8 great ways to get ahead in the planning industry
Professional planning is a highly competitive arena. But by developing your soft skills – and with a game plan up your sleeve – you can go far. To succeed, you’ll need to make sure your job-hunting collateral is up to date — including your CV, a portfolio and social media profiles. It’s also worth brushing up on transferable skills such as presenting and negotiating. Above all, writes Rachel Miller, keep learning and developing to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction, whichever sector in which you want to make your mark.
1. PUT TOGETHER A PORTFOLIO
A good portfolio can help you market. It demonstrates both your professionalism and your pride in your work. However, there are some important do’s and don’ts:
- Highlight projects that best show your suitability for the job you are applying for
- Be specific about your role – most projects are a team effort
- Create a PDF of your portfolio so you can send it with online job applications
- Overdo the explanatory text – talk about details at interview
- Throw your portfolio together; give it a consistent look and a logical order.
"More candidates are submitting portfolios with their CVs when applying for positions. They certainly grab my attention... And they’ll often be the first we call to discuss the role"
Kirsty Hall, founder of property recruitment consultancy KDH Associates
Find out more about creating a portfolio here.
2. IMPROVE YOUR ONLINE NETWORKING
Sites like LinkedIn and Twitter offer opportunities to reach out to an active community of planners, architects, designers, environmentalists, builders, journalists, academics, policy-makers, campaigners – and, of course, potential employers and business partners.
Your online profile and your posts can build your reputation within the planning industry. At the same time, by being active on social media you can keep up to date with industry news and views.
You don’t have to be on every social media site but LinkedIn is essential — it’s the place where professionals go to make connections.
It’s also a key tool in professional recruitment – your CV and your activity on LinkedIn are likely to be scrutinised by potential employers.
Best practice on social media
- Keep your profile up to date
- Check in regularly
- Keep it professional
- Listen and respond, don’t just talk
- Share useful content
- Target specific audiences
- Follow thought-leaders
- Join professional groups online
- Check out potential new jobs
- Build up endorsements and recommendations
3. POLISH YOUR PRESENTATIONS
Standing up in a packed council chamber or pitching to potential clients is daunting. With the right preparation, you can calm your nerves and improve your performance.
Developing the skills to make a persuasive pitch or lead a debate can take you a long way in your career — not least because others often lack these abilities. There are five golden rules when it comes to presentations:
- Set objectives
Establish goals and back up points with supporting evidence.
- Create a structure
Focus on two or three key messages and explain your point of view from the start so you keep your audience engaged
- Start strong
Aim to grab the attention of your audience and keep it. Try starting with a quotation, a question or a personal example.
Film yourself making the speech beforehand to improve your delivery - smart phones mean it's never been easier to do this. See where you can pause for effect or vary your tone to avoid monotony.
- Do your homework
You can never be too prepared. If you know your stuff , you won’t have to rely on reading out your speech word for word. What’s more, with the right level of practice you’ll be able to handle questions with confidence.
Find out more about improving your presenting skills here.
4. PRODUCE WELL-WRITTEN REPORTS
Writing reports may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they are grist to the mill for professional planners.
Planning reports are often read by many interested parties, not all of them professionals, so although they need to be technically accurate, they should be free of unnecessary jargon.
A lively writing style helps, but the key requirements for a well-written report are a sound framework and clear analysis. Define your objectives and your audience before you put pen to paper.
If your report-writing skills could do with improvement follow these five guidelines:
- Do your research
Speak to as many stakeholders as possible and, if necessary, make enquiries to research bodies and professional associations.
- Structure your report
Include a title page, a contents page, an introduction, the body of the report and a conclusion with your recommendations. Don’t forget to include references and an appendix.
- Organise your team
Most reports are a collaborative effort. Establish areas of responsibility, agree a structure and style and create a schedule.
- Write your executive summary last
An executive summary should include: the scope and purpose of the report, methods used, and results and recommendations. Write this last so it’s an accurate summary of the entire report.
- Go easy on your readers
Use bullet points, boxed out text, pullout quotes and sign-posting to make your report more accessible. Don’t be afraid to include white space. Break up text with photos, maps, graphs and graphics.
Find out more about how to write a sharp report here.
5. BECOME A BETTER NEGOTIATOR
Every planning professional needs to master the art of negotiation. Planners are often passionate about doing the right thing but passion alone doesn’t always win the day. The best approach is to look at negotiation as a form of collaboration – it’s about finding the right solution for both sides.
Of course, planners have a set of rules that they have to follow. But simply stating your position is often a non-starter; it means that there can only be a winner and a loser and compromise is off the table.
If you’re prepared to explore different solution together, there’s a higher chance that you can meet everyone’s needs.
If the other party refuses to budge, don’t take it personally; even if the language they use might be personal. Keep everyone informed of the reasons for your decisions and don’t complain if someone goes to their democratically elected representative and asks for help – it’s all part of the system.
Tips for better negotiating
1) Listen and understand the interests of everyone involved
2) Explore options that could satisfy both sides
3) Keep your stakeholders in the loop
4) Don’t take it personally
Find out more about negotiation skills for planners here.
6. SET UP AS AN INDEPENDENT
Consultancy can be an attractive proposition. You get to focus on your specialism, run things your way and work to your own timetable.
However, the hours can be long and it adds an element of uncertainty that you’ll have to be able to live with.
If you’re sure that going it alone is right for you, you’ll need to think like an entrepreneur.
The first step is to create a business plan. It’s worth finding an accountant in the early stages so they can guide you.
You’ll need to consider where to work. A home office is cost effective, but it may not be a suitable place to meet clients.
Managing your time is a big part of being your own boss. Make time for prospecting to ensure that there’s a steady flow of work. But don’t forget that the most powerful form of promotion is word-of-mouth recommendation.
Do remember to keep up with professional development; it’s a requirement for RPTI members.
You can also raise your profile through events and publications.
Finally, money. There are three types of fee: time-based, lumpsum contracts and ad valorum contracts (such as a fee formula).
Find the right fee structure for your needs, keep your rates competitive and make sure you are making a reasonable profit.
Do you have what it takes?
1) Are you proactive?
2) Do you have a USP?
3) Do you have enough contacts?
4) Can you survive if things are quiet?
RTPI advice about becoming an independent consultant can be found here.
7. TURBO CHARGE YOUR CV
Your CV has to work hard. It is more than a record of employment; it’s a sales tool and it should have to power to persuade.
So what does a good CV look like?
- It’s tailored to each new application. Look at the job specification and make sure your CV reflects (honestly) your strengths in those areas.
- It’s clean, simple, and well laid-out.
- There are no gaps. Explain your moves if you’ve had a lot of jobs; don’t leave anything out.
- There are clear signs of progression. If you’ve been in the same place for a long time, demonstrate how your role has developed.
- It is value-added. Don’t just say what you did but specify what you achieved.
- It flags up your professional credentials. If you achieved your RTPI or RICS at the first attempt, say so. If you are still a licentiate member, state your target submission date.
- It includes excellent referees.
If you are just starting out, it can be hard to make your CV look good. Always flag up all any real-world experience such as internships, volunteering or a relevant academic project. While you are job-hunting, keep active in the industry; mention your attendance at planning events on your CV as well.
Read about preparing your portfolio and CV – with advice from planners about their own - here.
8. PERFECT YOUR PUBLIC SPEAKING
Public speaking – addressing an audience, pitching a plan to a client or running a debate in council chambers – is nerve-shredding to many. You might not find your inner Stephen Fry, but it is an important skill to add to your armoury. Persuading others to share your vision, even though they may be diametrically opposed to it, requires skills that need to be learned and developed. You can build your abilities by:
Know the facts of your case – the bedrock of being confident. And familiarise yourself with the contrary arguments.
Brevity is the soul of wit
Grab your audience’s attention with a clear breakdown of information into sections. Keep to the point, linking all your supporting evidence to it.
Create a narrative. Mould the subject to your audience, maybe with anecdotes to illustrate dry facts and statistics. Make the audience feel you are well qualified to make the presentation and using sound judgement. Humour can be useful, but a bit like Marmite – not everyone will appreciate it.
Aide-mémoire, but not a script
Strong delivery of a speech, without factual or grammatical mistakes, is essential. And don’t slavishly follow a script – improvisation with notes and graphics is often a more lively way to deliver your points and it allows you to maintain eye contact with your audience. Practising in the mirror and recording yourself beforehand will help you time, perfect and nuance your performance – especially the ending.
To read more from the Planner 2015 Guide to Career Development please click here.