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How to stand out as a property graduate

Six questions graduate property surveyors need to be able to answer

We spoke to recruiters at six top property firms to find out what you need to be considering in order to become an OUTSTANDING property surveyor. Make sure you can answer these questions in applications or interviews.
What’s your motivation for working in property and can you articulate it?

How to be outstanding: Spotting opportunities | using your work experience | building rapport | appearing motivated | showing willingness | thinking laterally

It shows just how competitive the graduate property job market is when you consider that last year the likes of CBRE and Knight Frank had 1,000–1,300 applications for their 20–50 vacancies. Though don’t be put off by these figures (remember that many applicants apply to several firms)... instead, think how worthwhile it is to work at being a candidate who stands out. Whether in applications or interviews, show that you have the potential to become a successful graduate property surveyor by demonstrating you are able to answer these six questions.

1. Can you spot an opportunity? / Do you have entrepreneurial skills?

Charlotte Di Talamo, graduate programme manager at Cushman & Wakefield says, ‘Candidates must come across as driven, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial and having a real passion for property.

‘Entrepreneurial’ or ‘enterprise’ skills are terms that can confuse. So to clarify, when property recruiters ask for these qualities they DON'T want candidates to pitch a new idea for a business to them (as per several popular TV programmes).

They DO want candidates who:

  • can spot unexploited business opportunities
  • can see which parts of a business could be more efficient
  • can think in an original way to fill a gap in the market or improve the efficiency of the business
  • have sound business sense

Entrepreneurialism is important in property because clients come and go depending on the needs in their sectors, so firms always need to be on the lookout for new business opportunities. For example:

  • Perhaps university student numbers are projected to increase over the next few years – a property professional might investigate whether there’ll be demand for student housing.
  • Or if some of the larger supermarkets have seen decreased profits, a property surveyor might consider whether any stores are closing and what will then happen to this real estate.

An outstanding candidate will include in their application an example or two of when they’ve been enterprising. Great if the example is from a business setting, such as an innovative way you made money when at university, but it doesn’t matter if it isn’t. If, for example, you found an original way to publicise the play as a member of the university theatre society, then that’s a perfectly good example.

2. Have you made the most of your work experience? / What did you learn from your work experience?

'Outstanding candidates can articulate their understanding of the work they’ve done on placement and what they’ve gained from it,' says Amelia Dowty, graduate recruitment manager at JLL.

You'll need to be able to emphasise the skills and knowledge you've gained from work experience in your applications, and be prepared to expand on these points at interview.

It's very wise to keep notes while you're on placement, even if you think you'll remember what you've done. Towards the end of your placement, you can look over your notes and reflect on what you've learned, focusing on the aspects that employers would value.

If you haven't kept a record on your internship, now is the time to spend a good hour recalling and noting down what you did and learned. Look at any documents you've kept from your placement and bring to mind the people you met or worked with to jog your memory of what you did.

3. Are you able to maintain relationships with clients? Can you build rapport during the interview?

Mark Dubes, graduate recruitment and development manager at CBRE puts it superbly: 'The property business is about building and maintaining relationships with clients. We’re looking for people we can put in front of clients. Build up a rapport with the interviewer.'

Don't forget that in an interview it's not just your answers that will be assessed. You can go a long way with a firm handshake and some small talk, so it’s worth making an extra effort to do this, even if you’re very nervous. Make sure you show an interest in what the recruiters are saying by maintaining eye contact and asking a few intelligent questions.

4. Why do you want to work in property? / What motivates you?

Lorraine Marley, the learning and development adviser at Grainger plc, says, ‘Outstanding candidates convey their passion for the property industry.

If you aren’t asked why you want to work in property in your initial application (which most likely you will be) you should include it in your covering letter if you’re asked to provide one.

At interview, you will be asked about your motivation, too. Think back to why you originally chose this career path and, if you’re doing a property degree or conversion course, what have you discovered about working in property that has really enthused you? Having more than one point to your answer will impress recruiters.

Recruiters will also want some surrounding evidence for your motivation. Knowing about the topical issues in property and in the industries that a firm’s clients belong to is one way of demonstrating this.

Another way to show that you're motivated is to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of what the firm does, such as who its clients are and the market(s) it works in (commercial, residential or rural). The market you want to work in should be a major factor in deciding which firms you apply to. What are your reasons for choosing a particular market and can you articulate them in your application and at interview?

5. Are you willing to try new things? / Do you have a 'can do' attitude?

The people who ultimately have a successful career in property demonstrate a ‘can do’ attitude, are flexible and are not averse to trying new things,’ Donna Owen, strategic talent consultant at NPS Group, tells us.

Make it easy for recruiters by giving examples on your CV of times you’ve had to improvise or deal with the unexpected. An example could be having to deputise for your manager during a part-time retail job. You could also include times you’ve set yourself a target and worked to achieve it, eg selling X number of tickets for an event you helped organise.

Make sure you embody a positive attitude when you meet recruiters in person, as they may well test how you respond when put outside your comfort zone. For example, at an assessment day if you’re unexpectedly asked to prepare and give a presentation how would you respond? By having a bit of a moan with other candidates or by showing willing?

6. Can you think laterally?

What sets apart outstanding candidates from good? Confidence, good lateral thought process and the ability to apply what they have learned at university to real property matters,’ says Ian Clark, a partner at Montagu Evans.

When employers ask for lateral thinking they want to see you’re capable of coming up with a solution when it isn’t immediately obvious. That said, professionals still need to go by the book and so holding on to your university course notes is a must. Look at them in conjunction with items of news and think how what you’ve learned would inform a property surveyor who has clients affected by the news.

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