5 Things To Know Before Starting The Real Estate Job Search

The commercial real estate job search has a lot of moving pieces, and even if you’ve gone through this process before in other industries, the timelines, requirements, and expectations in real estate are unique.

And if you go into this process not knowing the rules of the game up front, you’re putting yourself at a pretty big disadvantage against other candidates vying for the same roles.

So to make sure you’re clear on what to expect and how to prepare for the commercial real estate job search, this article walks through five things to know before starting the application process, and how to set yourself up for success when looking for new opportunities.

If video is more your thing, you can watch the video version of this article here:

Four-Year Degree Requirements

One of the first things to know heading into this process is that the vast majority of analytical commercial real estate roles will require a four-year degree.

This is especially true at bigger, more established organizations, and many firms will immediately disqualify a candidate if they don’t meet this requirement.

Even though a college degree isn’t necessarily indicative of someone’s ability to perform well in a job, this is still a very big deciding factor and a mandatory prerequisite at many commercial real estate firms.

This is really important to know regardless of whether you agree with these policies or not, especially if you’re at a point in life where you’re considering if you want to go to college, whether to leave school early, or whether to go back to school to finish your degree.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any firms that will look past this, and there are still opportunities out there for people who haven’t gone through the traditional university system. However, the options for these candidates tend to be much more limited to roles at smaller, more entrepreneurial firms, so if you want to maximize your career opportunities and a 4-year degree won’t be a massive financial burden on you, this is definitely something to consider.

“Target” School Requirements

The second thing you’ll want to know heading into this process is that, while a 4-year degree is often a prerequisite to landing a job, where you went to school (or even what you majored in) is often an afterthought for commercial real estate employers.

Unlike the investment banking or consulting industries, where your chances of breaking in are slim if you don’t come from a target university, most real estate companies just want to know that you’ve checked the box of having that four-year degree, but will weigh your experience and technical skills much more heavily in their decision.

While pedigree can help get your foot in the door for a real estate interview, this alone generally won’t get you across the finish line, especially if you have zero internship experience and don’t know your way around Excel.

We get a lot of new members in the Break Into CRE Academy program who are concerned about their chances of landing a job without a top-tier university on their resume or an undergraduate degree that’s unrelated to real estate, but at most commercial real estate firms, these things matter much less than your knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience.

Some major private equity firms are exceptions to this rule, with companies like Blackstone and Hines often looking for candidates coming out of top-tier universities, but for the vast majority of commercial real estate companies, your technical skill set and on-the-job experience are going to be much more heavily weighted on a resume.

Most Firms Hire on a “Just-in-Time” Basis

Unlike many investment banking or consulting firms that recruit in the fall for an incoming analyst class to start the following summer, commercial real estate firms generally won’t know their hiring needs any further than about 30-60 days in advance, and most companies won’t even consider your application unless you can start in the next 1-2 months.

Graduating seniors with a focus on real estate often feel concerned when their friends are accepting offers in investment banking, consulting, or even corporate finance, but if you’re graduating in May of next year and don’t have a job lined up by October of this year, there’s no need to panic.

Easy Job = Hard Exit

In commercial real estate, it’s important to be selective with the opportunities you choose to take, and the easiest jobs to land tend to have the fewest (and least desirable) exit opportunities.

Real estate is an industry where it’s very easy to get pigeonholed, and by accepting jobs in certain parts of the business with the intent to get your foot in the door, you may actually be making it more difficult on yourself in the future to transition into a different part of the industry.

Jobs in property management, 100% commission-based sales-focused jobs, and even some lending roles focused primarily on loan servicing can all make it more difficult to move into more analytical or strategy-focused positions in the future, and if your ultimate goal is to work in acquisitions but an opportunity in apartment leasing comes up, taking that offer may end up doing more harm than good for your long-term career prospects.

No one is expecting you to know exactly what you want to do with your life when you first leave college, and there’s usually quite a bit of leeway when it comes to trying out different career paths in the first one to two years of your working life. However, if you want to take the most efficient path toward your goals, putting the hard work in up front to apply for the roles you really want often creates a much easier career trajectory over the long term.

Excel Modeling Exams

For analytical roles at commercial real estate firms, you’re often going to be asked to prove out your skill set before you’re given an offer.

Many firms today are giving their analyst and associate candidates a real estate financial modeling exam in the final stages of the interview process, to test each candidate’s Excel knowledge, understanding of commercial real estate finance, and ability to build out pro forma cash flow models from scratch in Excel.

And with many firms putting candidates through 4-6 rounds of interviews (or more), getting to the final stage of this process and then losing an opportunity because you weren’t prepared for a test will set you all the way back to square one.

We have a lot of videos on the Break Into CRE YouTube channel and in-depth coursework that can help you prepare for an exam, but regardless of the resources you use, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing the things necessary to sharpen your Excel skills and prepare for a technical modeling assessment.

How To Break Into Commercial Real Estate

If you want more help with this process and want to make sure you have the skills you’ll need to pass an Excel modeling case study, make sure to check out our all-in-one membership training platform, Break Into CRE Academy.

A membership to the Academy will give you instant access to over 120 hours of video training on real estate financial modeling and analysis, you’ll get access to hundreds of practice Excel interview exam questions, sample acquisition case studies, and you’ll also get access to the Break Into CRE Analyst Certification Exam. This exam covers topics like real estate pro forma and development modeling, commercial real estate lease modeling, equity waterfall modeling, and many other real estate financial analysis concepts that will help you prove to employers that you have what it takes to tackle the responsibilities of an analyst or associate at a top real estate firm.

As always, thanks so much for reading, and make sure to check out the Break Into CRE YouTube channel for more content that can help you take the next step in your real estate career.

Grab The Free Real Estate Financial Modeling Crash Course

Learn The Three Pillars of Real Estate Financial Modeling & How To Build Models on Autopilot