How To Prove Your Skills in a Real Estate Interview

According to a 2020 survey from the reference-checking company Checkster, 78% of candidates who applied for a job over the previous 6-month period admitted they either misrepresented or would consider misrepresenting themselves on their applications, including 60% of respondents saying they had a mastery of skills they actually rarely used.

Employers know that job candidates are heavily incentivized to say what an interviewer wants to hear, especially young professionals with limited industry experience.

So to make sure a hiring manager believes you have what it takes to succeed in an analyst or associate role, this article walks through three ways to prove your skills during the commercial real estate interview process (and how to make sure employers know you’re telling the truth).

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

Be Specific When Describing Technical Skills

It’s pretty common for interviewers to ask a candidate how comfortable they feel in Excel or with real estate financial modeling in general, and when this question comes up, the worst answer you can give is a general statement about proficiency.

In most cases, a generic answer to this question just makes it look like you’re trying to cover up a lack of knowledge on the subject, or that you just don’t know what you don’t know because you haven’t taken the time to build these skills.

Instead, the best answers to this question involve talking through specifics that show you understand the subjects you should be proficient in, and you’re skilled in (or working towards being skilled in) most or all of these subjects.

This could involve describing specific models you can build or analyses you can run, talking through detailed coursework you’ve taken on specific real estate financial modeling concepts, or even talking through work experience outside of the real estate sector that showcases your ability to work in Excel.

The more clearly you can point to tangible proof that you understand the topics you’re discussing, and the more you can talk through specific examples of how you’ve built these skills, the better off you’re going to show when this is asked in an interview.

Prepare a Work Sample

My second recommendation takes a little bit more preparation but can be applicable in more than one interview (and with more than one company), and this is to prepare a work sample to proactively demonstrate your skills.

If you’re asked about your Excel skills, this is a great opportunity to speak to specific examples of things you can do, but also to end your answer by offering to send over a case study or model you’ve already built after the interview is over.

This doesn’t need to be anything overly complex, and in most cases, the simpler this is, the more this will work in your favor. Just being able to share something like a modeling case study you recently completed, a model you built for yourself to quickly analyze deals, or any other real estate-related resource you built in Excel would all be great ways to demonstrate your skills to an employer.

Proactively offering to send over a model you’ve built shows you’re confident enough in your work product to share this with an employer without being prompted to do so, but also that you’ve taken the time to create this on your own and you’re committed to improving as a real estate professional.

This work sample should be simple enough that it’s easy to audit, but also dynamic enough that it shows a solid understanding of how Excel can be used in a real estate context. Just being able to show you can create a model with clean formatting, inputs that drive dynamic cash flow calculations, and simple, clear outputs and return metrics can go a very long way towards helping you land an offer.

Prepare For an Excel Modeling Exam

My last recommendation is to prepare for a potential in-office Excel modeling exam, in a way that maximizes your chances of success in a variety of different scenarios.

What I mean by this is that, in most cases, you won’t know exactly what’s going to be included in an Excel modeling case study before you step into the office.

Regardless of how well-prepared you are, there are likely going to be several questions that trip you up, which can sometimes impact your entire model (and all answers to related questions).

While this might seem like a worst-case scenario, employers generally don’t expect candidates to answer every question perfectly on an exam, but they do expect a solid understanding of the fundamentals and an ability to create a dynamic model from scratch in Excel.

Even though you may not be an expert in modeling things like construction financing, affordable rent restrictions, or commercial lease turnover, if you have the basics down and can create a clean, dynamic model, you’re very likely to still perform well when unfamiliar topics are thrown your way.

Just make sure you’re prepared to build a model that can dynamically reflect changes to things like an assumed purchase price, in-place rental rates and expenses, assumed rent and expense growth over time, and an exit cap rate assumption, and that your models can automatically calculate metrics like the IRR, equity multiple, and cash-on-cash return.

How To Build The Skills You’ll Need

If you want to make sure you have the real estate financial modeling and analysis skills you’ll need to make it into and through the interview process for analyst and associate roles at top real estate firms, 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.

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