How To Stand Out in a Real Estate Interview

As the commercial real estate industry continues to become more and more institutionalized, if you want to break into the business today, you need to bring your A-game when heading into an interview.

And as far as interview prep is concerned, there’s a lot of standard, cookie-cutter advice out there that most people follow, but this usually just leads to candidates blending in with other applicants and very rarely results in landing job offers.

So to help you stand out during the interview process for competitive jobs in the real estate industry, this article walks through some things that you can do to differentiate yourself (especially in a competitive job market), and how you can prepare to beat out your competition.

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

Ask Questions That Demonstrate Knowledge

The first thing you can do to impress a hiring manager during an interview and set yourself apart from other applicants is to come in with a pre-made list of questions, that both demonstrate your knowledge and show that you’ve done your homework.

In many cases, commercial real estate interview questions will primarily center around your experience and your qualifications for the role, and it’s not uncommon to run across very few (or even zero) market-related questions during the entire process.

But by coming up with your own questions that showcase your knowledge, and then asking these at the end of the interview, this will allow you to show that you’ve done your research regardless of what’s asked of you during the conversation.

And by proactively bringing up an issue that the company is currently facing (or a portion of the entire industry is currently facing), this not only makes it clear that you’re staying up-to-date with the market, but that you’re also being intentional with your job search and thinking long-term.

For example, if you’re interviewing for an acquisitions analyst role at a multifamily investment firm, you might ask questions about what the impact of record amounts of new supply coming to the market might be on the company’s portfolio or investment strategy, or you might ask a question related to interest rate changes and how the company plans to manage refinance risk when existing loans mature on properties in the portfolio.

A lot of job candidates will only ask questions related to the benefits or demands of the role, whether that’s asking about paid time off, work hour expectations, or even opportunities to move into different roles within the company, but these are all questions that imply that you want to minimize your time in the office or move into a different role as quickly as possible (neither of which are good things in the eyes of a hiring manager).

However, if you switch the types of questions you’re asking to focus on the market and how the company is facing challenges in the industry, this changes the conversation to you both demonstrating your knowledge of what’s going on in the part of the industry the company is active within, and also shows an interest in how the company plans to overcome these challenges and continue to grow over the long-term.

And if you’re not sure how to find the information necessary to come up with these questions, there are some great (free) resources online that can help you get a sense for what’s going on in the specific part of the industry that you’d be working in.

Many major brokerage firms like CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield, and Newmark all publish free quarterly research reports that provide information on things like vacancy, rent growth, transaction volume, and supply changes, which can help you get a clear picture of the biggest challenges within a particular sector of the market or within a certain city.

Most applicants will not take the time to do this (especially when interviewing for entry-level roles), and if you commit to doing just a little bit of research up-front, this can go a very long way towards differentiating yourself from your peers.

Show Commitment To Continuous Improvement

The second way to stand out during a commercial real estate interview that I want to bring up in this article is to make it clear that you’re currently in the process of improving as a real estate professional, and your commitment to development isn’t contingent on receiving an offer.

Companies are always looking for talented individuals that have both the initiative and the drive to improve their skill set on their own, rather than just reactively waiting for training requirements provided by their employer.

This means that, during the interview, try to look for ways to bring up the steps you’re currently taking to improve as a commercial real estate professional, whether that’s taking courses on real estate financial modeling and analysis, joining industry organizations like ULI or NAIOP, or even pursuing your real estate license or an ARGUS certification to prepare for a new role.

Showing that you’re spending your own time and your own money to improve your professional skills will go a long way toward proving your commitment to the commercial real estate industry, and especially when you’re interviewing for entry-level positions, this matters a lot.

It’s incredibly expensive and time-consuming for companies to hire new talent, and because of this, employers only want to bring on team members that are clear on their goal to be in real estate.

And especially if you don’t have much real estate internship or full-time job experience on your resume, showing that you’re actively pursuing professional development demonstrates to an employer that you’re all-in on this business, regardless of the outcome of this particular interview.

Use Your Background To Make “Fit” Obvious

Now, my last tip here is related to one of the most commonly asked questions within commercial real estate interviews, which is some variation of, “Tell me about yourself,” and this is to come prepared to tell a story about your background that makes it obvious that you’d apply for this specific role.

If you’re applying for an entry-level analyst job, it’s very likely that your work experience is going to be similar to that of other candidates interviewing for the same position.

However, what you can do to stand out is explain your story in a unique and memorable way, that makes it extremely clear that real estate is where you want to build your career and your life experiences up to this point make this role an obvious fit.

One way to think about this is to combine two different and unique experiences that would be very hard for another candidate to replicate, and then weave those experiences into telling your story and what led you to apply.

For example, if you’re graduating with a degree in construction management and your parents owned a clothing store throughout your childhood, applying for a development job working on retail shopping centers would be a natural progression based on your background.

And if you benefited from affordable housing as a kid and want to provide more of that for future generations, applying for an analyst role at a company focused on Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and affordable housing development, this would also make sense given your upbringing.

Ultimately, this story should be unique, memorable, and ideally make you an obvious fit for the role, and this should also make it extremely clear that you’re intrinsically motivated and plan to stick it out in the business over the long-term.

The Next Step To Prepare For Interviews

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do to prepare for an interview, but these are some of the most underrated strategies that I’ve found to be extremely helpful when interviewing for commercial real estate jobs, especially at the analyst and associate levels.

And if you want to make sure that you’re prepared for interviews and you have the technical skills you’ll need to pass an Excel modeling exam that might be given to you during the 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 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.

Thanks so much for reading and best of luck with the interview process!

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