Joanne Farrar, associate director at Atkins, says that collaboration is key to career progression. She shares her career journey so far.
Where do you work and what does it involve?
I work for Atkins and head the UK planning, economics and sustainability team. I have a multi-faceted role that encompasses business management, supporting business development, winning work and providing planning technical expertise on development and infrastructure projects. So typical tasks include: managing resources and performance; overseeing career and talent development; supporting bids; helping to prepare marketing material; meeting clients and providing senior planning support and advice on projects.
No two days are the same, and I’m rarely in one office for more than two days at a time. But the variety is interesting and challenging, I love the ‘people’ aspects of the role from providing support and guidance to my team, working with other colleagues in Atkins, developing client relationships and meeting stakeholders on projects.
It is also important to me that I continue to develop my technical expertise and am still helping to secure planning consents and develop master plans for major schemes across the UK and farther afield.
Why did you decide to make the switch to your current planning role?
My first job was with the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. I thoroughly enjoyed four years’ development management and policy experience before my bosses kindly let me go off on an 18-month sabbatical to work for Johannesburg City Council (through VSO). There, I helped to prepare and implement area development plans and a tourism strategy for Soweto.
In search of a new challenge on my return, I decided it was time to move to the private sector. Atkins was a good fit –we have a variety of public and private sector clients both in the UK and overseas and work on some very interesting and high-profile infrastructure and development projects. I also get to work with brilliant engineers, ecologists, landscape architects, master planners, environmental and sustainability consultants, heritage consultants, transport planners and architects.
What is the most important thing you've done to boost your career prospects?
I think it’s very useful to have public and private sector experience. It helps you develop a greater appreciation of the planning and development context and consenting process. My overseas voluntary work helped to demonstrate a curiosity, a desire to share knowledge, to support and learn from others, a passion for new challenges and an ability to adapt to situations quickly and successfully.
Career progression now is also about the added value you bring to an organisation, how you can foster an environment that helps to generate new ideas, pushes boundaries and is collaborative – all essential for the survival of a business in a very competitive market.
What's your advice for other planners seeking to change jobs?
When I’m looking at CVs I like to see that people have stayed in a job for at least a couple of years before moving on. A CV that shows the candidate has had a new job rings alarm bells. I like to see a variety of experience in the candidate’s early career before they have decided to specialise in one area.
If I was interviewing someone for a role at Atkins I’d expect them to have done a bit of research about the company, know what we do, and where we operate. I’d also like to hear what they think are the key issues facing the profession and whether they play a role in supporting the RTPI.
What should planners seeking a senior role keep in mind?
Planner seeking a more senior role should be able to demonstrate the quality of their work; presenting examples at an interview often helps to stimulate discussion.
Applicants should have excellent commercial awareness, identify where they have added value on a project or for the business, where they have established a good client relationship and maintained it, and how they helped to inform and implement business strategy.
What three character traits best describe a successful planner?
A sense of humour.
To read more from the Planner 2015 Guide to Career Development please click here.