Top 10 Tips to Start Your Construction Career

Posted by Keith Keown on Thursday, May 7, 2015

There’s no better way to find advice for becoming a Quantity Surveyor than to ask an existing professional in this area. So we spoke to Keith Keown who started his quantity surveying career some years ago. Keith got his degree in this subject and went on to work with various construction contractors and consultancies in the UK and internationally.

When the recession hit in the early 1990s, Keith headed to Malaysia for his first expat job before going to work in Hong Kong. He now works as a consultant in Queensland, Australia. His advice is sound and gives a well-rounded idea of what you need to know and consider as well as taking into account the future of the industry. Here’s what he had to say:

Once, the sure route to becoming a quantity surveyor meant gaining a clearly defined body of knowledge. Now professionals need to develop and select a framework that allows the flexibility to apply what you know to an ever-changing knowledge base - in an industry that is fast evolving. Whilst the rewards can be great there is no longer a job for life.

If you don’t want to get stuck in a dead-end job but have a successful and rewarding career in quantity surveying, these are my top ten tips.

1 Know Yourself

Some people are cut out to be professionals and some are not. And it takes time; there are no short-cuts. The qualities you need to go down this route include certain skills, attitudes and resources. Be honest with yourself and ask do you really like numbers and the urban environment because that is what quantity surveying is all about.

2 Plan But be Flexible

You need to think about this long before taking the traditional route to get a degree. The best plan is to look ten years ahead and consider your likes and dislikes, what resources you have and what is realistic. If you don’t go down the university route, don’t panic as education can be picked up along the way via part-time study and the Internet and probably a phone app in a few years time.

You need to start early and think broadly. There are many practical skills necessary to be a successful QS. Summer experience in a local shop learning how to sell and develop your people skills is never wasted. Using a gap year to travel the world may equal out with that summer job as a show of your experiences. There’s a fine line between which is more desirable.

3 Be Hard Core

Clients are buying services from professionals and nothing else. What will you be selling to these clients when you are a working quantity surveyor? You must be able to identify skills that the market wants and you must ensure you have those skills. This is part of the earlier planning process and knowing what you are capable of doing. These skills are usually universal technical disciplines such as finance, quantification, law, estimating and economics. It takes years of repetition to develop these skills, and specialising too early or focusing on soft ‘glam’ subjects (dare I say ‘sustainability’) is very dangerous. You must have hard, technical, analytical skills to be a successful professional.

I would add that you don’t accept an expat job until you have these skills under your belt as expat jobs are notorious for a lack of core skill training and ‘distracting’ people from reality!

4 Soft Skills are Critical

Despite an era when we depend on machines, you must be able to deal with and manage people. Developing your people skills is an essential quality you will need as a QS. You will need to be able to connect with people from all walks of life and get them to do things. This is definitely not an easy task.

5 Network

You need to build a network. This means a collection of people and organisations that can provide you with advice, mentoring, jobs and good old fashioned support particularly if things go wrong. You cannot afford to be an island – no professional quantity surveyor is. You need to develop your professional network to grow your career. Be nice and say ‘hello’ to everyone.

6 Be Proactive, Show Spark

There are thousands of people applying for your dream job. The competition in the professional market is intense and getting harder. Think about how an employer bombarded with CVs will pick out yours. One thing you can do is take the initiative and do something that shows your passion or that you are prepared to take some initiative and leaves you standing a cut above the rest.

An example of this is a young woman I interviewed some years ago. She told me that as the result of the film ‘The Life of David Gale’ she had started her own advocacy group against capital punishment. Things like that stick in a potential employer’s memory and make the candidate stand out.

7 Presentation is Everything

Yes it still holds true; everything you do, speak, wear, tattoo, write says something about you. In fact it is even more important that you learn to manage this now as the Internet and social media mean that this information about you is available to employers too. If you want to be a professional you have to act like one.

8 Work Hard

I know it sounds obvious but if you want to succeed you need to work hard for it. It can’t be avoided and you will almost certainly have to work hard at things you don’t like or enjoy. You need to be aware of this and able to motivate yourself as you will have to get through the paperwork and spreadsheets that are the lot of quantity surveyors.

9 Focus but See the Big Picture

Focus your analytical skills like a laser to provide key insights, but also presenting the big picture for clients is a great and necessary ability for a QS. I would advise you to develop some practical skills such as DIY, to read widely and have plenty of variety in your life as well as time to reflect. These are all helpful ways to develop and train yourself to see the big and the small.

10 Never be Afraid

A professional is a master of discipline and is not afraid to show his mastery. This can be easier said than done when surrounded by other professionals or when you have to give bad news, but this is what you are being paid for. It’s about getting outside your comfort zone.

Last Words of Advice

It’s a long road to being a successful professional and unfortunately for quantity surveyors you are never going to get the limelight that doctors and lawyers get. But if you want a career that has variety, opportunity for travel, involves people, is open to everyone then start now on the QS road!

Our thanks to Keith Keown for taking the trouble and time to write this excellent advice.
Maxim Recruitment.