I left local government five years ago looking for a fresh challenge. This led me to a career in private consultancy as a Senior Planner with DLP Planning in Bedford. Five years on I have recently been made a Director of the company. Whilst there is never a magic recipe for progressing your career in the private sector, as every company and individual is different, here are a few key pieces of advice that should stand you in good stead.
Be prepared to be taken out of your comfort zone
By its very nature, the private sector is a diverse and fast-paced environment. As a consultant you are expected to think on your feet, responding to your client’s demands in a timely manner and always with high quality advice. Some see this as a burden, others see it as a challenge. For my first 6-12 months in consultancy it was definitely the former as I felt like a fish out of water, struggling to cope with the expectations of the role, and I had very little confidence it was the career path for me. But if you stick with it and approach every task as a learning opportunity, things will become more familiar and your comfort zone will expand.
Develop your business acumen
Taking an interest in the commercial aspects of your role is essential to progressing a career in the private sector. You might be the most knowledgeable and competent planner in the world, but if you can’t appreciate the basics of a balance sheet your value to a private company is limited. Understanding the value of your work is crucial, so try and get involved in preparing fee proposals as early as you can. Winning my first instruction was a real buzz and gave me the confidence to go out and sell my skills to other clients.
Be prepared to take opportunities when they arise
My ascent to the role of director at DLP Planning has happened a lot quicker than I could ever have imagined. At DLP I have been fortunate that opportunities have arisen in senior positions and the company has a good track record of promoting staff internally. That said, in order to seize such opportunities, you need to position yourself as the most capable and attractive candidate for the role. This might mean volunteering to take on a task that is currently above your pay grade, or putting in a few extra hours here and there to demonstrate that you are committed to the cause.
At its heart, private sector consultancy is about being able to sell your skills. Growing your network of contacts will help grow your reputation within the industry and increase the amount of business you can bring in. At first I couldn’t see the value in spending time out of the office attending breakfast seminars and business lunches when I had lots of work to get done in the office. However, if you aspire to progress up the ranks in the private sector you have to be mindful that a consultant is only as good as their next instruction.
Take pride in your work
Showing your superiors that you are dedicated and care about the work you produce will go a long way to providing them with the confidence to promote you to a more senior position. Taking responsibility for your work is a good indicator that you probably have the aptitude to take on wider management responsibilities. Putting your all into whatever comes your way will also reflect well with your clients, who generally want to be treated like they are the sole focus of your attention.
Trust your instincts and have confidence in your ability
I have learnt that the art of good planning consultancy is being able to present your ideas and advice to your audience (whether that be clients, council representatives or a planning inspector) in a confident and assured manner. In planning there often isn’t a single correct answer to a problem, but a range of alternative solutions or approaches that could be taken. A good consultant is one who is able to convince their audience that their client’s solution is the right one. In my experience the old adage that ‘confidence breeds confidence’ does generally ring true.
Andrew Parry is director at consultancy DLP Planning Ltd