Property interview advice: likely questions and how to prepare
Would-be graduate property surveyors face one or two interviews during the recruitment process, depending on the firm. If they sit two interviews (like at Knight Frank and JLL), the first is typically conducted by HR, often over the telephone, and the second is conducted by a partner or senior professional at the firm. Firms that have just the one interview will typically be led by the partner, but may also include an HR representative. These days, interviews with partners are usually held as part of an assessment centre.
What questions do property interviewers ask?
The interviewers’ aims are to find out whether you have the essential skills and attributes to be successful in the job, whether you’d be a ‘good fit’ in the organisation, and that you really want to work for the organisation.
You can expect to be asked questions about:
- your skills and competencies (‘Tell me about a time when…’)
- your reasons/motivations for applying to the firm
- what motivates you in general
- your strengths and weaknesses
- your knowledge of the property industry/the firm
- your knowledge of career progression at the firm
- your knowledge of what a residential/commercial/rural surveyor does
- your technical knowledge or aspects of your property course (but only if you have studied/are studying an RICS accredited degree)
Cushman & Wakefield interviewers query your motivation for working in property by asking questions such as ‘What do you do outside of work?’ and ‘Why would you like to work for Cushman & Wakefield?’. Similarly, Lorraine Marley, learning and development adviser at residential specialists Grainger Plc, likes to give candidates ‘a really good opportunity to talk about their knowledge of the property industry’ by asking ‘Why are you interested in a career in residential property?’
Nuzhat Merali, graduate programme adviser at Bilfinger GVA, is also interested in ascertaining your reasons for working in property and your knowledge of the day-to-day working of the profession. She finds the most insightful questions are: ‘Where does your interest in property stem from?’ and ‘What do you believe are the most important behaviours and/or attributes for a graduate to have?’
Amelia Dowty, emerging talent acquisition manager at JLL also probes your knowledge of the profession and your own ambitions by asking her favourite question: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’
Recruiters also like to ask more commercial questions. Charlotte Di Talamo, the graduate programme manager at Cushman & Wakefield says ‘the most revealing question is when you ask candidates how they keep up to date with current affairs. They usually say Estates Gazette, Property Week and The Times but if you then ask them to tell you about a recent story in one of the publications, they can look a bit panicked!’
Sometimes the commercial questions aren’t about the property industry. ‘We sometimes ask candidates today’s share price, which can often throw them off!’ says Amelia of JLL. Mark Dubes, graduate recruitment and development manager at CBRE, says: ‘You need to read around the industry too. If you were meeting with a client tomorrow, say Mercedez Benz, would you know what was going on in the automobile industry?’
Do expect to be asked competency-based questions at your interviews. Past interview questions at JLL have included: ‘Describe a time when you were faced with an unethical challenge. How did you address the situation?’ and ‘Describe a time when you had a difficulty at work. How did you handle it?’
How to prepare for a property surveying graduate interview
From the nature of the questions above, it’s clear that you need to do some preparation on the firm. ‘A past candidate not knowing the name of our CEO was not particularly impressive,’ says Kim Brumley, resourcing manager at BNP Paribas Real Estate. ‘Candidates should find out about the different business lines a company has, who the key stakeholders are within the business and learn about a recent big deal or piece of interesting news on the company. They should also know what the company’s unique selling points are – we are not all the same.’
Grace Stratton, graduate programme manager at Countryside, agrees: ‘Our most successful candidates have come to our interviews prepared to answer questions on their specialism (development, asset management etc) and their thoughts on the industry and current legislation,’ she says. ‘They have also identified our unique selling points and have an idea of the area of our business in which they’d like to build a career.’
Revisit the research you did on the firm. You need to know:
- the markets they operate in
- something about entry positions and career progression within the firm
- recent developments in the industry that may affect the firm
- their main competitors
Don’t just quote articles, develop your own opinions of property matters. Practise articulating your views for interviews.
But you also need to do some preparation on yourself. Ask yourself: why do I want the job with this firm? It needs to be a lot more specific than ‘I just want to be a surveyor’ – you don’t want to give the impression that any employer would do (even if it would). Use your research into the firm to match your qualities to aspects of the graduate scheme. Try to anticipate questions that are likely to be asked and consider possible responses.
What questions should you ask at the end of a surveying interview?
You’ll be given a chance to ask questions of your own at the end of the interview. Always take the opportunity to do so, as this suggests that you are genuinely interested in the job and want to find out more. Your questions shouldn’t cover anything that can be found in their recruitment literature, as that would give the impression that you haven’t done your research. Stay away from salaries and benefits, too. Instead you could ask:
- for more details on the firm’s support through the APC or the structure within departments/teams
- about a particular piece of work the firm has undertaken
- what the interviewer enjoys about working for the firm
Interviewing golden rules for property graduates
Prepare, prepare, prepare: We’ve spoken about the need to research the firm and preparing some questions to ask the interviewer, but don’t forget the basics. Sort out your interview outfit in advance and polish your shoes. Plan how to get to your interview, book your travel tickets in advance and aim to arrive early. Charge your mobile phone and add the contact details of the office to your address book in case of travel delays. Print out a fresh copy of your application to take with you, along with any supporting information.
Have a structure to your answers: Lorraine of Grainger says, ‘We really want to get to know you as individuals. Each question should be answered fully. It helps us to understand your role in specific projects if you put it in some context.’ When answering skills-based questions, structure your answers using STAR (explain the Situation, the Tasks you needed to complete, your Actions and the Results). For other types of questions, explain your thought processes: ‘I would take X action because…’
Don’t be thrown if you don’t know the answer: If you need time to think, take a sip of water. Don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify the question if you’re unsure what they mean. If you’re stumped by a technical question, it’s perfectly fine to admit this and make a sensible suggestion as to how you would go about finding out the answer instead. For example, you could say you would ask a colleague or refer to an RICS code.
Have good examples of your skills: The best candidates always do. Lorraine advises you to ‘think about how you’ve used the skills sought by the employer in the past and recall real-life examples’.
Don’t just say what you think they want to hear: Base your answers on your gut rather than on what you think interviewers want to hear. ‘Give answers that you believe in because they come across better,’ says Mark of CBRE. ‘Quite often we’re not trying to find out about what you think we are; we’re interested in you. The interview is a place to find out more about you.’
Build a rapport with the interviewer: It’s not just your answers that are being assessed. ‘During the interview we look for individuals who demonstrate good interpersonal skills. Being able to converse in a confident and effective manner with others, from a wide range of backgrounds, is a key requirement’ says Ian Clark, partner at Montagu Evans.A firm handshake, a smile, some small talk and asking some intelligent questions all go towards building rapport with interviewers.
Show your passion for property: It helps if you can supply evidence of your interest. You may have obtained a number of industry internships, contributed to property blogs and/or publications, joined or set up networking groups or taken part in competitions run by universities or professional bodies.
Let your personality shine through: Heather Newby, HR manager at Gerald Eve, says: ‘We understand that it can be hard to relax at interviews or assessment days, but candidates need to remember that we are hiring them for their personality and their future potential within our business. We have an inclusive culture and while we don’t expect candidates to know everything there is to know about surveying, we do want candidates to be comfortable in their own skin and let their personality shine through.’