How to get ahead in commercial property

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Talented candidates are in demand, as the commercial property sector makes the most of the healthy climate.

Recruitment experts point out that most areas are looking strong, and report rigorous recruitment among teams in capital markets and valuations, and alternative markets.

 And, as Estates Gazette has reported throughout 2015, expansion is not restricted to London. “The big six regional cities, plus the South East, will be the focus for the majority of growth”, Angus Minford  JLL Capital Markets Director commented earlier this year http://www.propertyjobs.co.uk/article/a-roadmap-for-the-regions/.

Previous preconceptions about candidate profiles are being shaken off. Major firms are signing up to the new Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, launched by RICS, which seeks to boost diversity across the profession, and many will consider transferable skills and experience gained outside London.

So, at what looks like the perfect time for candidates nationwide to look for their dream job in commercial property, we present our top five tips for positioning yourself for success.

1 Research and prepare

Successful job applications begin with thorough research: understand the role you are applying for and the culture of the company you wish to join. “We expect applicants to know how Knight Frank differs from competitors “, says Lauren Strangleman, graduate manager at the firm, “such as our key values”.

Candidates who want to move to commercial (from residential for example) should not be deterred from applying, as long as they demonstrate some insight into the sector. “Commercial can be faster than residential, for example,” says Strangleman, who has worked in all types of recruitment across Knight Frank. “Timescales and clients could be different; there might be more liaison with banks and investors. It is important to have the right mindset.”

2 Present well

Client-facing roles and responsibilities dominate the commercial sector, and good candidates show their understanding of this by projecting themselves as focussed professionals from the start of the application process.

 “Think about how your cv looks,” says Strangleman. “It has to have a consistent style and be easy to read. If it isn’t, then the recruiter is going to think that the candidate could not be trusted, when in post, to send out material to external clients.”

Interviews increasingly test verbal presentation skills too, by including a task based around ‘a pitch’. Campbell explains that this task is a means of analysing if the candidate has researched the firm before the interview (because the pitch would be expected to reflect the hirer’s business and culture) as well as looking at future ability.

“It is not only partners who are pitching to clients”, says Campbell, “and so at second interview we are increasingly asking more junior levels to pitch.”

A strong skillset in pitching and presentation indicates that you are a potential hire who can grow with the firm and handle responsibility, as it is in demand from firms who made fewer middle-level hires during the economic downturn, and who now want to find and nurture this level.

3 Make your experience count

Specific qualifications will always be expected in the commercial property sector, such as RICS accredited degrees and MRICS.  At Beach Baker Wendy Campbell is also noticing a demand for Masters level qualifications and the expectation that candidates will have at least two years’ post-qualification experience ( PQE), “four to five years is perfect”, she adds.

Broader types of experience, as long as they are property and investment-related are being taken into consideration. “In the past 18 months employers have become more relaxed about the amount of London- based experience held by candidates”, says Campbell, pointing out that it is possible to move from the regions into the capital. However, she would expect candidates to have an understanding of, and researched, values and investment trends.

4 Share ideas

Roles in commercial property can lead to career opportunities worldwide, as firms (such as DTZ and Cushman & Wakefield) merge, and others look to create a global culture.

This culture requires personal qualities, such as being a generous communicator and good listener. Most employers set detailed interview questions and assessment centre tasks to test this because they are looking for candidates who will be open-minded about participating in work placements and liaising across the firm.

For example, at Knight Frank, qualified graduates and partners spend a short time overseas on specific projects, says Strangleman. “This is called the Broadening Horizons programme and is about sharing knowledge and innovative ideas.”  She explains that this liaison helps colleagues work to a global standard across Knight Frank.

 5 Be the perfect fit

Never apply for a dream job by acting like a desperate X Factor hopeful. This is not the time to say “I really need this opportunity”, but to prove why the employer needs you and what you can offer. It’s about signposting how your skills match their requirements.

Personal qualities such as being “positive, progressive and adaptable”, are always well- regarded, says Charlotte John, head of resourcing for EMEA at DTZ , as well as being “collaborative and client- centric”.

Employers use assessment centres and task-based scenarios to assess these qualities. “We look at whether candidates are supportive to others in the team and how they react to failure and conflict”, says Strangleman, adding that the best way to prepare for these scenarios is to commit to being “professional, genuine and honest”, from the moment you send in your CV to leaving the final interview.

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