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Looking beyond graduate schemes to unadvertised jobs

Applying for unadvertised graduate jobs and work experience

Some property employers may well have ‘hidden’ vacancies that they don’t publicise.
Be very clear about what you want and how long for.

Many graduates think that graduate jobs and work experience opportunities are only available with the large property consultancies. If you think that, you’re wrong! There could be places with smaller employers who don’t have the resources to advertise in the same way as the larger firms. To find these opportunities, you’ll have to apply ‘speculatively’ – that is, to apply on the off chance.

James Kinnersly, a recent graduate planning consultant at Gerald Eve, agrees with this: ‘If I had my time again, I’d be more proactive with sending off speculative applications,’ he says. ‘I’d advise you to look beyond the big service firms with their graduate schemes. There are a lot of other very good employers who are willing to hire if the right person comes along, but you have to go and find them and show them you want to work for them.’

Finding unadvertised graduate property job opportunities

Start with your local area, whether that’s in your home or uni town. You can do a Google search or go old school: check your local newspapers (if looking for work experience, the estate agents advertising properties might be an obvious place to start) and local business directories to find out what employers are out there. You can also ask your wider network, including your family, friends and lecturers, if anyone knows of any property employers.

Sending off your speculative applications to property employers

Once you have a shortlist of employers, don’t dash off a generic email. Take your time to research the company you are applying to and make sure you use the correct email etiquette. Follows these tips:

1. Apply to a name, not ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’. Ring the firm and ask who you should direct your application to. It gives your email a better chance of being reviewed.

Your phone call could go something like this: ‘Hello, I’m looking to write to your firm to express an interest in working for you. Who would be the best person to apply to?’

2. The opening and closing of your email are places where you shouldn’t lapse into informal email habits; treat it like a professional and formal letter. Ideally you would have the name of the recipient and make sure you get their title (and gender!) correct.

  • Always start with ‘Dear…’
  • At the end of your email thank them for considering your application, note any times when you won’t be contactable (eg if you’re going on holiday shortly) and say that you look forward to hearing from them.
  • If you know their name, you should end with ‘Yours sincerely’. (If you don’t know their name, you should end with ‘Yours faithfully’.)

3. Be very clear about what you want and how long for. Are you applying for work experience and for how long? Do you want to undertake some work shadowing (observing)? If you are willing to undertake some short-term unpaid experience in the property industry, then make this known to the firm. The first sentences of your email could run along the lines of:

‘I am writing to express my interest in undertaking work experience with you – a week would be ideal. I am currently studying [X] and would like the opportunity to gain an insight into [eg residential property].’

If you are looking for a job, it might be worth asking for work experience initially. They might be more willing to hire you when they’ve ‘tested you out’ first.

4. Do your research on the company and make it clear why you’d find it valuable working for them in particular. The chance of getting a response from a generic application is very slim. At a minimum, research:

  • the type of market the firm operates in: commercial, residential or rural?
  • the type of services the firm offers, eg agency, valuation etc
  • the firm’s mission statement, values or business aims
  • recent new stories about the firm
  • recent or high-profile work it’s undertaken, eg a notable acquisition for a client company

In your application, you need to use your research to back up your claims about how much you admire the firm, share its values and would learn from working there. This will show the recruiter that you are genuinely interested in them specifically and that you would fit in well at the firm.

5. Make it clear what you can offer them in terms of your skills, knowledge and general attitude. It is not enough to say that you are ‘enthusiastic, hard-working and have great time management skills’; you need to give evidence. Here are two examples of how you can do this:

‘I’m confident that I’ll be able to build on my existing property experience when working for you. While completing a two-week placement at [name of firm], a property development consultancy, I worked alongside a surveyor and learned about the research and analysis that goes into deciding the best possible use of a site.’

‘My part-time job as a checkout assistant meant that I have been able to develop my customer service skills, so I can effectively communicate with customers. It also shows my excellent time management skills, as I am able to balance my time between work and studying. I will be able to use these skills when working for you.’

Remember: your email should look no longer than one page, as a lengthy email may put off the recipient. Make sure your font is clear and professional and no bigger than size 11 or 12.

Following up your speculative applications for jobs or placements with property firms

Don’t disregard your application if you don’t hear anything back! Remember that companies are very busy and you’ve got nothing to lose by making a polite phone call to follow up. You could say:

‘Hello, I emailed [name of the person you emailed] a week ago about an opportunity for a one-week work experience placement. I was calling to see if you had had a chance to review my covering letter and CV.’

If they haven’t yet looked at your application, use your negotiating skills. You could respond: ‘When would be best for me to call again?’ Tie them down to a date. Many property jobs require great communication and negotiating skills on the phone, so this is your chance to show off! But try to read the tone and signals. If they don’t sound too keen, then ask them to keep your covering letter and CV on file and let you know if any opportunities come up. Thank them for their time.

It’s also worth asking for feedback if you are given a ‘no’. James advises: ‘If you get turned down, ring them up and ask for feedback – this paid off for one of my friends when the employer took another look at his CV, invited him for an interview and then offered him a job!’

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