My route to CIWEM Chartership

CIWEM Junior President and Binnies principal flood and coastal consultant Emily Clarke FCIWEM C.WEM shares her route to becoming a Chartered Water and Environmental Manager

My background bridges the flood risk management and water industry sectors. I have an expert understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders and the policies and legislations that underpin our sectors work. I have and continue to represent the flood risk management and water industry sectors on numerous special interest, policy and project advisory panels and committees.

I have been fortunate to work for many of the different types of Flood Risk Management Authorities, starting my career at the Environment Agency, followed by working for Cambridgeshire’s Lead Local Flood Authority and then spending five years in the Water Industry working for Anglian Water and Water UK, before joining Binnies consultancy. Along the way, I have volunteered my time to Diversity and Inclusion initiatives such as: raising awareness of neurodiversity, Women in FCERM, and have held several CIWEM voluntary committee roles.

Choosing a Chartership

I decided to apply for Chartership after six years in my career, following completing a part-time master’s degree in Flood and Coastal Engineering whilst working full-time. I’d gotten used to doing the day job and study work and felt I was on a roll. Applying for Chartership was a personal and professional goal of mine and it seemed like the perfect time to finally get around to doing my application - which I had started to think about several times prior before getting distracted.

Throughout my career, I’d spoken with members of CIWEM and ICE, and due to my engineering master’s degrees, many people had tried to encourage me to follow the ICE route. I chose CIWEM as the Chartered Water and Environmental Manager (C.WEM) qualification felt more closely aligned to my career, interests, and values. Whilst preparing, I began to get more involved in CIWEM voluntary roles and have not looked back since!

Being Chartered helps me stand out when being put forward for secondments and projects within the consultancy world. It also helped me to secure the role I am in! It signifies to others that I am both experienced and knowledgeable in our field and that I can therefore be relied upon to do a great job.

Preparing my application

I had excellent sponsors who helped me work through the competencies. To prepare my application, I found examples for each competency which I talked through with my sponsors during our initial meetings. I was confident I was nearly there, but my sponsors allowed me to fully map out my experience and plot any gaps. Once I’d worked through all the competencies and knew I didn’t have any gaps - I was ready to fine tune my application. My sponsors were supportive, giving me helpful prompts and allowing me the time to do it at my own pace.

If I could do the process again, I wouldn’t wait to start the application till I knew I was fully ready. I now advise the people I mentor to start mapping out their examples against the competencies throughout their career. This helps you to notice any gaps in your experience, which in turn is helpful evidence for your goal setting and annual appraisal conversations.

Planning in this way is helpful in applying for MCIWEM membership too. Starting to plan early is also essential for logging your continued professional development (CPD) log.

What barriers did you face?

Having the time to dedicate to the application prevented me from doing it sooner and I know this is a huge barrier to some. If you’ve been considering applying for a while now, but unsure where to start, I would recommend speaking to someone who might be able to mentor and sponsor you and see if they can help support you with the first steps. Those first steps are usually the hardest and once you have a good mentor, it’s a great exercise to go through all the things you’ve done across your career and see how far you’ve come.

It is a lot of work, so I truly believe you need to want to do it. However, I cannot begin to emphasise how great the feeling is when you’ve finished the application, and even more so when you get the email after your interview to say you’ve been successful. That sense of achievement is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

As you need two people to sponsor your Chartership application, I recommend having a ‘lead’ sponsor and agreeing this with your sponsors from the outset. I had chosen a very experienced individual and someone who had recently been through the process themselves.

Having two different sponsors who didn’t know each other, and who had worked with me on different elements of my work was beneficial, as they helped me consider all my strengths.

They did, however, give me conflicting advice from time to time such as which examples they thought were my strongest didn’t always align, and what bits of text to cut out or cut down. I felt like I had to choose whose advice to take and sometimes that was uncomfortable to explain to the other sponsor. In the end I effectively chose a lead sponsor, which helped with those conversations and when I wasn’t sure which advice to follow, I went with my lead sponsor. My other sponsor was really understanding once I had explained the challenges I had been facing.

Preparing for professional interview

Having a mock interview was invaluable, not only to talk through my career overview but also gave me the chance to practice my presentation. Having my sponsors ask questions about my application was great practice and they really made it feel like the real thing. The mock interview felt much scarier than the real thing as it was a lot more formal. I’d gotten used to them giving me immediate feedback and so when answering their questions, it felt odd to move onto the next question. They gave me feedback at the end, along with helpful pointers, things to work on and strengthen. By the time I got to the professional interview, I felt very prepared.

I also made sure to read through my full application before going into the interview and have a copy of it to hand. It might sound obvious, but there is quite a long time between submitting your application and the interview itself. Having spent so much time preparing, reading, and rereading my application before submission, I needed a big break from reviewing it again!

Coming back to it as part of preparing for the interview enabled me to read it with fresh eyes. I also found I was able to expand on some of my examples as those projects had further developed since my submission.

My top tops for a successful Chartership application

  • Choose a project that you’re passionate about for your professional interview presentation. It’s obvious when someone enjoys the work they’re presenting and obvious when they don’t! I think my passion shone through and set the tone for the rest of the interview.
  • Start early on in your career and use the competencies to guide your annual goal setting conversations, so you’re well prepared when it comes to applying.
  • Find a sponsor who has worked with you, knows your strengths, and can help guide you through the process. This person will need to have time to review your application drafts (for me, I had several!) and cheerlead you along the way to keep your spirits lifted and your sights on the end goal.
  • You need to provide three years’ worth of CPD and so the best piece of advice I can offer is to start logging any and all CPD as early as you can and getting into the good habit of regularly updating it.

What’s next for you

I am extremely proud to be one of the youngest ever CIWEM Fellows and am enjoying encouraging, helping, and sponsoring others to achieve this accolade.

I have and continue to demonstrate exceeding commitment to the Institution through the voluntary roles I hold including being an East Anglian Branch Committee member, an FCERM Specialist Panel member, an active mentor, assessor and interviewer, and a Professional Standards Committee member. These roles help me to learn, develop, grow and stretch as a professional.

I am this year’s Junior President, a role I am honoured to hold. I am thrilled to be supporting this year’s presidential theme “connecting a community inclusive and accessible for all”, and to be representing early career professionals across the WEM sector.

I’d be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in getting more involved with CIWEM but doesn’t know where to start!

Want to become a Chartered member? Find out more here.

This article was first published on Tuesday 05 March 2024.

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