Commercial surveyor: How to morph into a professional success

Women with good verbal skills can do well in the world of land sales and property leases
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The Independent Online

It isn't every profession that can claim a blogger as one of its keenest recruiting agents. But when Jenna Kitchingham, 22, started her first job as a commercial surveyor this summer, she was determined to do whatever she could to tell more young people about the benefits of an occupation she felt was woefully under-represented in career literature.

"When you're a student, you can't be bothered to think about the world of work. You visit your university careers adviser at the last minute, and it's hard to get information on jobs like surveying," she explains. "I thought that, if I wrote a blog explaining what I do on a day-to-day basis, I would be providing a valuable resource for other graduates."

Kitchingham, who was introduced to surveying herself while working part-time for an estate agent during her A-levels, has titled her blog "Student to Surveyor: the Metamorphosis". It offers a candid and entertaining insight into the life of a trainee chartered surveyor - from the sinking feeling she experiences on arriving in the office to find her e-mail inbox brimming with urgent messages after a "manic weekend" to her flushes of triumph on completing a tricky property deal for a client.

So what exactly do commercial surveyors do, and how does their role differ to those of others employed in the industry? Put simply, commercial surveying involves valuing and negotiating sales and leases on corporate properties (shops and offices, rather than houses and flats). Like solicitors, surveyors are employed either by tenant or landlord, buyer or the seller - and this can vary from one commission to another.

Whether you take the commercial or residential route, further divisions lie ahead. Building surveyors (the ones we encounter when buying or selling our homes) physically inspect properties and provide inventories of their attributes and defects. Quantity surveyors, meanwhile, are employed to oversee the acquisition and/or development of construction sites. They can spend as much time negotiating land sales and managing budgets as "surveying" in the literal sense of the word.

As well as its complex career structure, the profession has a reputation for being male-dominated. Of the 32,000 qualified commercial surveyors practising in the UK, only 5,000 are women - though things are improving, insists Paul Bagust, spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

"Increasingly, the skills involved in commercial surveying are the softer skills women excel in - things like negotiation and communication," he says.

The argument that a career in commercial surveying can be equally suited to both genders is borne out by Kitchingham's experience. Despite the fact that only 10 of the 70 students on her BSc course (a four-year sandwich degree in real estate management at Kingston University) were women, she and four others graduated with firsts - a feat matched by only one man. All have since been snapped up by major companies.

Kitchingham, who works in the lease consultancy department of surveying partnership GVA Grimley, says that opportunities for promotion also look promising, with little sign of the glass ceilings so often criticised in macho professions like banking.

"The head partner of our rating department and another senior partner in the firm are both women," Kitchingham explains. "I like the fact there are clear progression routes, and the idea of maybe one day becoming a freelance consultant. One of the good things about being a woman in this profession is that you can have children and work from home. You could also set up your own business, or even go abroad."

What, though, of the most important consideration for those embarking on new careers: pay? Well, for graduate surveyors with the ability and ambition to succeed, there can be huge financial rewards. New recruits tend to start on between £22,000 and £25,000 - significantly more than the current average graduate starting salary of £20,300.

Many also qualify for "golden hellos" of around £1,000 and annual bonuses related to the profitability of their firms during the preceding 12 months.

The key to even bigger earnings is achieving chartered surveyor status. Kitchingham, who graduated this summer, still has the best part of two years before she completes her assessment of professional competence (APC) and becomes fully qualified. But when she does, her salary is likely to leap by 25 per cent overnight.

"The money's good," she concedes. "In my third year at university I worked in GVA Grimley's rating department and was paid £16,000-£18,000 even then - not bad for a sandwich year job!"

For general information on careers in surveying, visit the RICS website at Jenna Kitchingham's blog can be found at the following address: