Career change for the better? – by Natasha Stone

So, it’s the new year and you’re sat back at your desk.

You look around at everyone else, familiar faces, good friends – you smile and wish them happy new year – and you see the genuine enthusiasm shine from them – and you almost envy that they’re happy with their chosen workload. It’s not an overwhelming feeling, but then… you’re not unhappy really – far from it. You’re good at what you do, it doesn’t pay too badly – I mean, it could be better paid, but you don’t have a great deal to complain about. It’s just… you can’t quite put your finger on it, perhaps you can’t see your career going anywhere – or the direction it’s taking isn’t something that thrills you particularly.

The prospect of continuing on your current career path doesn’t make you want to jump out of bed in the morning in order to see what the day holds in store for you.

It was in one of these moments that I decided, 12 years ago, to change my career. It’s something I’m quite vocal about – mostly because when I made that decision, opinions were proffered thick and fast. Good ones, bad ones, but of course, the ones that stuck were those comments stating that as a trained musician, “I had no basis of understanding construction”, and in fact, had “absolutely no business” in making a move into the world of STEM.

As many who know me would tell you, I enjoy a good challenge, and more than that – if someone tells me ‘I can’t do something’, then that’s like a red rag to a bull. I will then make it my life’s mission to prove them entirely wrong. Which 12 years later, with a Diploma in a scientific subject and two surveying Charterships under my belt, I know I can say I proved the naysayers very wrong.

However it wasn’t an easy road, and don’t let anyone tell you it is. Anything that is worth achieving is never easy, and I haven’t found an easy road to accomplishment yet. But I feel I’ve got a rich variety of experiences along the way, as well as the fantastic and patient mentors and friends, all of which have shaped me into the surveyor I am today. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

So why am I blogging about career changing today?

This time of year always brings about reflections, looking to the past to learn from our experiences, and more importantly – what we want to do in the future. The media bombards us all continually with images of what life should be, what should make us happy – and not to mention the subtle gender stereotype suggestions. Boys like cars and construction and sports, girls like babies and cleaning and cooking etc. But for many of us, male, female or non-binary, we don’t fit into neat societal expectations. And neither should we, unless that’s exactly what we choose freely, as our own path.

Fresh out of University, I’d achieved my shiny Bachelor of Music and marched into the world of work, bright eyed and excited about all the opportunity that lay in wait. I applied for Graduate schemes at any number of large accounting and consultancy firms, who professed they wanted non-cognate candidates with sharp analytical minds and eager to learn, and anxiously waited for the chance to interview.

And waited.

Of the 30 applications that I sent out, I received one rejection back – which stated that I was underqualified for the role. A naive and confused 21 year old, I went straight to the nearest temping agency and decided to get at least some temporary work, until I could figure out what to do next. Mostly, I was told that I should teach music. Do a PGCE, which I considered briefly, as I’d taught when I was younger – but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was an analyst, not a teacher.

Feeling quite despondent, I took a role in a call centre as a call taker, working shifts on a 24 hour basis. Which then, over the next six and a half years, began my interim career of call centre work, office management, resource planning and being an executive assistant.

I enjoyed the work in all honesty. It’s where you learn the true meaning of team work. Where you have a customer screaming down the phone at you (yes – people really do scream at the faceless voice that you want help from. Top tip, if you want someone to help you, it’s always nice to be nice…); or it’s the middle of the night and you’re feeling a bit down, and your colleague is there to give you a pep talk, or a bit of a singalong with the radio.

You also learn how to deal with crises quick sharp. When there’s no one else to rely on but yourself – you learn how to find a suitable solution very quickly indeed. When someone’s life is at risk, you learn how to keep your head and care for others. You learn how to deal with people, and negotiate, and to get your way in the most agreeable fashion for everyone. My experiences have taught me that perception of job roles, really aren’t correct in many cases. Next time you pick up a phone to a call centre, have a chat and a laugh with the operative – you might just make their day.

But, despite all of my varied experiences, I always yearned for those jobs I applied for when I left University.

Then one day, in my then-current role as a PA, I was chatting with a QS who’d asked for my help with a spreadsheet. I was pretty good at Excel, and with my finance and accounting background (provided by a very kind CEO I was previously a PA for) I saw the error in the sheets straight away. I explained my working and then we got into an in depth conversation about the project and the work he was doing.

He explained that he was currently retraining from being a Sports Scientist, and instantly it was as if a bell had rung – I could do this, I could go into Construction too. I could have another go at getting onto one of those Graduate courses, but this time, the Construction Industry had provided a non-cognate University course, in order to give me the right qualifications to get my dream job.

After minimal research, there were many courses which came up, but the post-graduate, part time non-cognate course for Quantity Surveying was the right course for me. I found quite a number of consultancies that would fund the course as well as offering me a job. All of the offers I received, at Graduate level, including giving me day release and funding my training, were of a higher wage than any job I’d held to date.

At first, I was worried that my age would be a problem – whilst at 28, I wasn’t by any means old, but I certainly wasn’t what I or anyone else, would consider a Graduate. But on my course I found many others like me. From diverse backgrounds, varied ages, many women, with whom I’m still connected. All kindred spirits who simply hadn’t found the right path, until then.

The point is, that age, qualifications, experience, none of this really matters if you’re in the wrong job. The wrong career. You spend the majority of your life in work, and whilst we work so that we can live, I really do believe that there is no reason why we can’t love the job we do. Have a smile when we think of the projects we’ve completed, the differences we’ve made to the world. We can change our path, we can reach for those things we want.

Construction isn’t just a male occupation. It’s for all of us.

You don’t need to be young to learn and fall in love with a new career.

There’s always a way if you keep looking.

And to conclude. If this post has piqued your interest in changing your career – or indeed, coming to join the diverse world of surveying, then please do tag this site for the coming weeks, as we’re about to launch a new page, where you can learn more about what it means to be a surveyor in todays’ world. Who are we? What do we do? Why do we love the career we’ve chosen?

Come and join the celebrations – spread the word!

#SurveyingSisterhood

#Celebr8Surveyor

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