From PA to Chartered Building Surveyor

by Heather Gristey, Senior Building Surveyor

My journey to becoming a Chartered Building Surveyor has not been a linear one.

After completing my BSc (Hons) in Forensic Science, I found it hard to break into that industry. Therefore, I started my working life undertaking various roles within a construction company and even dabbled in teaching! However, my journey truly began when I started working as an Administrator/Personal Assistant to the senior management of a project and building consultancy.

Once I had settled into the role, I engaged with the work on a more detailed level due to my previous exposure to the industry. Having always been a little tenacious, I investigated possible routes to becoming a surveyor myself. I knew that there was more to the role than what I had seen so far, but I had the ideology that “hey, I could do this too.” I put my case forward to my company and requested sponsorship through a Post Graduate Diploma in Building Surveying at London Southbank University, and with my sales pitch and lots of questioning on logistics, they agreed!

I undertook my postgraduate degree part-time over two years, working four days a week and a full day of lectures. This was a challenging time in my life, balancing full-time work, studying, and additional life changes, such as getting married and purchasing my first house. In 2019, I completed my degree with Distinction and was extremely proud of my achievement.

Learning Through Practical Experience

I then moved to the Project Management team and assisted on two large-scale projects, which, although daunting, provided much information and solidified many theoretical scenarios learned at university. My time as a Project Manager also taught me things that I could not learn through academics!

Following my stint as a Project Manager, I moved to the Building Surveying team, and this is when the momentum started building, focusing on how I was going to achieve my Chartership. I actively worked towards achieving my logbook hours, producing my Summary of Experience, identifying gaps in my knowledge, and requesting to shadow areas of surveying I had not yet experienced.

Then COVID hit, and like many others in the industry, I was furloughed. I continued to carry out CPD activities and tried not to lose momentum in the activities in which I could continue to progress. However, in typical fashion, I added a new challenge to my plate… I had a baby!

After returning to work and navigating the challenges and guilt of being a working parent, I decided I wanted to commit to my Chartership and sit in Spring 2024. A job change to Watts Group later, I found renewed determination and resolved to bring forward my assessment to Autumn 2023… the best decision I could have made!

Preparation for the interview: Submission and Revision Process 

I completed and submitted my APC documents on the last day available in the window due to work and family life commitments, but what a feeling when the portal displays that your application is complete and has been submitted (I have never been so happy to see a box turn green!).

Then the real “fun” began… the revision! I honestly did not know where to start, and the sheer scale of the task seemed overwhelming. However, my counsellor was always on hand to guide me through the process and make sure I was taking it in bite-size chunks rather than drowning in what felt like endless competencies. I also had the added pressure of a 2-year-old who did not understand that mommy had to revise and wasn’t reading a book about bears or Paw Patrol! Revising before and after work made it possible; incredibly demanding but a temporary – and extremely worthwhile – sacrifice.

My case study presentation is now famous within Watts and my family alike; anyone who stood still for 10 minutes was subjected to my presentation and asked for notes. My husband had to sit through at least twenty renditions of the presentation; I think he could recite it too! In the run-up to my final interview, I had two external and internal mocks which were terrifying but so helpful in finding weaknesses in knowledge or posing new ethical questions, helping me to consider the RICS Rules of Conduct and how they are woven into our industry.

Reflecting on the APC Process and Embracing a Non-Linear Journey

I used to think that the APC process was laborious and a tool for torture. However, freshly acquired hindsight shows the value of the process, and always continuing and expanding your knowledge really does make a more informed and competent surveyor. My panel was supportive and friendly (still had good poker faces though!). The interview itself was less scary than all the mocks as I knew my submission and had lived the examples; when I stopped negative thinking and focused on showcasing my skills, it all seemed less daunting.

My advice as someone newly Chartered would be that you don’t need to know everything, just know your submission and the main tenets of your work and professional experiences. I made sure that all topics were covered and that my examples in my submission were ones in which I was confident to elaborate on. It’s okay to not know every answer; just make sure you are informed enough to say where you would look to find the answer or how you would deal with a subject not as familiar to your current experience.

Overall, although my journey has not been linear, it has certainly been rewarding. It has not always felt that way, and there were days/weeks that were a real struggle. Looking back, I could not have done any of it without the support of my employers (both past and present), my colleagues, and my family.

You can do it too, but life happens, and it may not be plain sailing or within the standard two-year period. Go on your journey and make the process work for you.

Heather Gristey BSc (Hons) MRICS PgDip
Senior Building Surveyor

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