Tricky property application questions: why property, why this employer and why this job?
Questions on your reasons for applying are bound to crop up at some point in the application process and you’ll be expected to incorporate them into your covering letter too. Graduates who don’t consider their answers properly end up giving generic responses – and that will not get them an interview. You know the job is perfect for you but how do you get that across to a recruiter?
Many property employers include these questions in their application forms. The wording might be slightly different but the basic message is the same, for example:
- Savills’ application forms have included the question: ‘What motivates you to work in the property industry and particularly at Savills?’
- Cushman & Wakefield has asked candidates, ‘Why are you passionate about a career in property?’ and ‘Why do you want to start your career at Cushman & Wakefield?’
- Capita Property and Infrastructure's forms have asked candidates, ‘Why are you interested in working in a commercial property consultancy, and becoming a chartered surveyor with Capita Property and Infrastructure?’
- JLL’s application forms have previously asked : ‘In 2,500 characters (approximately 500 words), tell us why you have applied to JLL and what you believe you can achieve working with us.’
These are open-ended questions that give you lots of scope to show off how much you know about the company and the industry and to sell yourself as the perfect fit – make the most of it.
Tip 1: use your research to give specific reasons
For the questions about why you want to work for that employer, you need to have done your research. Caroline Dyson, graduate recruitment specialist at Cushman & Wakefield, says: ‘Candidates who demonstrate knowledge of the real estate market are far more impressive than those who just quote back to us what is published on our websites. Candidates need to be able to quote deals, transactions and our key clients in their applications to highlight their knowledge and understanding of the industry.’
You must show:
- how the type of work involved in the scheme would make good use of your existing skills and experience
- why the firm's work and its expertise in specific markets attract you
- how the firm’s direction (judged by recent clients, transactions, mergers or acquisitions) matches your career aspirations
- how the firm’s culture, values and initiatives appeal to someone of your personality
The same goes for questions on why you want that particular job. There is certainly overlap between why-this-job and why-this-employer questions, but the former is more focused. Lorraine Marley, learning and development adviser at Grainger plc, says: ‘outstanding candidates convey their passion for the property industry and explain why they want to work in the market(s) that the employer specialises in.’
You must show:
- what it is about the job that appeals. Why have you chosen a commercial surveying scheme rather than a residential one, for example?
- why you want to work in eg commercial surveying at that firm as opposed to commercial surveying at another firm (don’t refer to competitors – keep your answer focused on the firm). Your motivation could include high-profile commercial transactions at the firm, or the strong reputation of the commercial surveying partners there.
- what it is about that particular office or scheme that caused you to apply. There are different advantages to being in a London-based or in a regional office so why did you apply for that particular office location? And what made you choose a rotational/non-rotational scheme?
Your answer should be tailored to the employer and job, and research will help you do this. If you copy and paste your draft answer into another property firm’s application form and it still makes sense, your answer isn’t tailored enough.
Nor should you copy and paste information about the firm from their own website. Charlotte Di Talamo, graduate programme manager at Cushman & Wakefield, is emphatic about this: ‘You should not copy and paste our marketing materials into your applications.’
Similarly, Lauren Strangleman, graduate manager at Knight Frank, says: ‘Read the property press. You can’t just rely on firms’ websites to get the most up-to-date information.’
Tip 2: use your work experience
Charlotte states: ‘candidates need to give examples of how they have displayed their qualities through work experience, volunteering and mentoring activities.’ If you completed an internship with a commercial firm, you can talk about how you particularly enjoyed the work. Conversely, if you completed an internship in residential property you could explain how you think you’d be more drawn to commercial work and use your insights to say why.
- Learn how to sell your work experience to property recruiters
Tip 3: reveal your true motivation
A genuine answer will always come across better than something that sounds forced or insincere. Charlotte points out that ‘candidates must come across as driven, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial and having a real passion for property.’ Draw up a list of all the aspects of the industry, that specific company and that particular job that appeal to you, whether it’s because you’ll value the support the employer will give you through the APC or because the nature of the work suits your talents. If you can discuss more than one point in your answer, the recruiter will be much more impressed.
However, if the high salary is your main motivation, it’s best to keep that to yourself and draw on the other aspects of the role that appeal to you.
- Read our advice on how to convince employers you want a career in property with them.
Tip 4: keep your answers for interview
Save a copy of your answers to help you prepare for interviews. You’ll almost certainly be asked about your application answers by the interviewer and it won’t look good if you give conflicting information. After all, the whole application process can be long so it’s easy to forget what it was that initially attracted you to that employer. Print out your answers and, if you have time before the interview starts, look back over them before you go in.
- Make sure your application remains credible by eliminating any typos or spelling mistakes – give your application a proofread and get a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. ‘Spelling and grammatical mistakes are always very noticeable,’ says Ian Clark, partner at Montagu Evans LLP. ‘Applications and CVs should always be checked carefully – it is an indication of your written communication skills.’
- You should also be clear about your availability. State on your application when you are available for interview and think about when you could start work. Jennifer Davies, graduate programme adviser at GVA, a Bilfinger Real Estate company, says: ‘We have a significant number of opportunities that can commence with a more immediate start than September.’ Don't miss out on an opportunity because you didn't make clear that you'd be willing to start earlier in the year.