Property graduate assessment centres: what to expect
Most property firms will invite you to an assessment day if you impress them in the initial stages of the application process. These include JLL, BNP Paribas Real Estate, Cushman & Wakefield, Knight Frank and Goldcrest Land plc to name a few.
Usually, property assessment days include all or most of the following:
- a group exercise
- an interview
- a presentation
- a written exercise
- a chance to meet senior people at the firm and/or recent graduates, perhaps over lunch
- tests (sometimes these are before the assessment day) – you can practise various aptitude and psychometric tests with Job Test Prep.
You can see some common competencies sought by graduate property employers here.
WARNING: don’t miss the bigger picture
All firms have a set list of competencies against which they are assessing you, but don’t get hung up on figuring out exactly what these are. On the day, don’t panic if you feel you’ve missed your chance to demonstrate a particular competency in one of the exercises; the same skills are likely to be tested again later. ‘We’ll test our competencies at multiple stages of the assessment day: some at interview, again at the group exercise and in the presentation, and so on,’ says Amelia Dowty, emerging talent acquisition manager at JLL.
Moreover, think about the overall impression you’re making on assessors. Your overall demeanour is important because property firms don’t sell a product, but a service, which their people represent. Amelia explains: ‘So much of our business is about relationships. As with all professional services, we need to be able to sell our people. We need to be able to say, “Yes, I could take that person to a client meeting; I’d feel comfortable putting them in front of people in a pitch situation”.’ They’re looking for someone who has the interpersonal skills to forge new relationships to win clients. Amelia describes someone with good interpersonal skills as being ‘someone people would want to have on their team’.
The upshot is that you shouldn’t underestimate the impact of a smile, a firm handshake and being able to make small talk or hold a conversation with your assessors. For example, over lunch or at the end of your interview, take the opportunity to ask your assessors why they decided to enter the profession. This shows you’re confident enough to try and build new relationships.
A case study is a scenario-based exercise that culminates in you making a decision, which you could be asked to present to recruiters in a variety of ways. Many property case studies involve making decisions about what to do with land or property. For example, BNP Paribas Real Estate’s case study has previously involved candidates looking at two possible relocation sites for a business and making their recommendations in an individual presentation, and through a business report. JLL uses a case study in its group exercise (see below).
If your case study is on a property-related topic remember that assessors won’t expect you to be a technical expert. Rather, they’re interested in how you think, your deductions and whether you can justify your choices.
At JLL’s assessment day the group has to imagine they’re graduate trainees at a fictional employer who have been tasked with organising an activity. Throughout the exercise they are presented with pieces of information. ‘We’re assessing how people are interacting with each other and to what extent they’re playing a team game. We’re also looking at how people adapt to changing information, how someone works towards longer-term goals, and to what extent they are looking at the detail and still have an eye on the bigger picture,’ says Amelia.
Other group exercise activities include discussions, or analysing a case study and presenting your findings (see above). Alternatively, they are sometimes used as an ice breaker at the start of the day and might include a ‘fun’ task, such as trying to build the tallest tower out of newspaper.
Here are some practical tips for all property group exercises:
- Make suggestions about how to approach the task, for example, breaking off into sub-groups to look at different data sets.
- Present your thoughts to the group clearly and make well structured notes (especially if you’re working through a case study as this may be the basis for other parts of the assessment day).
- Don’t talk over people.
- Welcome other people’s ideas – say what you think is good and be polite when you disagree.
- Facilitate the group by volunteering to be timekeeper or to take notes.
Always focus on the success of the team, rather than thinking of team members as competitors. Don’t forget what Amelia said earlier about the importance of interpersonal skills in the property industry. She elaborates: ‘You need to have good relationships with fellow candidates on the assessment day. To some extent it’s a competitive environment, but to perform at your best in a team you actually need to ignore the competitive element.’
JLL’s written exercise is based on the candidate looking through a series of documents from a fictional client. ‘In our written exercise we’re assessing attention to detail, ability to spot mistakes, comprehension and ability to understand business communications,’ says Amelia.
The BNP Paribas Real Estate written exercise involves candidates writing up their recommendations from the earlier case study in a business report.
Before the assessment day, brush up on any basic grammar points you’re unsure of or business correspondence words that trip you up. Look at the emails you have been sent by the firm’s recruiters to familiarise yourself with the tone they use and how they sign off.
During the exercise:
- It may sound obvious but make sure you produce work that is in line with the instructions you’ve been given.
- Set yourself time limits for different parts, allocating enough time to reading through the information you’ve been given and making a plan of how to complete the task.
- Don’t use elaborate language for the sake of it – think about how to communicate most clearly and politely with the intended audience.
You may be given the topic to prepare in advance (often unrelated to property) or you may be asked to present your results from an earlier case study exercise. Assessors want to see what your communication skills are like in front of an audience (presentation skills) because giving a presentation is something property professionals do often. The audience on the assessment day could be just the recruitment team (JLL asks candidates to present to an individual assessor), or the whole group, including other candidates.
Goldcrest Land plc, for example, takes candidates on a site visit and then asks them to present on their findings to the assessors. ‘We ask for individual presentations as this gives us the opportunity to see precisely what each candidate has identified during the site visit and to hear their own ideas,’ says Carolyn Malet de Carteret, HR development director at Goldcrest Land plc.
A good presentation has a good structure. Our three-point plan below will help you stay on track and you can see even more advice on presentations here.
- Welcome your audience and tell them what you’re going to talk about.
- If it’s a ten-minute presentation, leave five minutes in the middle to make your main points – enough time for about three.
- Sum up what you’ve talked about and ask your audience if they have any questions.
Property assessment days usually include lunch with a chance to talk to fellow candidates and assessors from the firm. Sometimes recent graduates also attend. Make sure you eat enough to maintain your energy levels for the afternoon, but also take advantage of the opportunity to find out more about what it’s like to work for the firm. Have some questions prepared for assessors and recent graduates, such as why did they choose their specialism or how are they finding their APC training. Don’t ignore other candidates, though. Encourage each other and remember that they may be your future colleagues.
Property recruiters often tell us they want to see ‘the real you’, but admittedly it is hard to relax and be yourself when you know you’re being assessed. Here are some tips on how to be your best self at graduate assessment centres.