantage of them. Employers view you as an investment, and you’ll be surprised at what incentives they may offer to keep you happy.
“Staff who leave without even discussing how we can reorganise their roles to meet their ambitions are missing out,” says Peter Crossley, managing director at architect Broadway Malyan. “We always want to work with our people to improve their careers. If someone comes to me and says they want to progress, they go up in my estimations. I love ambition and enthusiasm.”
Besides, flitting between firms doesn’t look great on your CV. Several big employers we spoke to said the ideal candidate would have stayed at each job for no less than two years.
Janet Green, head of human resources at Gleeds, explains: “When I hear people say ‘I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that in my previous job’, I immediately think, well what did you do about it?”
If you’re in the middle of a professional qualification, leaving can set you back, particularly for architects. Jonathan Armstrong, recruitment manager at Atkins, says new starters often make the mistake of quitting their jobs before they have finished the stage of training they are working on and find they have to start all over again. “You must get the stage you are working on signed off before you leave,” he advises.
2 - If you do want to leave, know where to look
Firms plan their recruitment up to three months in advance, but don’t always update their websites.
If you want to get a head start you could approach a firm’s human resources or recruitment team. Give them a call and tell them what qualifications and experience you have and what kind of job you are looking for. Most companies are geared for this kind of enquiry and can advise you on what jobs may suit you and email you details as and when they come up.
With on-spec approaches, it’s good to find out who you should be approaching, as Rob Beacock, associate director at TP Bennett explains. “In my experience, if you just send in a CV with a covering letter and sit back and wait for the phone to ring, it either goes to the wrong person or ends up in a filing tray.”
Don’t just target the big names. Everyone else will too and you could miss out on taking on more responsibility in a smaller firm. “Being a small fish in a big pond can’t always offer the same opportunities for advancement as joining a smaller firm,” says Simon Caton, senior consultant at recruitment firm NES Group.
If you’re an architect, you could take a more unconventional approach. Beacock has had foreign students turn up with portfolios under their arms. “They take three or four days out in this country and just go knocking on doors,” he says. “If we have the time to interview them then we do. We have taken on people in the past who have done that.”
3 - Set yourself apart from the crowd
Competition for junior level jobs is tough – it’s hard to stand out as most candidates have similar qualifications and experience.
A common criticism of first and second jobbers is a lack of business skills, as most employees spend their first few years working at a technical level. If you can show you’ve got experience doing presentations, working with clients or managing projects, you’ll have a head start.
Most firms offer training in these areas – check on your corporate intranet for a list of courses. You need to make a case to your manager about why you should do a course. Tell them why it’s relevant to your job, how it will make you perform better and why it’ll be good for the firm.
You could also ask to shadow someone in a more senior role. Atkins’ Armstrong recommends approaching your line manager or the manager of the job you want experience in. Choose someone with just a couple of years more experience than you – what you learn is more likely to be relevant and you’ve got a better chance of being asked to take on parts of the job.
4 - Go down the pub
If you want to get ahead in your own firm or one that you work with, going for a drink after work is a good way to find out what’s going on and what opportunities there might be.
“Socialising with your colleagues after work will help you get in there and climb the ladder,” says Janet Green. “Get to know your boss on a personal level – although don’t think that will necessarily help you.”
Just don’t enjoy yourself too conspicuously, she says: “The transition from the laddish university drinking culture into the professional environment is a difficult one. Be professional the whole time.”
5 - Dress for success
Most employers say that clothes do matter when you’re going for a promotion and, as obvious as this may sound, many people don’t make the effort.
Dressing smartly shows people that you take yourself and what you do seriously. Companies see it as an embarrassment to send someone scruffy to meet a client and you are more likely to be sent out on jobs of responsibility if you look the part.
What’s right for you will depend on who you work for – architects are expected to look a bit more “creative” than QSs or contractors. As a general rule, look at what the people on the rung above you wear. As for the obvious, shirts should be ironed and shoes clean. If you’ve made some effort putting an outfit together, it’ll show.
6 - Get out and about
Conferences and exhibitions are a good way to find out about the industry and make contacts. You may pick up a nugget of information you can use to dazzle your boss or uncover upcoming job opportunities.
“Developing new relationships can enhance your understanding of current issues,” says Caton. “Sharing and acquiring industry knowledge is essential for career development and can help fill any gaps in your CV. A willingness to learn those skills required might be enough to compensate for the fact that you are not yet trained in the necessary areas of expertise.”