Developing commercial awareness for a graduate property job
Property recruiters nearly always ask for graduates with commercial awareness. But recruiters frequently tell TARGETjobs that candidates rarely demonstrate this quality to the desired level; this is because candidates often underestimate how much commercial awareness trainee surveyors need.
What is commercial awareness in property?
Commercial awareness is the ability to:
- stay informed of what’s happening at individual property firms (eg noteworthy deals, transactions and clients) and within the property sector as a whole (eg the introduction of new planning regulations or new initiatives from RICS)
- form an opinion on current affairs (eg developments in the economy) from a property industry perspective
- decide appropriate advice to give to clients and a business strategy for the property firm (or as a graduate applicant, to express an opinion on what appropriate advice and strategies would be and give reasons for them)
Serena Tulloch, graduate programme adviser at GVA, told us: 'Being commercially aware involves having a wide understanding of the world we live, work and play in and, in turn, understanding how political, economic and news events (or likely events) can affect the industry, your employer and your employer's clients.'
How can I develop my commercial awareness in property?
If the following sounds like you, you’ve made a good start, but need to do more to develop your commercial awareness:
- I read the Financial Times and/or the property press.
- I browse the news sections on property firms’ websites.
Sally Chacatte, group head of HR at Knight Frank, says: 'Spend time each week reading the news and the research sections of company websites. An impressive candidate can put what is happening now into historical context and uses their research to make predictions for the future.'
True commercial awareness requires you to dig deeper into property’s business environment on a regular basis to stay knowledgeable of current trends in the industries surrounding real estate. Sally Chacatte says: 'You need to understand the real estate market in practice. What that means is knowing about some large deals and developments and about the current property news from the real estate press – in addition to keeping up with the economy and financial markets.' A large firm’s clients span a range of industries, so keeping up with the news across sectors is essential to understanding where your clients are coming from and providing the best services for them. Mark Dubes, graduate recruitment and development manager at CBRE, says: ‘If you were meeting with a client, say Mercedes Benz, tomorrow, would you know what was going on in the automobile industry? You’ve got to understand other people’s businesses to be able to relate the services we provide to their business.’
Networking is a extremely effective way of learning about the property industry and employers from people who have first-hand experience. Richard Boyle, a commercial surveyor at BNP Paribas Real Estate, advises aspiring surveyors to take any opportunities to speak to business owners and leaders: 'Understand how their business is run and how it links into property. For instance, if a recruitment firm is growing rapidly, that firm is going to need more office space.'
- Find out more about the different methods for networking with property professionals and more benefits it can have for your job hunt here.
You also need to think about what else affects the state of an industry. Charlotte Di Talamo, graduate programme manager at Cushman & Wakefield says, ‘It is always impressive when candidates form their own opinion and demonstrate a deep understanding of a topical issue. For example how government policies might affect the residential housing market.’ Politics and all sorts of global event have an impact so keeping on top of current affairs generally is essential both for informing your own judgement as a surveyor and for being taken seriously. ‘If you’re with a client and they start talking to you about politics and you look at them blankly, it doesn’t make a great impression,’ says Mark.
In order to practice applying your knowledge of property firms to industry news, Serena advises: 'Attend events run by universities and professional bodies, and network with others in the sector. Start to develop your opinions on topics affecting the industry (for example, the potential impact of Brexit or new planning regulations) and discuss them; it is a good way to test your knowledge.'
Even if you already know which property market or specialism you would like to go into, it's important that you keep on top of news from throughout the property industry. Richard Thomas, an associate director at BNP Paribas Real Estate, advises: 'I would suggest one of the best practices for a residential surveyor is to stay aware of value in the commercial sector because development opportunities nearly always arise from residential use being more profitable than the land's existing use.'
If the following sounds like you, then you’re well on your way to commercial awareness – keep it up:
- I regularly read the Financial Times and/or the property press.
- I regularly browse the news sections on property firms’ websites.
- I’ve researched online to find examples of property firms’ past and present clients.
- I keep an eye on the industry press in the main sectors that clients fall into (eg by subscribing to email newsletters and Twitter feeds).
- I frequently reflect on the impact news will have on the property industry and the advice that property professionals might give to clients as a result.
Every industry and business sector needs to use real estate and land, even if it is just for office space. Think through the impact of recent events affecting retail, for example. How should a property firm advise a large supermarket chain to use its newly built megastores that it has decided not to open due to reduced profits?
How can I demonstrate commercial awareness to property recruiters?
Recruiters don’t always use the term ‘commercial awareness’ to describe the attributes referred to in this article. Having ‘big picture focus’ is one of the key competencies sought by housing developer Barratt Developments Plc, and a past interview question at Cushman & Wakefield is: ‘Name a recent business story that interests you. How would that story affect the property owner?’ But both employers are seeking applicants who understand the potential impact of wider events on their business and clients.
You need to demonstrate your commercial awareness both in your initial application and at interview.
Remember key facts to show recruiters how widely you’re reading. Charlotte 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.’ And being specific helps show you’re absorbing what you read and piecing it together: ‘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,’ says Charlotte.
Explain your reasoning. Although it’s important to be developing your commercial awareness as early as you can before you start applying to jobs and internships, it may be a relief to hear that graduate recruiters don’t expect you to know everything at this stage. They’re more interested to find out how you think about things. Even so, if you don’t know the answer to an interview question to test your commercial awareness, NEVER SAY: ‘I have no idea.’ Instead, admit you don’t know the exact answer and make an educated guess as to what it could be – perhaps based on similar industry events you’ve read about. Just make sure you explain how you’ve come to your answer.