Careers Advice: Starting your career in the private sector

Written by: Mary Fortune
Published on: 10 Sep 2018

Savills office

The private sector can be seen as competitive, hard work, demanding and scary for a first role in planning.  Many planners start in the public sector, then make the switch down the line. I am not going to lie and say the private sector is not hard work or demanding, but it is not at all as daunting as many may think.

I started my career as a graduate at a small London planning consultancy in 2013, where I experienced my biggest learning curve yet. Working in a small team of planners I was exposed to the management of smaller projects and giving advice to clients.  I also worked across a whole range of different developments including healthcare, residential, advertisements and commercial developments. This involved working closely with one of the directors which allowed me to ‘learn by doing’ but also to seek guidance or support when it was needed. It also meant I was able to learn quickly.

Being in the private sector meant that I was developing key transferable skills such as project management, organisational skills and even public speaking skills which have helped in both professional and personal development. I also feel that it has allowed me to understand better how planning law has evolved and how it is applied from council to council, such as the relevant parts of key Acts, permitted development rules and other national guidance.

What I liked about working for a smaller consultancy was the exposure you get at such an early point in your career, getting into the detail of projects from early conception to securing the planning permission and beyond.

Working now at a much larger company, entering at a senior planner level, has meant being able to apply what I have learnt so far but also able to keep developing my skills by working on more complex projects and taking a stronger, leading role. My role at Savills also means working with other departments in the company, which has continued to grow my awareness of the wider world of development including heritage, land and the commerciality of development.

The advantage of now working at a much larger consultancy is that I am now working on developing certain new skills to further my personal development such as people management, negotiation and business generation. I feel that these skills will be invaluable to growing my own network and in turn my career in the private sector.

For those of you thinking about joining the private sector, it is really not as intimidating as it may seem and can give you a whole range of experience across a wide range of exciting projects. Whether you choose to join a small, medium or large consultancy, the private sector is rewarding and it is all about how much you put in to ensure you get the best personal development outcome for you.

5 top tips for developing your career in the private sector:

  1. Ask questions – don’t be afraid, it is always better to understand something properly.

  2. Ask for feedback – how could I have done this better or approached differently?

  3. Get out there and meet people to build your network – attend regular industry events.

  4. Build the foundations of your knowledge – make sure you do your own research to understand, don’t always rely on someone else.

  5. Volunteer to assist on jobs you are interested in or know will challenge you – all experience is good experience.

Mary Fortune is senior planner at consultancy Savills and chair of Women in Planning London