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Quantity Surveyors - Is Your Career On Track?

Quantity Surveying can be an incredibly rewarding profession. It is also a career that takes a lot of dedication and hard work to really make it in the upper echelons of the profession.

It's a profession that requires well educated individuals doing what's largely considered as a vital role in the construction process. For that reason it often attracts highly professional and ambitious candidates to the role.

As a Recruiter specialising in recruiting Quantity Surveyors for main contractors and sub contractors in the UK market, I often have conversations with candidates unsure whether they are being underpaid or overlooked for a promotion and generally wondering if their career is on track.

Therefore, I hope the summary below can be a useful steer for Quantity Surveyors working for contractors who are looking to plan out their career and who are analysing whether they are getting the best experience available with their current employer and within the role they are performing.

Assistant / Trainee Quantity Surveyor (2 - 3 Years)

Likely assisting a Senior QS / Commercial Manager on a project or multiple projects. You may even start to run your own smaller projects or take sole responsibility for a package of work (i.e. groundworks, fit-out, Structures etc.) on a larger project. Once you're capable of doing this mostly independently, you are probably ready to become and intermediate QS or Projects QS (job titles will vary depending on employer).

Most Assistant Quantity Surveyors are promoted within 2 - 3 years of working at this level.

Quantity Surveyor (2 - 4 Years)

Your role at this level will likely depend on the size of the company you work for and what types of projects they deliver. You will now have the capability to work largely independently on a single project or multiple smaller projects whilst reporting to the Commercial Manager.

Alternatively, perhaps you work on major projects of extremely high value. In this instance, you will likely be working as part of a large commercial team on the project and your roles could be divided to managing packages of work that could be several millions of GBP each.

In either of these roles, you will need to build up your experience on projects and your knowledge of potential issues that may go wrong. You will build up your contractual knowledge and how to assess risk. You will likely become extremely confident in dealing with sub-contractors. You may start to build upon your managerial skills towards the end of your time in this role and be responsible for mentoring an Assistant or Trainee QS.

Essentially this is a very important stage of your career.

Getting the right level of support from your employer and direct from your manager is often brought up as a critical factor in your development when I speak to Quantity Surveyors at this level. Often, those that struggle to really make progress in this role are those that feel they have not had the support they needed and have been thrown in at the deep on projects often due to understaffing.

If you have worked on a couple of projects successfully (or potentially one very large project lasting multiple years) and you are showing the skills to manage a project profitably, you should then be looking to take on more responsibility as a Quantity Surveyor. This may come in the way of working on larger projects, or taking control of more projects and / or a change in job title.

The range for when a Quantity Surveyor is ready to take the next step up to a senior level can vary more at this stage of the career. Typically I see a range of circa 2 - 4 years at this level. However, it can sometimes be longer.

Senior Quantity Surveyor (3 - 7 Years)

To have been promoted to a Senior QS, you will now be fully confident in all the day-to-day tasks that you will be required to carry out. You will almost certainly be running your own projects at this stage of your career, barring working on mega projects where you may still be part of a large commercial team, however even in this scenario you will still play an important role on the project.

You will almost certainly be managing at least one junior member of staff, perhaps more and you need to demonstrate your ability to effectively manage and mentor junior staff in order to help their development.

You will now have significant experience, not only as a Quantity Surveyor but in the construction industry as a whole. You will likely have worked on many projects by the end of your time as a Senior Quantity Surveyor and you will have encountered many familiar problems that arise on projects. You will have a good understanding of common contractual issues that arise throughout a project and if you have not dealt with them yourself, you will have likely played a part in resolving such issues and effectively protecting your employer against contractual risk and maximising profit where possible.

You may have had projects that have gone well and projects that have been problematic, however they will all have helped you build on your experience and knowledge that will help you in the latter stages of your career.

Managing Quantity Surveyor / Commercial Manager

Once you have established yourself as a capable Senior Quantity Surveyor the natural progression is to move in to a managerial role. Job titles may vary from company to company, however the most common two titles are Commercial Manager or Managing Quantity Surveyor.

In such roles, you will likely be the lead commercial contact on a specific project or a range of projects. You will now be the lead contact that junior Surveyors will approach with difficult issues on their projects / packages of work and the buck will stop with you. In such roles, you will now likely be involved in more senior level meetings with Directors and have some input on strategic decisions. You will be heavily judged on your ability to manage projects / departments that are making a profit.

You will need a wide range of skills to perform in this role. It will combine your management skills with your technical skills.

Most Quantity Surveyors are capable of getting to this level with some hard work and dedication. Typically we see QS's in these job roles at a wide range of years of experience. For those high flyers, we can see Commercial Managers with circa 10 years experience. However, more commonly it will take circa 15+ years to get into such a role.

Certain companies in the market do use the Commercial Manager job title for roles that do not equate to what most companies would consider a Commercial Manager also.

I have had a number of clients look at CV's of particularly young Commercial Manager's with a degree of scepticism and there does seem to be a general feeling in the market that you do need a certain number of years experience as a Quantity Surveyor to really be an effective Commercial Manager.

Commercial Director

After being in a Commercial Management role, the next step up would likely be into a Commercial Director role and then into executive roles for a construction company. These roles are typically less hands on roles at this stage of your career and if you've been used to being site based until now, you will now be working from an office

In such roles, you will be heavily involved in the business strategy and general development of the business as well as overseeing the commercial aspects of the projects being carried out.

Many QS's do not make it into such roles and in the past I have seen many candidates that have made excellent Commercial Managers but have really struggled to adapt to Director level roles.

A Director level role can become less about Quantity Surveying and more about general business management and for some Quantity Surveyors who enjoy the cut and thrust on site, they choose not to pursue a promotion into a Director level role.

Summary

If you are a Quantity Surveyor and would like a conversation about your career, you can always contact me in our UK office on 0870 243 0446.

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Stuart Hackett
Senior Recruitment Consultant – UK & Middle East

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