Tricky property application questions: why property, why this employer and why this job?
These tricky questions are likely to come up in your property application forms so do your preparation to make sure you give a great answer.
This is your opportunity to show off how much you know about the firm and the industry.
Questions on your reasons for applying are bound to crop up at some point in the application process and you’ll be expected to incorporate them into your covering letter too. Graduates who don’t consider their answers properly end up giving generic responses – and that will not get them an interview. You know the job is perfect for you but how do you get that across to a recruiter?
Many property employers include these questions in their application forms. The wording might be slightly different but the basic message is the same. Here are some previous questions from property employers' online applications:
- ‘Why do you want to work for CBRE and why should CBRE invest in you?’
- ‘Why are you passionate about a career in property?’ and ‘Why do you think Cushman & Wakefield should select you for their Graduate Programme?’
- ‘Why are you interested in working in a commercial property consultancy?’ and ‘Why do you want to become a Chartered Surveyor at Gerald Eve?’
- ‘Why do you want to work for the Berkeley Group?’, ‘Why do you want to work for your selected department?’ and ‘Which of the Berkeley Group's developments interests you the most and why?’
These are open-ended questions that give you lots of scope to show off how much you know about the company and the industry and to sell yourself as the perfect fit – make the most of it.
Tip 1: use your research to give specific reasons
For the questions about why you want to work for that employer, you need to have done your research. Find out about a property firm’s deals, transactions and key clients and mention them in your applications to highlight your knowledge and understanding of the industry. Katie Hitchings, a chartered surveyor at Gerald Eve who joined as a graduate, told us: ‘I think I was successful in my job hunt because I’d done my research and taken my time to apply for the schemes that I really wanted, and that must have come across in my applications. I asked myself why I wanted to work at each firm and tried to make that point clear.’
You must show:
- how the type of work involved in the scheme would make good use of your existing skills and experience
- why the firm’s work and its expertise in specific markets attract you
- how the firm’s direction (judged by recent clients, transactions, mergers or acquisitions) matches your career aspirations
- how the firm’s culture, values and initiatives appeal to someone of your personality
The same goes for questions on why you want that particular job. There is certainly overlap between why-this-job and why-this-employer questions, but the former is more focused.
You must show:
- what it is about the job that appeals. Why have you chosen a commercial surveying scheme rather than a residential one, for example?
- why you want to work in eg commercial surveying at that firm as opposed to commercial surveying at another firm (don’t refer to competitors – keep your answer focused on the firm). Your motivation could include high-profile commercial transactions at the firm, or the strong reputation of the commercial surveying partners there.
- what it is about that particular office or scheme that caused you to apply. There are different advantages to being in a London-based or in a regional office so why did you apply for that particular office location? And what made you choose a rotational/non-rotational scheme?
Your answer should be tailored to the employer and job, and research will help you do this. If you copy and paste your draft answer into another property firm’s application form and it still makes sense, your answer isn’t tailored enough.
Nor should you copy and paste information about the firm from their own website. Charlotte Di Talamo, HR business partner at Cushman & Wakefield, is emphatic about this: ‘You should not copy and paste our marketing materials into your applications.’
Tip 2: use your work experience
If you completed an internship with a commercial firm, you can talk about how you particularly enjoyed the work. Conversely, if you completed an internship in residential property you could explain how you think you’d be more drawn to commercial work and use your insights to say why. A graduate at Goldcrest Land told us: ‘It definitely helped that I had gained experience in the industry before applying – I worked at a volume house builder after graduation and was keen to move to a company that specialised in more bespoke developments on brownfield land.’
Many property employers were unable to offer summer internships in 2020 and 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, there are lots of alternative ways to gain property experience that you can also talk about in your application form answers.
- Learn how to sell your work experience to property recruiters
Tip 3: reveal your true motivation
A genuine answer will always come across better than something that sounds forced or insincere. Charlotte points out that ‘candidates must come across as driven, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial and having a real passion for property.’ Draw up a list of all the aspects of the industry, that specific company and that particular job that appeal to you, whether it’s because you’ll value the support the employer will give you through the APC or because the nature of the work suits your talents. If you can discuss more than one point in your answer, the recruiter will be much more impressed.
However, if the high salary is your main motivation, it’s best to keep that to yourself and draw on the other aspects of the role that appeal to you.
- Read our advice on how to convince employers you want a career in property with them.
Tip 4: keep your answers for interview and assessment centres
Save a copy of your answers to help you prepare for interviews. You’ll almost certainly be asked about your application answers by the interviewer and it won’t look good if you give conflicting information. After all, the whole application process can be long so it’s easy to forget what it was that initially attracted you to that employer. Print out your answers and, if you have time before the interview starts, look back over them before you go in.
Recruiters won’t just be looking out for your motivation in your responses to questions. A Barratt Developments recruiter who spoke to TARGETjobs says: ‘We assess a candidate’s passion for the industry throughout the recruitment process, including the application. We are looking for candidates who not only write about their passion but show it in their actions.’ Actively participate in all the activities and tasks during the assessment centre and use the opportunity to network with property professionals; asking the right questions can demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in the profession and the employer.
- Find out more about what questions you can expect at your graduate property surveyor interview.
- Check out our networking advice for conversation starters and ideas for topics that will show your interest in property.
- Make sure your application remains credible by eliminating any typos or spelling mistakes – give your application a proofread and get a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. ‘Spelling and grammatical mistakes are always very noticeable,’ says Ian Clark, partner at Montagu Evans LLP. ‘Applications and CVs should always be checked carefully – it is an indication of your written communication skills.’
- You should also be clear about your availability. State on your application when you are available for interview and think about when you could start work. Some employers are open to you starting sooner than September. Don't miss out on an opportunity because you didn't make clear that you'd be willing to start earlier in the year.