BUILDING SURVEYING FOR PROFESSIONALS PODCAST
SECRETS OF THE APC WITH ALEXANDRA REDMOND
Host: Welcome to the Cardoe Martin Podcast Building Surveying for Professionals, giving you a detailed and technical view of the world of building surveying. In this episode we are going to have a chat with Alexandra Redmond a Director at Cardoe Martin all about the assessment of professional conduct for the APC. This is something that people need to attend and pass in order to become RICS Chartered Surveyors. They’ll be something for everyone interested in a built-in environment in this Podcast but I warn you now it is going to specially suit and be useful for anyone considering becoming Chartered, wondering about whether they want to do a building surveying course at University and also for those who are already deep in the process of building their submission for the APC. Now join us for journey through time and space as we reveal the secrets of the APC. Hi Alex, welcome.
AR: Hi James, thank you very much.
Host: Well it’s a pleasure having you on and from our chat before we started recording it sounds like you’ve got some really interesting things to tell everybody today, a bit of a low down on what you do to help the people you mentor and supervise through the APC, so kind of this is from the horse’s mouth so to speak and what we’ll do then we’ll start off and we’ve got a couple of chapters that we’re going to go through but if you’re going to manage as you talk through so this is, I’ll pop in and we’ll have a conversation about it but mainly this is about imparting your knowledge to the listeners so they can be successful at getting Chartered. And I suppose with the secrets of the APC it’s a building surveyor’s guide isn’t it to the assessment of professional conduct, so this may not necessarily suit other chartered specialists say like valuers or general practice surveyors. (1.46) Right when you start us off what is your first category?
AR: So I think I’ll start off with the case study which is what any good APC submission is based around really, the case study is your presentation project, it’s something which you’re going to present to the panel on the day of your final assessments and hope that they are convinced that you did it well enough to pass you as a member of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, so I think probably the best place to start is what makes a good case study.
In my view I’ve seen a lot of people through the APC, I’ve seen a lot of case studies and they’re very varied, any project can make a good case study really and I think you’ve just got to look for several key signs which mean that it will actually translate to a good case study as you write it up and those things usually are the projects. First of all it’s something that you did do the majority of the work in obviously being an un-Chartered Surveyor you’re not going to be given all of the responsibility for delivering a major project however if you have been involved at all stages in the project from the very beginning right till the end you’ve got a good familiarity with the project and the mechanisms of what happened within the project and you’ve also encountered what could be considered key issues which are the main thing you would like to talk about in your case study documents, that’s the making of a good case study. It doesn’t have to be any particular type of project usually a contract administration project is the most common that you’ll come across but luckily building surveyors come across opportunities to do a contract administration project quite a lot, so it’s generally quite a good place to start.
Host: (3.30) So just the first question I’m asking I guess listeners out there will be thinking the same. What if my team, my company, is perhaps not as forthright as say someone at Cardoe Martin in helping me get chartered, where am I going to get these case study jobs from, should I just work hard on one that I’m a bit umming and arring on or is better to go out and get a contract admin job as soon as possible, or what can I do really?
AR: The best thing to do is to speak up, ask questions, ask anybody if you can get involved in a project that your company’s running so if you’re in a business where the majority of the projects that you’ll work on are very large and it’s not appropriate for you to manage the entire projects then ask whether you can do a small section of the project, normally they’ll be, if you’re doing a project of that size they’ll be a smaller sub-projects, it might be the enabling works project, it might be the fit out of the internals, you could do something like that as a much smaller project even if you’re doing the fit out of the toilets, that usually can be separated out as a project that you could run and run as your case study and have full autonomy and be heavily involved in without necessarily impacting on the wider £20million delivery that your company’s trying to get right.
Host: Does the shout out to BS8300 there on a fully accessible toilets changing places, if you’re interested in toilets, you know where to come and get the information from BS8300, everybody’s boring inclusive world, yeah there you go I’ll just put that in there.
AR: That’s a good point and if you have anything like, if you come across a project for instance where you do have to deal with something like accessibility that’s always good to have something where there’s an interesting twist in the project which feeds into the key issues that you’ll need to present to the panel as part of your case study, so if you have something with a bit of an angle that also provides a good hook for you to present something quite interesting and something a bit different to everyone else so it might also make you stand out.
In terms of what is a key issue in a case study so if you are like some of the surveyors out there who are very lucky to work on lots and lots of projects and you’re spoilt for choice, the best thing to do is to look at the projects where you had something, not necessarily go wrong, it doesn’t have to be a disaster of a project but something where something happened that you had to deal with, where you had several options to choose from as to what your course of action would be and these sorts of things can be anything from needing to get Planning Permission for a project, having an extension of time happen, having variations certified during the construction phase of the project, they don’t sound like things that are particularly dramatic when I’m just saying them now but when you present them in a case study and you think about the options and the decision making process that you went through and how you gave advice to your clients then those often do make very good key issues even if they don’t sound particularly exciting off the bat.
So in terms of how do you write up your case study, the RICS website has everything you need effectively on that, the Pathway Guidance gives you some good steer in terms of what you need to include in your case study and how it should be structured and there’s also templates on the RICS website which will give you the structure for your document to follow so you should be able to use those documents and then transplant your project into a very viable and well written case study with lots of exciting key issues to present on the day.
Host: (7.06) So what did you do your case study on?
AR: I did mine on a very basic external repairs and redecorations project so it wasn’t the most exciting, it wasn’t the first one that came to mind when I was thinking what I thought a good case study would be, but there were several things like there was a structural issue with a section of the wall and I needed to issue an Extension of Time because we came across an unforeseen issue during the works and those were the sorts of things I wrote about in my case study.
Host: (7.32) So then, what I guess you’re saying is that the APC Panel are not looking for the sexiest, Guccist, piece of work you’ve ever done, it’s got to be fitting to, so it can be quite mundane, it can be quite well structured, what else would you say then on top of that, that they’d be looking for?
AR: They’re looking for a safe pair of hands so having been involved in the whole project means that they can assess everything that you’ve done throughout the project as a whole and see whether they agree that you were capable, competent and you delivered the project in a professional way and that’s really what they’re looking for. You don’t have to have done everything perfectly, everybody makes mistakes, there’s always unforeseen issues that pop up in projects and what the assessors and the panel are really looking for is for how you to dealt with those, how you advised your clients on the outcomes and options available to them and that you eventually delivered a well-rounded project which is unlikely to get you sued in the future.
Host: (8.33) So that’s a good point in terms of moving onto the litigation then, what are the worst or shall we say the most riskiest case studies you’ve seen, or what have people put into their case study that perhaps has made you go, gosh, do you really want to put that in or can you explain that twice for me?
AR: I think the main things that I see are when people either take on too much so there’s a very, you’re obviously very keen to present yourself as very capable and all rounder when you type up your case study but sometimes you can lead yourself into the trap of looking like you’ve taken on more than you should take on as a chartered building surveyor, so for instance you might start taking responsibility for health and safety matters on site when really that’s the contractor’s responsibility or you might say that you’re taking on a lot of design responsibility by taking on, you know, doing drawing work potentially or designing a roof or designing an extension and if that’s not something that your very confident and capable and talking about as if you were able to do that every day of the week then it’s best to stick to the key role of the contract administrator is and what you do as a building surveyor in those projects rather than taking on more than you should.
Host: (9.49) Okay sounds some advice, so it’s got to be moderate, it’s got to be fit for purpose and you’ve got to be able to sit, stand in front of the panel on the day and justify your actions and fill confident in talking about them, so its familiarity.
Host: And I’m guessing it must be really obvious to the panel if someone perhaps has done less participation in a piece of work perhaps and their saying oh yes I’ve done this, I’ve done that and actually when you get to there it must come through in your voice or your actions or your knowledge is just not deep enough.
AR: It definitely does I’ve some real horror stories over the years, one instance where somebody had put in their documents that they were responsible for serving all the Notices on a party wall job which doesn’t sound particularly dramatic in itself but it turns out that when they were questioned on the service of Notices in their APC that all they’d done had been to post them through the letterbox, rather than to actually draft the Notices and do any technical professional work involved in that. So the other thing that the panel will like to see and also adds to a good case study is to show that you’ve worked as part of a wider project team so that might involve you as the contract administrator, maybe working alongside a specialist supplier, maybe for a roofing system, an interior designer, an architect, a quantity surveyor, building control, planning officers anything like that really, where you’ve had to interact with another professional and you’ve deferred the client to another professional in order to give them the best possible and most appropriate advice always helps to demonstrate that your also a safe pair of hands, so if you have a project where that’s included then that’s always another string to its bow.
Host: (11.25) Excellent thank you very much for that section. So moving on then.
AR: I think the next bit to talk about is probably the documents that’s probably the biggest and scariest part of completing your documents, the case study is one part of it but you have an awful lot more to do to put the whole package together so you need to look at things like the CPD log which involves you obviously doing CPD and then recording it quite thoroughly.
Host: (11.51) Sorry what’s CPD?
AR: CPD is Continuation of Professional Development, that is where us in the trade we know a lot about how many seminars and workshops and lectures that we have to go to, to make up our CPD hours every year and with the APC it’s even more onerous, it’s 48 hours per year or per 12 month period before you sit your APC that you need to have completed and recorded within your CPD log. You also need to include your record of experience which is essentially what it sounds like, a record of everything that you’ve done and your learning outcomes and also the write ups for all of your competencies which are across three different types of competency, you have your mandatory competencies which includes the dreaded ethics module, the core competencies which are the pathway specific competencies, which for us we’ll be discussing the building surveying competencies today and also the optional competencies where you are given a bit of freedom to decide what else you would like to speak about in your documents.
So the CPD log and experience record are very individual to your own experience, very individual to what you do so those sorts of things are generally in line with what you do in your day to day work. The most important thing to note in putting your documents together to start with is to read the documents that the RICS publish so go on the website, download the Pathway Guide and follow the brief, part of the APC is that they want to see that you can follow a brief and you follow the documents on the website then that’s a really good place to start.
Host: (13.25) So that’s essentially testing organisation, ability to follow a process, administration skills that sort of thing?
AR: Absolutely, definitely, it’s what you’re expected to do everyday when you’re a Chartered Surveyor or even before that, listen to a client, understand what’s been asked from you and then prepare something which is in line with what you’ve been requested. So how do you approach starting to put your documents together, first thing to do I would suggest to go to the RICS website and download the templates that are available, these generally give you everything that you need in terms of what to record, how to record it and there’s also some work examples which is really handy and that sort of thing wasn’t available when I was sitting so it’s really great that that is available now, there’s a lot of other online resources, I won’t go into detail but all you have to do is google APC and you’ll get thousands of responses, options, people sharing their experiences, Q&A’s, forums, all which will give you some flavour in terms of what you need to do to start putting your documents together. There is also a lot of free resources on the RICS if you go to the RICS Training Academy there’s lots of seminars, there are classes, online workshops that you can book and attend which will give you free or very low priced information in terms of helping you to start putting your documents together, giving you advice on what to do and when.
What the assessors are looking for when they are looking at your documents, looking obviously to see that it is complete, they’re looking to see that you have kept to the brief, i.e. followed the pathway, completed the documents as they’d asked for them to be completed and they are also going to be most interested in your competencies. So I’ll start with the mandatory competencies, these are the competencies that everybody has to provide some responses for, these are general business type competencies also surrounding ethics and good practice in the industry and a lot of these you’ll only need to achieve a Level 1 and a Level 1 is essentially knowing, so you have to demonstrate that you know about these things so for instance, business planning, you’re not likely to have done a Business Plan as a not Chartered Surveyor so it’s not essential that you can demonstrate ever having done one or have any great understanding in the execution of doing a Business Plan but it’s important that you know what one is and what the benefits and values are so that you can talk confidently about it from a knowledge point of view.
The second type of competencies are the core competencies which are defined by your Pathway Guide, those are not negotiable, you have to reach Level 3 for all of these and Level 3 is essentially demonstrating that you’ve given advice, so I’ll just briefly state Levels 1, 2 and 3, you need to write something for all of them. Level 1 is knowing, Level 2 is doing and Level 3 is advising and that’s the best rule of thumb for coming up with examples when you write up your competencies.
Lastly there are optional competencies, this is a free choice module effectively where you get to pick some extra competencies which are normally suited to your pathway but you do get free choice just pick carefully.
Host: (16.44) Have you got any further advice for people who are sitting this and in terms of how they’re going to address the levels, are there certain things you can say, say for instance if I have a set answer or I can put a prefix of set of words in front that automatically gives me a Level 3 answer or is there a Level 2 answer or how do I start to envisage and then put a Level 1, 2 and 3 answer down on paper?
AR: The best way to approach your Level 1, 2 and 3 answers within your core and optional competencies is to base them on real jobs that you’ve done, certainly at Levels 2 and 3, Level 1 knowing you don’t necessarily need to talk about having done anything so you don’t need to refer to jobs but for your own benefit really to associate your write up with an actual job that you’ve done will help you talk confidently when you’re actually sitting your panel interview and you can refer back to these jobs to demonstrate that you have achieved the Level 3 competency that the panel will be looking for, and in terms of what you should say when you’re writing these up is to make sure that you stick to the brief again, if you are talking at Level 2 talk about doing things, so focus on, for instance, if you’ve done an inspection how you approach the inspection, what did you do whilst you were inspecting, what types of things did you do to prepare for the inspection, try to steer away from basic knowledge and try to steer away from any advice that was given arising from that and then when you get to talk about Level 3’s steer away from any knowledge, steer away from the doing elements and focus on how you advise the client, so use your words wisely, you don’t have very many to spare when you’re writing these documents up.
Host: (18.22) How might the advice section look so if I’m going to do this and, you know, I’m thinking Level 3 answers how I am going to phrase them and obviously I don’t want to be doing, oh I tell you what, what did you say in your APC to meet Level 3 answers.
AR: When I was writing my documents I would present the job in very brief terms so I might have a heading in my document where I’ve listed the job, say it was a Defect Diagnosis job and maybe a part of the address, so not going into any specifics because you don’t want to give away personal details or anyone’s private information when you’re writing your documents up but you can refer to things like the street and the type of job it was, and then briefly gloss over the actual issues, so for instance you could say “whilst I was investigating a leak at the above building I had to advise my client that the problem had become so substantial that x, y and z repairs were required which was in excess of what they had previously thought” so make sure that you use the word “advising”, make it clear that you’ve given advice when you are presenting your competencies and that carries through to the final assessment as well.
The panel will be looking for competence on the core modules to Level 3 so always give an answer where you have given advice, even if the question is asked is something basic always tailor it to something where you did a job and you advised somebody in what they have asked.
Host: (19.51) Now that sounds like good advice, so moving on.
AR: And the next stage once you’ve done your case study, you’ve put all of your documents together, you’ve submitted it to the RICS and you’ve got your interview date you need to start preparing for the final assessments of the panel interview. Normally you’ll have about two or three months to prepare for the interview once you’ve been accepted and been given your interview date, so it seems like a long time now but believe me when you get there it’s not very long and you realise at that point that you have to learn absolutely everything there is to know about building surveying, obviously that’s not true, they don’t expect you to know everything, the panel are expecting you to know enough about what you’ve done to be able to have advised people to a competent level but also that you are aware of your limitations so that when you do go to advise people in the future as a Chartered Surveyor that you’re not likely to give advice that you shouldn’t or that your capable of giving, again this comes back to the safe pair of hands requirement for passing the APC.
So in the months leading up to your interview obviously you’ll be doing a lot of revision, I’d say the best place to start with the revision is to learn your documents inside out, learn all of the jobs that you have referred to, commit them to memory, remember all of the interesting things that happened on those jobs, so when you’re sitting there in the interview having questions thrown at you you’ll be able to quickly recall any jobs that you did and any interesting advice that you gave to clients whilst you were doing those jobs and also learning about the mandatory competencies because there is a section of the final interview where you will be quizzed by the chairperson on matters like ethics and the mandatory competency so it is important that whilst it’s very easy to dive in and just learn everything about the Building Regulations and revise all of the types of damp and rot that you can encounter in a building don’t forget to revise on the mandatories and the ethics questions.
I definitely recommend finding a good ethics conundrum that you’ve come across in your surveying life, I’m sure it’s one of those things you think you’ve never been challenged with but they happen all the time so have a think back to any time where you’ve had an ethical quandary and think about how you dealt with that, so that if that is asked of you in your interview that you can recall one or two good examples of how you dealt with ethical challenges in your day to day work.
Other things that you should consider doing in the lead-up to your panel interview is to prepare your presentation for your case study, a lot of people leave this to the last minute, I’m guilty myself, I did it about three days before I sat, but it is definitely something that you want to prepare for and prepare what you’re going to say, you have a ten minute slot on the day to present your case if you will to the panel and having a good aid memoire for them to review is something that will serve you well and it will give you confidence on the day that if you’ve got something that you know you’ve practiced, something that you’re very familiar with and something that you feel confident to discuss in front of you for the actual beginning part of the interview. Also preparing by forming a group of people also doing the APC if you join a study group with other candidates then you can get essential knowledge, confidence, you can share stories, you can share knowledge, keep up to date on what’s evolving in legislation and.
Host: (23.19) Now that sounds Alex like it would be easier in a bigger company wouldn’t it, so what do all the surveyors who are either in very small micro businesses or smaller boutique firms do?
AR: There’s plenty of things you can do, you can obviously look online, you can reach out to people you went to university with because you all graduated at the same time, the likelihood is that you’ll probably be sitting at the same time as a fair number of your ex-classmates so they’re always very good resources to join a study group with, and it is hard work and you do have to commit to the time that is needed to prepare but it’s work it at the end of it.
Host: (23.55) I guess that’s where CPD’s can be so useful in that pre 48 hours’ worth of CPD you need to do, there must be tons of contacts across the industry you meet at events like CPD or is it more full of architects?
AR: No CPD is a very good place to meet people especially if there’s a networking element involved so if you go to a CPD where is there a networking event before or after or if you join the RICS Matrix where you can do networking to find other surveyors at the same level as you who are studying towards the APC you can form your own study groups with them. There’s also other things that you can do within your business whether it’s a large or a small business, obviously the study element you should have access to resources, guide books, books based on industry literature and also Senior Surveyors and Directors within your own business who will be able to review your documents and perhaps do a mock interview with you or to do Q&A sessions, so they’ll review your documents and ask questions based on what they think the panel may come up with.
Host: (24.59) One question that kind of strikes me is say for instance I’m fairly isolated within my small business or it’s a big business and we are a small team and no one in my business seems to care whether I get chartered or not, no-one’s helping me, kind of feel like I’m on my own so I’m doing this a little bit by the seat of pants, you know, I’m losing confidence a little, should I being doing this or do people still pass even under these circumstances, or do I need to try harder to go out there and find someone who will help me?
AR: Well it sounds like you might want to leave that business, they don’t sound like they value you very much, but in a nutshell, you know, if you’re stuck with a business that’s not supporting you then there’s lots of external support out there, there is this free resources, obviously I’ve mentioned the RICS resources, there’s lots of seminars and workshops available for any surveyor to join and to get that free advice straight from the horse’s mouth.
There’s also other online academies and private training set-ups where you can get mock interviews set up, obviously there is a cost involved and you should to your business about covering those costs, it’s not something you should pay for yourself out of your own pocket as your business will be the one to ultimately benefit from you getting chartered, being able to have you charge more fees and do more prestigious jobs and building surveys, so be bold and ask for the help.
Host: (26.22) Cos I guess you are fighting for your professional status really isn’t it, this is something that’s going to set you up for the rest of your life.
AR: Well it’s also a good trait to learn early on is to have confidence and be assertive in your professional life and don’t let people put you down because once you’re a Chartered Surveyor you’ll be flying solo effectively and people will expect that you will be able to stand up and give advice despite people trying to persuade you otherwise in terms of what opinions you give and advice you might give.
Other points to note for on the day, I think a lot of people are very intimidated by the idea that they have their future decided in the space of one hour, and it’s a very quick hour I can tell you, but it’s not all that scary I think a lot of people it’s scarier in your head then it is in real life and when you get to the assessment centre on the day it is generally quite a relaxing experience, make sure you arrive with lots of time so that you can sit and read through your documents, check you’ve got everything ready if you’re using any electronic aids in your presentation, check that they’ve got battery and charged, check that everything’s working, check that everything is set up properly so that when you go in there you don’t feel nervous about anything not working when you’re trying to impress the panel and then in the actual interview itself you have an initial introduction where the panel will, to settle your nerves and give you the opportunity to declare yourself not fit or well to sit the interview if you are in a bad way or if you’re feeling too nervous or anything bad has happened to you, you do get the opportunity at the beginning to declare that and decide whether or not you’d like to proceed.
Then you follow that with ten minutes for your presentation on your case study which is followed by another ten minutes of Q&A from the panel. After that they move onto your main documents and ask you questions about your core and optional competencies, that’s followed by a ten minutes for the chairpersons questions, which as we touched on earlier goes through the mandatories and the ethics modules and then the interview is over and it goes very, very quickly, bit of a blur, but as long as you do all of the preparation and you learn and go in there feeling confident and relaxed you should do fine.
Host: (28.36) Are there any bench marks that I can set myself so I know when I’m ready, everyone might have said oh it’s fine or my family and their keen and pushing me, very positive, but what would you say to people from Cardoe Martin who are going forward to make sure that when their ready, or they know their ready when their ready and what sort of informational bench marks would I have to hit to enter into that?
AR: I don’t think there’s any real bench marks that you can really apply, I think you know in yourself that you couldn’t have done anymore, so if you’re at that position two days before you sit and you think oh gosh I should have done far more revision than I did, I spent a lot of time watching Netflix and you know, going on Facebook then maybe you didn’t do enough, but a lot of people I speak to get to the last week of their revision and feel completely maxed out and they honestly feel that they couldn’t possibly revise anymore than they have done, and I think that’s the feeling you need to go in with really is that, ask yourself could I have done anything more and if you say no then I think you probably find yourself ready, but obviously it’s not always the case that everything goes well on the day and you may get referred following the panel assessments and that’s always a horrible situation and very disappointing after all the work and effort that’s gone into your documents and sitting the panel interview, but the important thing to note that a referral isn’t a fail it’s merely some feedback that meant that you just, you may have just not hit the mark on the day, it might have been the way you presented something, it might have been some of the answers you’ve given.
A lot of people report that they’ve been referred because they were overly nervous and weren’t relaxed in their interview and they didn’t feel that they put their best foot forward so it doesn’t at all mean that you’re not capable or that it’s not possible for you to pass the APC, it merely means that you’ll have some good constructive feedback from three professionals who have read your case study, seen you present, read all of your documents and will give you some constructive feedback on how to pass next time, so it’s actually a really helpful process and if you take it in the vein that it’s meant in that it’s constructive and that it’s designed to help you pass the next time, and you don’t lose heart and you don’t lose confidence then I think nearly everybody I’ve ever spoken to whose been referred has passed at the next sitting so it’s usually means you’re very, very nearly there.
Host: (31.02) Some people talk about a Kudos around passing first time is this a thing, should I be worried about it or is it just one of those that it doesn’t have an impact, I’m not going to lose any money in my future career over this am I?
AR: I don’t think anyone remembers when they passed necessarily, it’s when you pass you pass and that’s it. It is probably worth noting that if you are referred you’re not the only one, most year’s it’s about 50/50 so a lot of people are referred every single year and it doesn’t matter if you re-sit, once you’ve passed your APC nobody really cares whether you failed five times or not.
Host: (31.37) I would guess all that experience is going in, the experience being isn’t it and it all adds up so it’s only going to make you better as a surveyor?
AR: Absolutely, when you get into the real world and the professional world afterwards you’ll have plenty more disappointments and pitches that don’t go quite right and client’s giving you feedback you’d rather not hear so it really does just prepare you for the real world.
Host: Well, thank you very much for that Alex so you’ve been tuned into Cardoe Martin’s Building Surveying for Professionals Podcast, thanks for listening and thank you very much to Alexandra Redmond for joining us today and sharing her very own tried and tested secrets of the APC.