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Charting a Star’s Path

Charting a Star’s Path

By Ezequiel Tovar

The AEC industry is a fascinating and constantly evolving field, and it offers numerous opportunities for young professionals to make a significant impact on society.  This year’s class of Rising Stars is yet again filled with examples of young professionals achieving success throughout the many facets of the AEC industry, making their own mark on our industry.  Key among these stories is a shared dedication to moving the industry forward.  For other young professionals who are looking to impact the AEC industry in their own way, these Rising Stars provide a framework for their own success.  Here are some of the lessons that can be learned from this year’s Rising Stars:

Develop Your Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are essential in the professional services industry. We sell people’s time and expertise. That is why managing people is a crucial skill. Nearly all of us have experienced the gap between technical skill and leadership skills. Developing leadership skills involves learning to motivate and inspire others, combining trust and collaboration, delegating tasks effectively, and making strategic decisions that benefit your firm. A leader is someone who is open-minded yet consistent in culture, values, and mission.  They are someone who brings the best in others and has the drive and ability to serve their clients better every time.

Build Your Communication Skills

Effective communication is essential in any profession, but it is particularly critical to the AEC space.  We work on complex projects that involve multiple stakeholders, and effective communication is essential to ensure that everyone is on the same page. A great communicator is a great asset to any firm. You may be the most competent design professional out there, but if you don’t know how to communicate appropriately, you will be perceived as incompetent. To develop your communication skills, practice presenting technical information in a clear and concise manner. Learn to communicate complex ideas in simple language that is easy for non-technical individuals to understand. Clarity is key for communication, but as well, if you don’t understand peoples’ needs, then you won’t be able to get through to them. 

Cultivate a Network through Business Development 

A strong network can help you stay up to date with industry trends, provide you with job opportunities, and offer support and guidance when you need it. It also allows you to win work for your firm. Those that produce the most get promoted. Get out there and meet people! Make contacts and turn them into clients. Show initiative and attend industry conferences and events, join professional associations, and connect with other professionals in your field.

Develop a Strong Personal Brand

In today’s competitive job market, it is important to develop a strong personal brand that showcases your skills, expertise, and accomplishments. A strong personal brand can help you stand out from other professionals and attract new opportunities. Who are you? What do you stand for? Why are you different? On every project you work on, the client needs to know the answer to those questions through interacting with you. 

Checking Up on People

This is one of the easiest things you can do, but few people rarely do it. Checking up on coworkers and clients elevates your relationship with them and demonstrates that you care. Stop reading this right now and reach out to someone who you have been meaning to talk to! We know that everyone is bombarded with so much work, but that is not a valid excuse for reaching out. Give yourself a couple minutes to send an email or call someone up-that’s all it takes. The professional service industry is about relationships. Never forget that.

Seek Out Mentors 

Mentorship is a valuable tool for professional development, and having a mentor or role model can help you navigate the challenges of your profession and achieve your goals. Having a good mentor takes you out of the daily tasks and helps you focus on the present and future. Soak up as much as you can. 

Develop Business Acumen

This is where I see a lot of need for in the AEC industry. You may answer by saying that you went to school for engineering, architecture, etc. But the fact is that you work for a business and knowing the different financial components on how your firm makes money is crucial for your competitive advantage. I have observed firm owners who run firms love the technical work but disregard the business side of their firm. It’s like driving a manual transmission car. The engine is what gets the car from one place to another, but the driver is the one that shifts gears at the right time (the financial side). The more you get acquainted with knowing the financials of the whole firm, the better prepared you are. It engages you in the long-term planning of your firm’s future. Project managers are able to function on a project-by-project basis. They know that it must be on time and on budget. Now apply it on a broader scale. Like a Russian nesting doll, every business has different layers–such as geographical, market sector, etc.–but ultimately, these components make up one entity. 

Think Like an Owner 

If you do things that are outside your job description, slowly but surely you will be recognized.  Cultivating a more active mindset will help you engage with your coworkers in critical discussions and functions. 

Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health

The AEC industry can be a high-stress profession, and it is important to take care of your mental and physical health to avoid burnout and stay healthy and productive. Take care of your mental health by cultivating and maintaining hobbies. Take care of your physical health by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, going outside, and getting regular exercise. Having a good support system from friends and family helps a lot as well. 

Give Back to the Community

The Design profession has a significant positive impact on society. Giving back to the community can help you develop a sense of purpose and meaning in your work and can contribute to your professional growth. Give back to the community by volunteering with local organizations or charities, mentoring students, or young professionals, doing pro-bono work, or participating in education programs. As individuals, we all have a responsibility to give back to our community and work towards creating a better world where we are in. You will never regret it.

The AEC industry is a major driving force in our changing world, and more and more people are joining our industry in the hope of improving the lives of those around us.  By taking steps to cultivate a Rising Star’s mindset, those who are just entering the industry or are early in their careers can create their own starlike trajectory, and ultimately Elevate the Industry for all those around them.

Ezequiel Tovar is an analyst within Zweig Group’s Ownership Transition team. He works directly with AEC firms to develop and implement successful ownership transition efforts with financial modeling, valuations, and comprehensive strategic planning.