Zinnie D.

Conservation Officer
Happy to mentor
Happy to be contacted

About me

Zinnie D.
Historical Archaeology
United Kingdom

My employment

Conservation Officer
Aberdeen City Council
United Kingdom
Government and civil service
Large business (250+ employees)

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A day in the life of a Conservation Officer in the United Kingdom

I work in building conservation in a local authority.

What I do

I provide advice for my colleagues with regard to planning applications concerning historic buildings and listed building consents. I also help to write Council policy regarding historic buildings and conservation area character appraisals and work very closely with other organisations, such as Aberdeen City Heritage Trust.

Skills I use and how I developed them

People skills. When meeting a developer or member of the public on a site visit I often have to be tactful about their proposals. Tact isn't naturally my strong point but the more I have to exercise it the better I get.

Being decisive. An application can't maybe be approved. Either it is acceptable or it isn't.

Willingness to learn. Whilst it is acceptable not to know everything, I make decisions which affect people's homes and so have to develop my knowledge and in order to allow me to make informed decisions.

I recently finished a part time Masters in building conservation, which I was doing in my free time, but which was funded by my employer. This has given my technical knowledge a huge boost.

I have also recently gained full membership of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, which allowed me to progress in my job from a trainee to a more senior role.

What I like most

Not working weekends.

In order to assess planning and listed building consent applications I often have to do site visits. This means that I get to be nosey and see interesting properties.

I am also very lucky in that I work with a great team and that the average age in the office is quite young - there are a lot of people in their twenties and early thirties.

My employer also has a fantastic emphasis on developing its staff and making sure that I have all the necessary training.

What I like least

Dealing with angry members of the public who object to an application or proposal.

What surprised me most

That everything in Scotland is different to England. Historic Environment Scotland is the Scottish equivalent of Historic England. They produce separate guidance. Scottish ministers also produce separate historic environment policy to that which is applicable to England. Again, there is different planning legislation in Scotland. I knew nothing whatsoever about the Scottish system before I started working here.

Having said that, the principles are the same in both England and Scotland and so it is very easy to pick up one if you have some knowledge of the other.

How I looked for work

Searches on the websites or places that I might want to work for their current vacancies.

How I found out about the job

Employer's website

The recruitment process

I flew up to Aberdeen for an interview. My travel expenses and the cost of having to stay overnight were paid for by the Council.

In the interview I was given an example of a planning application to assess, which I found tricky as my background wasn't in planning. What my interviewers were looking for though was someone who was keen and had a logical train of thought about key elements of a building and how a building and the spaces around it interact, as opposed to someone who knew all the answers and relevant planning policy.

My career goals when I graduated

Just to get a job! I didn't really know what I wanted to do (and still don't). I thought I would quite like to work with historic buildings or collections.

My career history

2010 - Graduated BA Historical Archaeology

2010/11 - Worked three part time jobs simultaneously - as a waitress, at Burghley House in a front of house role and as an estate agent.

2011 - Full time as an estate agent. This was the one of my three previous jobs that paid the most and was semi-relevant to buildings. I disliked this job intensely, but learnt a lot from it.

2011/12 - Property Administrator at Holkham Hall. This involved helping with the maintenance of all the buildings on a large country estate. On paper it seemed like it should have been the perfect job for me. In practice I really didn't enjoy it.

2012-14 - Support Officer in the Transportation Commissioning team at Westminster City Council. This team is responsible for the urban realm in most of central London. I didn't expect much from this job but actually really enjoyed it as I worked with great people and was given the opportunity to get involved in lots of different things. Central London includes a lot of famous places, fantastic buildings and has a huge volume of people passing through it which makes it a challenging but exciting place to work with. I left this job with regret and only did so because I was given the opportunity to live abroad for six months.

2014 - Lived in Canada

2015 to 2018 - Trainee Conservation Officer at Aberdeen City Council

2018 to present - Conservation Officer at Aberdeen City Council.

What has helped my career to progress

Taking risks. For example, many people would be scared to take a job somewhere in northern Scotland, where they have never been to before, know no-one and where they have to fly from in order to see any of their friends and family (Aberdeen to York is about eight hours on the train).

Going to the pub with my colleagues after work. This sounds simple, but most people don't do it. It is a great way to get to know the people you work with better, including managers, and means that you work better with people in the office. It is also where you hear about gossip such as opportunities which might arise.

Courses taken since graduation

Prince2 Project Management (foundation and practitioner). I have never actually needed to use this.

Various one day courses about topics such as sash and case window repair, historic shop-fronts and traditional roofing methods. All fascinating and a great way to meet other conservation professionals.

Historic Scotland summer school. If you are currently a student I believe that there are bursaries available for this. I would seriously recommend applying as it is a week spent with other students / recent graduates learning about building conservation from people who are at the top of what they do.

A Masters in Conservation of the Historic Environment with Birmingham City University. I really enjoyed it, but I did it part time and it is hard work doing a full day's (paid) work and then going home and doing several hours worth of uni work in the evenings.

How my studies have helped my career

I spent the first few years after graduating thinking that I had done a useless degree and that I should have done something more specific to what I wanted to do, as lots of jobs seemed to require museum studies / collections management / architecture / engineering etc degrees.

I have since come to the conclusion that actually archaeology was hugely useful. I learnt a lot in the various buildings related modules that I took at undergrad which has been really useful, such as an understanding of the evolution of British buildings and architecture and a background in relevant legislation. I am amazed how many people on my Masters course, who work with historic buildings every day, don't have any background knowledge at all, other than is relevant to their specific field of work.

What surprised me about my career so far

Everything. If you had asked me when I was 21 where I thought I would be working now I would probably have said for an organisation like the National Trust.

I regularly meet other conservation professionals and from them am constantly learning about jobs which I didn't know existed.

Where I hope to be in 5 years

I will probably be working in an organisation that I currently don't know about and in a role that I don't know exists. Hopefully I will still be doing something related to building conservation.

My advice to students considering work

Don't put all your hope on getting a 'graduate job' or working for the National Trust. Many graduate jobs are boring and the National Trust pay too little and expect you to work an unreasonable amount of weekends. These jobs also have the most applicants, so if you can be imaginative and find a job opportunity somewhere else you will probably have a much better chance of getting it.

Take a risk on any job that you think might be vaguely interesting, even if you don't think you are at all qualified. I have been involved in employing someone and it taught me a huge amount. None of the applicants will ever be 100% qualified and in entry level jobs employers are not looking for someone who knows all the answers, they are looking for someone who has the potential to learn the answers and who will fit in with the team.

You will learn something from any job (even if it is just what you don't want to do in the future).

Unless you have a burning desire to stay in academia, get a bit of work experience (at least a year) before doing a Masters. It will focus your mind on what course you really want to do and what you want to get out of it.

Don't get upset if you don't get offered a job. 50% of the interview process is about the other applicants. For all you know the other applicants could already be working at the company you are applying to or have gone to uni with the person who is interviewing them.

Other advice

Don't be afraid to leave a job if you hate it, even if you haven't got anything else to go to. Life is too short and another opportunity will always arise.

Contacting me

Feel free to ask me anything!

Next steps...

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