When I started my APC on the Quantity Surveying and Construction pathway, I definitely didn't think I would be sitting my final interview in a suit and tie at my laptop in my makeshift bedroom office. I was part of the first cohort to complete the APC virtually in July 2020, as a result of the restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, I still passed successfully.
When I found out that my interview would be virtual rather than face to face, my first thought was one of disappointment. I focused on the potential downsides, such as the difficulties associated with eye contact, body language and, of course, the dreaded IT issues that may occur.
Once I had got over this initial disappointment, though I started to see the change for what it was: a fantastic opportunity to showcase my knowledge and experience that I had worked for years to gain. I realised that everyone was in the same position, including the assessors and RICS staff.
One of our key strengths as surveyors is our ability to adapt. We often have to alter our presentation and language to suit the audience, the surroundings, and the situation. This was no different.
What follow are my tips on how to adapt to succeed in these unusual circumstances.
"One of our key strengths as surveyors is our ability to adapt"
One of the best things that I did was to focus on the advantages of a virtual APC over sitting the assessment face to face. I have heard from colleagues that some of the most nerve-wracking parts of the face-to-face interviews are factors outside your control, such as traffic issues and train delays. These potentially stressful events are eradicated by doing the APC virtually.
Another source of anxiety might be unfamiliar surroundings – it is likely that if you had had your final interview in person, it would have taken place in a venue unknown to you. When sitting the APC virtually, you can create an environment that suits you.
It may not be ideal being interviewed in your bedroom; however, you should have enough time in the months beforehand to work out the best position for a desk and the ideal background. I tried several different set-ups before I settled on one that worked best for me.
You can then rehearse in that exact environment – which is something that you would never be able to do when sitting the assessment in the traditional manner. Focus on what you can control rather than what you can't.
Another benefit of a virtual APC is that you can record yourself presenting on webcam in your particular set-up and then review the recording. I did this many times, tweaking sections of my presentation to make sure my points came across as I intended. Body language such as hand movements and facial expressions can be practised to ensure that they have the desired effect.
In the final weeks of my preparation, I even went so far as to practise dressed in my suit at the time of day that I was due to sit my interview. By making the situation feel as familiar as possible, this helped to calm my nerves on the day.
I also recommend organising mock interviews with as many people as possible. I found that everyone asks questions in a slightly different way, so practising with several colleagues proved invaluable.
Because many people are currently working from home, this could mean there is a wider range of people available to help. The feedback that I received from these mock interviews was invaluable when it came to the final assessment.
RICS has produced comprehensive support, including guidance and FAQs that are very useful. You will be invited to a final briefing during the week of your interview, in which the experienced RICS team run through the process for the day itself and also undertake a microphone and camera check. Use this opportunity to ask any questions that you may have.
"Focus on what you can control rather than what you can't"
At the start of the assessment you will enter a virtual lobby, where you are likely to wait for around 15 minutes. Make sure you breathe slowly and try to relax.
The assessors – a minimum of two and maximum of three – will then appear on screen and introduce themselves. The chair and the assessors have been trained to put you at ease, and during my assessment I really appreciated this. An RICS staff facilitator may also be present to support with the use of the virtual interview technology, they won’t participate in the interview.
At the start of the interview the chair will ask you to provide a view of your immediate surroundings, including above and below you. You should also make sure you do not give a poor impression from a disorganised environment. You will be required to have your video and microphone on throughout the interview so the assessment panel can determine there is no access to any support during the interview.
Be sure to have a pen and paper to hand to write questions down. You are not expected to be able to answer all of these immediately: I found it very useful to note them down and come back to them at the end, just as in a face-to-face interview.
Bear in mind that there may be issues beyond your control. For example, the wi-fi may cut out, or someone may ring the doorbell. Do whatever you can to minimise the possibility of these; for example, let people know in advance that you will be unavailable during certain times.
However, even with the best planning in the world the unexpected could still happen. If something does occur, though, you will not be marked down, so don't panic. The chair, assessors and staff observer will all have been briefed on what to do in such circumstances, and there are procedures in place to ensure that external issues do not affect the interview.
"Bear in mind that there may be issues beyond your control; do whatever you can to minimise the possibility of these"
Be sure to plan something enjoyable to do after you have finished. Organise an activity that will take your mind off the interview and relax you for the rest of the day. The hard work is done; give yourself a pat on the back and make sure you enjoy your first weekend free from APC preparation in a long time. You've earned it!
Good luck, and best wishes to all candidates and assessors.