I started my career in Architecture and got as far as Part 1. I spent a bit of time in practice but it felt a long way from construction sites. I wanted to learn how a building was put together and I knew that I’d never get that by sitting behind a computer, so I moved to a large developer, as a Technical Co-ordinator, and stayed for about three years. Here I found a niche that I really enjoyed and I got a buzz from being on site and seeing how a building was constructed.
I then moved to a contractor but found this move very hard. This was a massive contractor and there was a strong focus on the engineering side of things which didn’t sit right with me because I’d come from an architectural and design background. It was good experience nevertheless because it was a commercially viable operation that made a profit, and I got to see that side of things and what clients want. I started looking for my next move after about a year.
I could have carried on as I was and become a Technical Director eventually, but that wasn’t really where I wanted to be. I felt there was more I could be doing. I wanted to solve bigger problems and learn, project by project. My next move was hard but it has proved to be right for me.
I am currently Production Innovation Manager at L&Q. London and Quadrant Housing Trust is a housing association operating throughout the UK, and reputed to be one of the largest in London. I came into this team a year and a half ago, and found Fluid about six months into the job. My job is completely different from site work and a lot more strategic. I quickly found myself having to do presentations to stakeholders and felt really uncomfortable doing this as my architectural studies had killed all confidence in my presentation skills, plus it was presenting in a subject that I was still learning about!
I was in a new department, in a growing part of the industry, and it was a new role within the department. There was no formal training as such because the department consisted of just me and my manager. We had to learn the script and pick things up as we went along. My manager, who was a former colleague, had formed the team and I was only the second person to join it. I found it quite tough professionally as I was more used to having subcontractors on the phone and fighting fires (metaphorically speaking!).
In client meetings I felt like I didn’t really know what I was talking about and I’m not at all good at blagging so I put myself on training courses in the company but I knew that what I needed was someone external to push me forward who wasn’t tied to my job and didn’t have an agenda or vested interest in the company.
It was at this point that I looked for mentor schemes and heard about Fluid mentoring. I went along to the Summer Social in 2018 to see what it was all about and to chat to people there.
Fluid has proved to be a great opportunity for me in my career. I have been paired with Clementine Guillet of Formation Architects. At our first meeting we had an informal chat and we hit it off straightaway. Clem has an interesting career at Formation, as an architect and project manager. We decided that our objective would be to focus on my presentation skills and improve my confidence.
We meet monthly or bi-monthly to check in on my progress. Clem has helped me to understand how I can control my nerves. She has given me some really good advice and recommended books she’s reading or has read that have helped her.
My manager has already noticed a difference in my presentations. I had some big presentations recently and I didn’t really feel the fear, or if I did, I was able to harness it rather than be completely terrified by it. It’s been important for me to have someone who has faith and belief in me.
The sheets that are send out by the Fluid admin team to structure the mentoring meetings have been really helpful. They’ve helped me think clearly about what I want from this process, how I can get the best out it and how to use my mentor’s time respectfully and not waste it. When we meet we establish a couple of key objectives for the next meeting as well as discussing my progress.
I think that the best piece of advice I’ve been given is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable means that you’re learning and growing. If you are comfortable you won’t be satisfied because you’d want to be doing and learning more. Those moments when you’re finding it the hardest, that’s when you’re learning the most.
I look at my job completely differently now because being uncomfortable is no longer about me being awful at my job. It’s knowing that what I’m doing is difficult and that the next time it will be easier. I’m my own worst critic so I’m quite good at making my ambitions smaller because I worry I can’t achieve it. Now I think bigger and work to get part of the way there. It’s important to think bigger and believe you can do more.
Strategic thinking and learning the bigger picture is vital when working for a housing association, as is understanding how teams fit together on a wider scale, and how best to set up a road map that includes all the angles that different people will bring to projects. My confidence and presentation skills have improved and grown with Clem’s help, as I’ve learned more about my job. I’ve a way to go yet as I still find strategic, big thinking challenging, but I’m enjoying the opportunity and the journey.
For me the Fluid mentoring programme has been a real career changer, not just in growing my confidence but in providing me with a bigger way of thinking about my career and where it can go. I’ve recommended Fluid to friends and colleagues. I think that the pairing of the mentoring partnerships is really great.
I’d definitely like to be a Fluid mentor to give back and impart advice when I feel further in my own career.