Commercial Real Estate Interview Questions You Need To Prepare For [3 Types]
Interviewing for jobs can be stressful, difficult, and time-consuming overall, and this is especially true in commercial real estate.
In CRE, the interview process can sometimes last for months, with 4-6 rounds often being necessary just to finish the process and end up receiving an offer. And if you’ve done the work upfront to land an interview in the first place, the last thing you want to do is come in unprepared and have to start over from scratch.
So to make sure you’re ready for this process and prepared for the topics that are most likely to come up during these interviews, this article covers the three most common types of questions that are asked within commercial real estate interviews, and how to answer each of these to stand out from the competition.
If video is more your thing, you can watch the video version of this article here:
Prepare For Behavioral Questions
The first thing to note about commercial real estate interviews is that, in the vast majority of cases, these are primarily going to be behavioral in nature, and will very rarely include in-depth technical questions where you’re asked to run complex calculations on the spot in your head.
While companies will usually test out your technical knowledge at some point during the process, these questions are usually going to be reserved for a formal Excel modeling exam, where you’ll be given a set of assumptions, asked to build a model from scratch, and required to answer several questions related to the case.
With that said, throughout the majority of this process, the primary focus of most companies is going to be learning more about your background, learning more about your goals, and gauging your general knowledge of commercial real estate finance, and these are the types of questions you’ll want to prepare for most.
Backward-Looking & Forward-Looking Career-Related Questions
With all of this in mind, the first category of questions that you’ll often be asked takes a deeper dive into how you got to where you are today and where you’re looking to go in the future, and I like to refer to these as backward-looking and forward-looking career-related questions.
Backward-looking career-related questions focus on your career path up to this point, and common questions here include things like:
- “Can you walk me through your resume?”
- “How would you describe your background in your own words?”
- “Can you describe your experience at [X company] in more detail?”
All of these questions are essentially looking for you to describe to the interviewer how your unique career path so far has prepared you for this role, and to tie in as many of your past experiences as possible to the things you’d be doing if hired for the job.
And to prepare for these types of questions, you’ll want to make sure to review the job description in detail beforehand as a first step, and pick out some specific work experiences that you’ve had (or academic projects that you’ve worked on) that are directly related to the responsibilities and/or qualifications required for the role.
You’ll also want to prepare for career-related questions that are forward-looking, where you’ll need to answer questions around where you see yourself in the future and the overall direction you want to take your career.
Common questions here include things like:
- “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
- “What would you like to be doing in this industry long-term?”
- “How do your career goals relate to this position?”
In almost all cases, companies are looking for a long-term fit when making a new hire. And with that, these types of questions are your opportunity to clearly communicate that this job aligns with where you want to be in the future, and that progressing on this specific path would get you toward that goal.
So to prepare for these questions, take some time before the interview to think about how you can describe yourself as a long-term solution, and ideally why you’d want to grow within the organization.
Aside from career-related questions, the second category of questions that you’ll often run into are job-specific questions.
These are directly related to the company that you’d be working for, the product type that you’d be working on, and the day-to-day responsibilities you’d be taking on if you were offered the position, and often look something along the lines of:
- “Why do you want to work for our company?”
- “What interests you about the specific product type that we focus on?”
- “Why are you interested in [acquisitions/asset management/brokerage/lending/etc.]?”
Each of these questions allows a company to see how much you actually know about the firm, how much research you’ve done on the organization before coming into interview, and often, how likely you are to stick around long-term.
Employers know that a lot of young professionals will accept an offer just as a means to an end, which means that a hiring manager is going to have their guard up against short-term solutions that will clearly leave as soon as they can.
These types of questions are your opportunity to show that you care about this process, you’ve taken the time up-front to invest in this role, and you’re also aligned with what the company is doing, where their main focus is, and the overall strategy that guides the whole team.
This means that if you’re interviewing for an asset management job at a company that buys retail shopping centers in the Southeast United States, your hiring manager is going to want to see that you have a general idea of what the company’s portfolio looks like and what the firm’s strategy is, and they’re also going to want to know that asset management and the retail sector are the specific parts of the industry that you want to build your career in over the long-term.
The main goal here is to demonstrate your belief and/or curiosity in both what you’ll be working on and the mission you’ll be working towards, and that you’re directly aligned with what the company is doing on a day-to-day basis.
Commercial Real Estate Market-Related Questions
The last category of questions that I want to talk about isn’t related to your career path or the company itself, but the commercial real estate industry in general, and this is the category of market-related questions that test your knowledge of commercial real estate overall.
Questions that fall under this category might include things like:
- “If you had $100 million to invest today, where would you invest it?”
- “Which stage of the real estate cycle do you think we are currently in?”
- “What do you think will happen to property values if interest rates [rise/fall]?”
Each of these questions requires you to state a thesis and back up that thesis with either general market data or general knowledge about the economy, but this also tests your ability to think critically about current market events directly in the context of the commercial real estate industry.
In most cases, there isn’t going to be a concrete right or wrong answer to market-related questions, but to make sure you’re prepared if these do come up, you’ll want to go into your interviews knowing:
- The general direction of where interest rates have gone over the last ~12-18 months (and where they’re projected to go in the future)
- What capital markets activity has looked like in the industry over the last ~12-18 months
- Where operational performance has been trending in the product type(s) and market(s) the company is involved with
And fortunately, you don’t need to have a paid subscription to CoStar or Yardi Matrix to find this information, and you can get a great sense of each of these things through free research reports published by the major brokerage firms like CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield, and Newmark.
What companies are really looking for here is someone that not only keeps up with the commercial real estate market and current events, but also someone that can clearly gather data, build an educated thesis behind that data, and then communicate that clearly to clients, partners, lenders, or investors (depending on which part of the industry you’re trying to work within).
Especially in entry-level analyst and associate roles, one of your biggest responsibilities is going to be selling a deal on paper and telling the story of an investment in a clear, compelling way. And with that, these types of questions make sure that you can think critically beyond just memorizing definitions and calculations, and you can actually apply your knowledge of the industry to the things you’ll need to do on the job.
How To Prepare For a Real Estate Financial Modeling Excel Exam
Like I mentioned earlier in this article, even though technical questions don’t often come up during the early stages of the real estate interview process, there is often a technical exam that’s given to analyst and associate candidates before receiving an offer for a role. And if you want to make sure you’re ready to ace an Excel modeling exam that might be given to you at the end of the interview process, 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 test 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.