Working within a consultancy can offer planners flexibility and a broad range of experiences that they may not be able to find elsewhere. This may seem counter-intuitive to some – surely consultancy work could make you beholden to your clients, the opposite of flexibility? However, from our experiences it is clear that the consultancy sector can give planners the chance to enhance their career and develop as professionals. These are our top five tips for progressing within planning consultancies.
Know the job market
Especially in your early career it is vital to consider how you see your career progressing and what the job market has to offer. There are a vast array of planning consultancies which specialise in different sectors of work, from the broad ranging to the specialist niche. You are much more likely to progress within your planning consultancy career if you know which sector of work interests you, and accordingly find a consultancy that aligns with this passion. This will also ensure that the consultancy will hire the right person for the job, which is a win-win scenario for both you and your prospective employer.
Grasp opportunities and run with them. When an opportunity presents itself to take on a new role or a unique piece of work, ensure that you welcome the challenge with open arms. Managing even the smallest of projects successfully will result in key skill development which can then lead to bigger opportunities moving forwards. By developing skills and knowledge in a breadth of work, you can ensure that you are a well-rounded planner who is ready for new opportunities when they emerge. Remember if you say yes, you will more than likely be asked again.
Networking, networking, and more networking
Events, training, workshops, LinkedIn. It may seem like a minefield but being able to navigate networking successfully will be invaluable to progressing within the planning consultancy sector. Networking provides a way to chat with other professionals in a relaxed atmosphere, often leading to future work opportunities or collaborations. Always ensure that after networking events, you stay connected with people that you meet; this could be through an email, a relaxed phone call or a LinkedIn message. Making lasting connections that you can call upon when you need help or advice will put you in a great position to progress within your planning consultancy career.
Training is always a great way of developing new skills as a planner, and a core part of working up those dreaded CPD hours. Consultancies are often able to offer planners a wide range of opportunities for training. Many consultancies have strong links with the RTPI and are able to tap into the annual spread of events and other sessions which the institute runs. In addition, consultancies are increasingly developing relationships with specialist firms offering unique training opportunities for planners in everything from communication skills to improving relationships with colleagues and clients.
Flexibility later in your career
The consultancy model also offers flexibility when it comes to planners entering the later stages of their career. Rather than taking the ‘traditional’ retirement option, planners can continue to work as a consultant, giving more flexibility in choosing sectors and projects which they feel they can make a significant contribution to. Gordon Richardson, formerly of Arup, has recently taken this option and now provides environmental consultant services: “The consultancy format enabled me to put the word 'semi' in front of both ‘retirement’ and ‘employment’, which makes for a very creative and enjoyable life,” he says.
Jane Healey Brown is associate director, Charlie Mayer is planner and Sophie Long a graduate planner at consultants Arup