All degrees welcome for a graduate career in property

You can get a graduate job as a property surveyor even if your degree isn’t from a land or property discipline. Here’s how you can get real estate recruiters to hire you and sponsor you through an RICS-approved postgraduate conversion course.

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You can still get a graduate job in real estate if your undergraduate degree isn’t property-related. You’ll need to get a postgraduate property qualification (also known as a conversion course) accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), though, and you can do this in one of two ways:

  1. You can study an accredited conversion course before applying for jobs.
  2. You can apply for jobs with some firms as a ‘non-cognate’ (a graduate without an RICS accredited degree) and they will then sponsor you through the qualification while you work.

As the latter route means that your tuition fees will be paid for you by the employer, it’s best to try this way first.

Which property graduate employers accept applications from students studying other degree disciplines?

Firms that usually hire students and graduates without a property degree include:

  • Carter Jonas.
  • CBRE.
  • Colliers.
  • Gerald Eve LLP.
  • JLL.
  • Knight Frank.
  • Savills.

This list is not exhaustive, so do check on firms’ recruitment websites for the year you’re applying.

Property firms really do want graduates from other degree backgrounds

Taking on a non-cognate is an extra expense for a firm because of the costs of the conversion course, so some property employers only open their graduate programmes to non-cognates in good economic times. Others, however, remain committed to hiring non-cognates each year. Amelia Dowty, EMEA talent acquisition director at JLL, says: ‘We have always recruited non-cognates and continued to do so.’ Similarly, Vanessa Briggs, HR projects and training manager at Gerald Eve LLP, says: ‘We wish to recruit the best talent, regardless of which degree course they have done.’

This is because transferable skills, such as communication, commercial awareness and negotiation, go a long way in the property industry, which is in essence a service industry (property professionals help their clients make money). Recruiters aren’t about to miss out on a great negotiator or a natural client manager because the graduate didn’t do a property-related undergraduate degree.

Graduates and non-cognates are typically hired onto the same graduate scheme. Vanessa says: ‘The non-cognate route is only more challenging in the sense that the graduate will also be completing a masters on top of their assessment of professional competence (APC), so they will have an additional workload compared to other graduates.’

How to get sponsored by a property firm as a graduate

You will need to prove that you are worth the investment.

1. Research the profession

‘We’ve found that, as many non-cognates have not had lots of experience within the profession, they undertake significant research to understand what becoming a chartered surveyor is all about and give well-reasoned answers to why they want to pursue a career in the industry,’ says Amelia.

Your work at this stage will pay off because, no matter what degree background you’re from, recruiters are impressed by good research. You’ll need to find out about:

  • the work property surveyors can do.
  • typical career progressions and the route to gaining chartership qualification.
  • the latest happenings in the industry.
  • the property firm that you are applying to.

Your careers service or university alumni office will have details of past graduates who are willing to advise current students on reliable sources of information on these topics. ‘We would expect and appreciate a technical gap in knowledge, but independent research should bridge this a little,’ explains Vanessa.

2. Try to get whatever work experience is available

Adding property-related work experience to your CV shows recruiters that you really know what the job involves. You may be able to apply for the formal work experience schemes offered by the larger property firms. Alternatively, your careers service may be able to help set you up with a short period of work experience or work shadowing (observation), so check with them.

You could also contact a local property firm and ask whether you could work shadow a surveyor or do some work experience at a nearby estate agent. The aim is to gain insights into the industry and the work involved, even if that’s just for a short placement. ‘We would expect non-cognates to have sought work experience, not more or less than a property graduate per se, but enough to show a genuine interest in the industry,’ explains Vanessa.

3. Start thinking like a surveyor

Surveyors are aware that everything that happens in the economy affects property markets. You need to build up this commercial awareness – check out the property press, the Financial Times and The Economist and start thinking about the wider impact of events on property.

4. Build your transferable skills set

Seek out ways to develop the skills valued by property recruiters . ‘In your applications and at interviews, you’ll need to be able to give good examples of your skills and when you’ve used them to good effect,’ advises Amelia.

Being careful because of Covid-19? Here are our ideas for career-friendly activities you can do while social distancing or being at home.

Doing the conversion course on your own? Make sure it’s RICS approved

The variety of property courses for you to choose from is wide, so make sure you research your area of interest thoroughly. An MSc in surveying is a good starting point for students looking for a rounded postgraduate qualification and is offered at a number of institutions around the UK. Alternative conversion course options include areas such as: real estate, historic building conservation, and planning and sustainability.

When picking a course, the most important thing to check is that it’s accredited by RICS. Visit ricscourses.org for a full list of institutions and courses that RICS supports. It’s also a good idea to check out the employability figures of each course – that is, how many of their students have found work. Ask admissions tutors for information.

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