How graduates can become successful property developers

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:38

What does it take to have a successful property career and how can university students demonstrate their potential during graduate recruitment processes? Goldcrest Land’s HR development director Carolyn Malet de Carteret and its chairman and CEO Michael Collins share their insights.

Two professional individuals, a woman on the left and a man on the right, with a background of architectural blueprints and office setting.

The best property developers are tenacious, entrepreneurial and never stop reading.

‘Property development is the art of creating a deal, creating value and profit,’ says the chairman and CEO of Goldcrest Land, Michael Collins. ‘It’s having a vision: seeing what a site can be, rather than what it is.’

Is this an ability that graduates possess? ‘We spot potential in graduates that can be developed,’ says Michael. It’s for this reason that Goldcrest Land believes that having property-related work experience is useful for graduate applicants, but not essential if you have the right attributes.

The four behaviours of successful property developers

They read, read, read… and are inspired: ‘If you want to be successful, start reading two or three newspapers and property magazines a day,’ says Michael. ‘I read the FT and The Independent every morning. Some people go on a morning jog – I think of my reading as my morning intellectual jog.’ The next step is to observe how separate news items interconnect and spot potential opportunities. ‘You need to see problems and come up with marketing solutions,’ says Michael. ‘For example, you could reflect that recent graduates no longer require student housing, but can rarely afford their own homes. Is there a gap in the market for “graduate” housing alongside student housing?’ Michael also swears by the value of reading in print rather than online; it helps him to retain information.

They don’t stop trying to push water uphill: ‘The best property developers are tenacious and aren’t put off by other people telling them something can’t be done,’ says Michael. ‘One of my career highlights was pursuing an idea that 90% of people told me would end in failure. We won the deal, the planning consent and we made a lot of money!’ This is partly about having self-belief and confidence in your own judgements and partly about being able to overcome others’ objections.

They are competitive, but not aggressively so: ‘All successful property developers are highly competitive. You need to be committed to creating the highest value deal, but you can’t be unpleasant; your interpersonal skills are essential to making a deal happen,’ comments Michael.

They commit themselves to their career: ‘Early on in your career, if you want to be successful, you do need to dedicate yourself to the job to the exclusion of most other interests. This will pay off later on in your career,’ says Michael. Carolyn Malet de Carteret, the HR development director, agrees: ‘I always tell candidates that we are a close-knit team and there is nowhere to hide. Your contribution is noticed.’

How to demonstrate your potential in the recruitment process

Be confident that you can do the job: ‘The best candidates are quietly confident that they can do the job,’ says Carolyn. ‘They have read between the lines of the job ad and can articulate how they have the attributes to succeed in the role, despite not usually having direct experience of it.’ This involves thinking laterally, considering how your involvement in student societies or student jobs has developed the skills you’ll need. However, Carolyn cautions against confusing confidence with arrogance: ‘We are not looking for candidates who sound like they should be on The Apprentice .’ Remember that confidence is about demonstrating your potential; arrogance is coming across like you know everything.

Be punchy in your application form: ‘In our application form, you need to express your enthusiasm for property development and your motivations for applying – but do so in a succinct way,’ advises Carolyn. ‘Cut out unnecessary words and avoid jargon. I find that candidates who overuse jargon in their applications usually don’t understand what the jargon means!’

Be able to justify your decisions and opinions: During Goldcrest Land’s assessment process, you’ll be asked to look around a site and then present your findings to the management team, which will then ask you questions. In fact, any property development interviewer will be keen to ask you about your opinions on current and industry affairs. Practise putting forward your views on your reading and explaining your reasoning.

Look beyond the obvious: ‘We, and other property developers, look for entrepreneurial potential,’ says Carolyn. ‘We define this as being hungry to find a different angle on a topic, to question, to not always go for the most obvious option, and having the confidence to suggest an alternative.’ If you think you might struggle to do this on the spot at an assessment centre, practise. Start with your reading: take a news article and generate as many different opinions on it as you can.

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