Case Study – Part 1: Selecting your key issue.

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FOREWORD: Please be aware that this post is not an official RICS guidance.

All the advice given in this blog is based on my personal interpretation of the APC Candidate’s Guide which I have enhanced through many discussions with fellow APC Mentors and APC Assessors.

Sonia Desloges MRICS

Director, APC Support Limited


The Case Study for the APC

The Case Study that you are required to submit as part of your APC submission is a fantastic opportunity to showcase your technical and professional skills through a project that you know very well. But how do you get started with it?

What is a good key issue?

What are you expected to include in each section?

What techniques can you use to best demonstrate your competencies?

I will address these questions in a series of three posts taking you through the stages of writing your case study.

  1. Select your key issue(s)
  2. Write your Case Study to the requisite format
  3. Perfect your drafts applying concise and logical reasoning, using accurate vocabulary and demonstrating level 3 competencies.

This post will focus on the first stage: selecting your key issue(s).

Selecting a suitable key issue is critical in achieving the objectives of the Case Study, so let’s take you step by step through the identification process of your best key issues.

When do I need to start thinking about my Case Study?

As a rule of thumb, I would recommend discussing your Case Study with your Counsellor 12 months before your final interview. This will give you the time to request additional responsibilities or to get involved in a different project if you both identify that you do not have a suitable key issue yet.

I would recommend that you keep a little notebook in which you record anything interesting that occurred in your projects to jiggle up your memory when needed.

Which project?

Assessors recognise that candidates will have gained a very diverse experience depending on their employment and as a result almost any of your projects is suitable for your Case Study.

Your selected project does not have to be a multi-million award winning scheme. Small low-profile projects attract the same challenges that major projects and require the same set of skills.

Some of your projects will be more suitable than others and you should start by compiling a short list of your most suitable projects.

  • Which projects did I work on over the last 24 months?

The topic of your Case Study must not be older than 24 months by the time you submit your documents for final assessment (or preliminary review if applicable)

  • In which of my projects was I a key member of the team?

You do not have to be running the project but you must have had a strong degree of delegated responsibility to deliver the project.

  • Out of those, in which ones did I get to personally advise my client?

You must be able to demonstrate level 3 competencies in your Case Study so you need to select a project in which you have influenced your client’s decision, or at least been involved in the decision making process. This does not have to be the final client; it can be an internal client such as another department or another level in hierarchy.

  • Out of those, in which ones did the team generally follow industry best practice?

If you select a project in which corners were constantly cut, it is very unlikely that you will have dealt with your key issues in the manner expected for the purpose of your APC.

What is a good key issue?

Once you have your short-list of projects, you need to consider all the challenges that you have encountered during your involvement. Hopefully you will have kept a notebook and you can easily go through your notes to refresh your memory. At this stage, write down everything that comes to your mind!

You then need to identify which among these many challenges are potential key issues.

A key issue has to be something that occurred outside the daily routine tasks. Explaining what you do as a normal course of action is not dealing with a key issue. Very often, it is the circumstances that made a relatively standard task a challenge for the candidate to overcome.

For example, demonstrating value for money is part of the day job for a quantity surveyor, but demonstrating value for money when there is only one specialist contractor in Europe who can deliver the works is far trickier and therefore a key issue.

Obviously your key issue(s) must be related to the competencies listed in the pathway guide and you must demonstrate at least two competencies at level 3.

Once you have gathered your list of potential key issues, review them asking yourselves these questions;

  • What was specific to this project or client that led to this challenge?

A key issue that occurred because of your own naivety or negligence would be definitively best avoided. Equally, an over-complex issue may trip you off.

  • Were there several options to overcome this challenge or only one possible course of action?

If there was only one viable option, you will not be able to demonstrate your analytic skills which is intrinsic to achieving level 3: reasoned advice.

  • Were all my options tasks that I would not ordinarily carry out if it was not for this key issue?

For example checking that I have not made any arithmetical errors is not an option, it is a compulsory best practice task.

  • Did I act in accordance with the RICS standards?

If for a reason or another you had to heavily deviate from best practice in your short-listed key issue, play it safe and select a different key issue. (And use your best endeavour to follow best practice in the future!)

How many key issues?

Most candidates select two keys issues because it enables them to demonstrate a broader breath of experience while being able to analyse their options and choices in details.

You may discuss a single key issue if it was particularly complex and enabled you to apply a range of level 3 competencies.

I would not recommend including a third key issue in your Case Study. If you cannot write 3,000 words on two key issues, it is probably  because you have not carried out your analysis in sufficient details, or that your key issues are too weak.

Final words of advice

Whatever the key issue(s) that you will select, remember that you will be questioned on your Case Study for 10mins and you must therefore be very knowledgeable on these topics and also be able to justify the decisions that you made. You must be able to demonstrate that you have learnt lessons from your key issues and that it contributed to your attainment of the skills and behaviours required as a chartered surveyor.

Finally, remember to verify with your clients that you are authorised to use their project details for your Case Study without facing issues of confidentiality. It is always wise to obtain their written consent.


Further help

If you would like to prepare the detailed plan of your Case Study with our APC trainers and discuss with them your key issues and options, we offer one-to-one mentoring sessions either face-to-face (Manchester or London only) or via Skype.

We also offer a documentation review service once you have completed your draft. Please check our pre-submission services here.

Alternatively, we offer face-to-face training for corporate clients across the UK. Please e-mail us at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk to discuss your requirements.

And as always, we are on Twitter @APCsupport_Ltd and you can send me an invite on LinkedIn if you would like to be notified of our latest events.


Visual Aids for your Presentation

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One topic that was lively debated at our ‘Interview Tips and Mock APC’ workshop in Manchester on 7th May 2015 was the use of visual aids for your case study presentation at the beginning of your APC interview.

Below are some of the key points discussed at the workshop.

IT based supports

Candidates should be aware that for logistical reasons, APC interviews are traditionally held in unconventional locations such as hotels rooms, airports or football stadia. As a result the rooms are generally small, not equipped with any IT facilities and may present the odd feature such as bedside lights or a couple of busy groundsmen mowing turf under your windows!

Candidates are also strongly discouraged from bringing in laptops, I-pads or mobile phones.

IT equipment takes up valuable time to set up and is notorious for letting you down when you need it the most, so do not take any chances.

Please be also aware that recording your interview under any form of media is strictly forbidden.

A3 easel folders

A3 easel folderSome employers and APC training providers advocate that using an A3 easel folder is compulsory.

Having spoken to many assessors, we do not agree with this statement. These A3 easel folders are like Marmite in APC world: some assessors love them, other detest them!

The underlining reason for this division among assessors seems to be that many candidates are very clumsy when using them. In other words, if you want to use one, make sure that you have practiced many times and that that they enhance rather than hinder your presentation skills.

Your slides should be brief and limited to a few key bullet points. Assessors will be very busy listening to you, referring back to your case study and taking notes; they will not have time to read lengthy slides.

You should only use slides to clarify or illustrate a point, and summarise a section if necessary. If they do not add anything to your presentation, you should reconsider whether you need them at all.

If you decide to use an A3 easel, place it on the table to your right or your left (depending whether you are left-handed or right-handed), but never in such a way that it would form a barrier between you and the assessors. You may insert a copy of the slides or some notes for your own use at the back of each slide but chances are that you will have to twist your neck to read them! Practice many times until you find what work best for you and consider using a mind map to assist you.

Once you have finished answering questions on your presentation, remember to put your A3 easel out of the way, may it be on the floor if no better place is available!

Other visual aids

It is perfectly acceptable for candidates to only bring in a chart, graph or plan if it works better for them or if it is all that is required to enhance their presentations. As they say, sometimes less is more!

In such case, we would recommend that you print three A3 copies of your graph / chart / plan for handing over to the assessors at the beginning of your presentation.

As we have mentioned, assessors will not have time to read any large amount of text so hand-outs are not a good idea. Also avoid A1 or A0 drawings as you will have nowhere to open them up.

As usual, if you have any queries feel free to drop us a line on Twitter @APCsupport_NW or e-mail us at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk.

 One-to-one mock APC interviews

Are you sitting your APC in the next couples of months and ready for the final stages of your APC preparation?

Each session, we offer mock APC interviews for candidates in the construction pathways (QS / PM / BS / Infrastructure).

Please  e-mail us at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk for details.

We also offer many seminars and workshops throughout the year in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

You can find all dates and booking links here: http://wp.me/p5Nraq-5j


Best of luck!

The interview – The Assessors’ perspective

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2015-05-07 21.15.26

If you missed our ‘Interview tips and Mock APC’ workshop in Manchester on 7th May 2015, here are some of the topics that we discussed.

Assessors’ expectations

 The assessors’ expectations are listed in the RICS Candidate’s Guide but how do they translate in practice?!

  • Professional interview

You should treat your APC panel as your most important client that you are pitching for a very important contract.

No matter what happens in the interview room, you should always behave with the utmost professional attitude. You would not argue back or crumble in front of a client and your APC is no different. Watch your body language and do let negative feelings get the best out of you.

Dress smartly and show confidence, but be mindful that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance that you should be vigilant not to cross!

  • Holistic approach

The assessors will base their decision on a number of criteria;

  • The quality of your documentation – Your perceived strengths and weaknesses.
  • The pertinence of your key issue(s) and the reasoning applied to achieve the solution.
  • Your presentation skills – Documentation, case study and interview.
  • Your professional attitude.
  • The quality of your answers during the interview.

This means that you do not have to be perfect in every aspect of your assessment. You can still become chartered if you stumble a little in one competency but are brilliant in the others.

You can download the Assessors Mark Sheet from the RICS website or at the bottom of this post.

  • Presentation: Presentation and communication skills, body language, reasoning.

This is a topic in itself but do not neglect your 10 minute presentation. It is your chance to shine on a topic that you know well and show the panel what you are made of.

  • Technical questions: Concise and precise answers, awareness of industry, all levels covered.

Even if you know a topic in details, do not waffle or ramble on it. Give a short and precise answer. The assessors only have one hour to assess you on a large number of competencies. Achieving this takes practice, so organise Q&A sessions with colleagues or fellow candidates.

Do not try to waste time hoping that you will be asked less questions. If the assessors cannot test you in all the competencies, they cannot pass you!

Listen to the question and answer it. Do not answer you own questions! If you are unsure, ask for the question to be rephrased or clarified.

If you do not know an answer, say that you do not know. Do not take a wild guess. Ask to come back to it at the end of the interview. (Do not use this card too often though!) The chairman of the panel will ask you at the end whether you would like to come back to any question or add anything. If you have a bright spark, come back to it – Otherwise, say nothing! You do not want to leave the panel on a confused or incorrect answer.

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the role and responsibilities of a chartered surveyor.

Read the RICS website. Show an awareness of the RICS activities and objectives.

Know your rules of conduct and professional and ethical standards inside out!

  • Ability and confidence to work unsupervised.

Ultimately the panel wants to assess whether you are a safe pair of hands to represent the best interests of your clients, your employer and the RICS.

  • Ability to apply your professional and technical skills to benefit your clients.

Remember that you need to demonstrate level 3 in your core competencies. Give examples of your work whenever suitable and do not omit to explain how you advised your client. You are also expected to be able to justify why you made specific decisions in your projects.

Why do candidates get referred?

  • The submissions are not presented in the required format, greatly exceed the word count or contain significant technical or professional errors.

This is not a cause for referral in itself but it will certainly not go in your favour if you are borderline.

  • The presentation does not reflect the candidate’s written submissions.

It is apparent that your supervisor wrote it for you and that you do not have as much experience as claimed in your record of experience.

  • The candidate’s communication, documentation or attitude is not professional.
  • The candidate is unable to demonstrate knowledge or experience relating to the declared competencies. This could be deficiency in just one competency or a range of competencies.

They did not revise level 1 / basic textbook best practice.

They are weak in ethics and rules of conduct, do not understand what the RICS is about.

They lack of experience / client exposure or cannot relate it to the competencies.

They have done things their way for many years and do not care much about best practice and standards.

They work in a highly specialised area (which is not a cause of referral in itself) and have not broaden their horizons through private study. The panel is not convinced that they could transfer their skills and experience to another client.

Final word

Remember that the assessors want you to pass!

They have been trained to show interest in your presentation and answers, and to question you on your own personal experience. Approach your APC as a chat between professionals and you will be fine!


Assessors Mark Sheet: APC Final Assessment Mark Sheet

One-to-one mock APC interviews

Are you sitting your APC in the next couples of months and ready for the final stages of your APC preparation?

Each session, we offer mock APC interviews for candidates in the construction pathways (QS / PM / BS / Infrastructure) in the Manchester area.

Please e-mail us at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk for more details.

We also have a number of workshops and seminars planned in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield throughout the year.

You can find all dates and booking links here: http://wp.me/p5Nraq-5j

If you have any queries feel free to drop us a line on Twitter @APCsupport_NW or e-mail us at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk.

Best of luck!