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Building Surveying: Working client-side vs consultancy - The pros and cons

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Article posted by Daniel Scott on Nov 02, 2021

​The career path of a building surveyor can take many different routes; through traditional building consultancy, multi-disciplinary, agency, prop co, developer or even fund. Many surveyors feel they are working up the ranks for the opportunity to move ‘client-side’ to achieve the ultimate goal and status. However, not every surveyor is suited to that environment.

Sometimes the hardest question for surveyors to answer is ‘where am I best suited?’ Large corporate consultancy with clear structure and progression? Bespoke or Niche practice with greater autonomy? Or client environment to move out of the comfort zone? Both consultancy and client-side roles offer great merits and rewards, but each have their own challenges too. There are many similarities, but also distinct differences and where you fit best will be down to you as an individual and your particular skill set and goals.

By looking at the pros and cons of client-side vs consultancy, we hope to help surveyors answer this question.

Pros and cons of working client-side as a Building Surveyor

Client-side is often seen as the preferred side and is for many building surveyorsthe ultimate goal.

The perception is that client-side roles offer more flexibility, affording a greater work-life balance, greater autonomy and responsibility of projects, plus higher salaries and benefits packages. However, this very much depends on which client you work for and varies from role to role. The real benefit for many of moving client-side is leaving behind the sales environment where you are only as good as your last fee earned.

Client-side roles are unquestionably rarer, meaning they are in high demand. Clients’ expectations are therefore constantly rising and they are very particular about who they want to hire. This means it’s very important to plan the timing of your intended career move and hit the sweet spot. Clients want you to have enough experience gained in a consultancy, but too much experience can put clients off.

Client-side teams are generally smaller and less corporate than within consultancies. This offers the scope to take real ownership of the assets within the portfolio and a level of autonomy and responsibility that can be hard to find in larger consultancies – great for those who thrive in those environments. Plus, it has to be said there is an appeal to becoming the ‘boss’ of external consultants!

However, small teams can also mean there is less collaboration and support when needed and opportunities to diversify can be limited. Working on the same portfolio can become repetitive and sometimes career-limiting, as opportunities elsewhere are often similar client-side positions.

It’s worth noting that there is often less career structure on the client-side as job titles are more generic and less impressive. Consultancy offers a clear path to progression where you can start as a graduate and progress clearly up the ladder to director, which obviously can be more appealing. It can also be hard to get the same APC support if you are seeking to become MRICS client-side as it is less essential to these businesses.

Pros and cons of working for a consultancy as a Building Surveyor

Consultancy practice is the traditional start to a Building Surveyor’s career and is generally considered to offer greater opportunities to pick up many of the core skills needed for the job, such as business development and client relationship skills. It can appear to offer more variety but this isn’t always the case as many are now choosing to specialise in certain sectors which can sometimes restrict career progression. You do generally get to work with a wider variety of clients and other professionals as well as a great mix of Project Management and Professional Services within a consultancy and any network you build can be very valuable for the future. However, it is important to make sure you aren’t ‘pigeonholed’ into one sector or element of surveying.

Progressing with professional qualifications is usually highly encouraged (and funded) within consultancies, with it being key to ‘selling’ their staff’s expertise and quality standards to their clients at the best price possible. It’s a huge benefit for those building surveyors who wish to gain their MRICS qualifications and not something you’re likely to get client-side.

However, there is a lot more pressure within consultancy, due to multiple demanding clients and pressure from seniors within the business, there can be an adverse effect on work-life balance as Surveyors work into the night to meet deadlines in a competitive market. For some, it can end up feeling like you’re on a production line.

As for salary, although client-side roles are often viewed as paying more, this isn’t always the case - the clearer career progression offered within a consultancy environment can result in very similar pay over time.

Whether you choose to stick within consultancy or move client-side will be a very individual choice. Both sides offer very similar pressures and rewards, just in different environments. As we approach the end of 2021 and head into 2022 the Building Surveying market continues to be a Surveyors market and the question shouldn’t just be ‘Client-side or Consultancy’ BUT in fact extend to ‘am I in the best consultancy practice for me?’

If you’d like advice or guidance on how this can impact your career progression or the avenues open to you, we’d love to help. Contact Daniel Scott in the first instance.

Article written by Daniel Scott, Managing Consultant - Construction & Property.