Careers Advice: Starting work as a graduate in a planning consultancy

Written by: Barney Ray
Published on: 22 Oct 2018


I left university with a Geography degree but ironically, little sense of direction. Having reviewed the options open to me, I grew increasingly interested in planning and development. When the opportunity arose to join planning consultancy Bidwells, the work only amplified my interest in the industry.

Upon joining the firm, I simultaneously enrolled onto a part-time Masters course in Spatial Planning at Oxford Brookes University and the journey began.

How would I describe the start of my career?

What struck me first about consultancy work was not the private sector swagger one hears about through the early employment grapevine, but rather the pleasantly surprising diversity of projects available at such an early stage.

As a graduate, there’s little that’s more desirable than a challenging and varied workload. For example, our team specialises in working on a wide variety of projects for the hospitality and leisure industry. These can range from small, yet contentious advertisement consent applications within Conservation Areas, to large-scale entertainment projects in the City of London.

Such projects have provided an excellent springboard into an industry that requires an ability to combine intricate technical knowledge of the planning and licensing systems, with client care and effective time management.

Conversely, yet harmoniously, I have also been provided with plenty of opportunity to contribute to larger-scale, major projects which make more use the strategic planning knowledge gained from postgraduate education.

There have also been opportunities to shadow experienced colleagues and to observe their technical and procedural expertise.

A notable ability I am picking up, and key for seamless progression, is people management in these projects. With larger project teams, you are tasked with keeping several people in the loop and ultimately, content. This is an art, and I have just picked up the brush.

What enabled me to reach this point?

With a masters-in-progress, alongside a full-time job, it was key from the start that I was going to need fantastic time-management.

One of the first things I was told in my interview was “you will need to be prepared to make sacrifices”. At first, this was a daunting statement. How much will I have to give up? Will I need to declare myself missing? Will my family miss me? Before long, it became clear that with good time-management and prioritisation, it is possible to succeed without making significant sacrifice.

As important as prioritisation has been open-mindedness. Particularly applicable as I’m relatively new to the industry, keeping an open mind to suggestions has been absolutely invaluable. You might find yourself working with experts who can pass on information that will shape you and your future in the industry.

What can you do to get/stay ahead?

With the above in mind, my first main tip would be to prioritise your time well and stay ahead. This may sound insultingly obvious and clichéd, but it cannot be undervalued and truly enables confident and comfortable personal development.

Secondly, take notes. Another obvious one but arguably one of the most important. There’s no way you will remember everything when starting out, so make sure you jot it down!

Finally, I would advise that you take every opportunity you can to learn from those above you. They’re where they are for a reason, so be proactive and ask probing questions. When you are open-minded, not only will you learn more, but you will experience a wider variety of projects.

Barney Ray is a planner at consultancy Bidwells’ Oxford office