The 3 Things Commercial Real Estate Employers Are Looking For Right Now

Through running the Break Into CRE platform over the last several years, I’ve been able to connect with the hiring managers at some of the top real estate investment and brokerage firms across the US, and get an inside look at what these firms are looking for most when hiring analysts and associates for their team.

And through these conversations, what I’ve found is that the vast majority of CRE firms are looking for very similar things in analyst candidates.

From most hiring managers, I hear the same themes over and over again.

So, because different people will tell you a million different things that you should do to make yourself an attractive candidate for the job you’re after, in this article, we’ll break down three of the most common themes I hear when talking to hiring managers at commercial real estate firms, what those firms are looking for specifically in analyst and associate candidates, and what you can do to make yourself that perfect fit, to land your target job at your target company.

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

Commercial Real Estate Firms Hire People Who Have Done The Job Before

Whenever I talk to hiring managers and they explain to me what they’re looking for, they always mention some variation of, “Someone who has done the job before.”

And this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking exclusively for analyst candidates with multiple years of experience in a full-time analyst role, but what this does mean is that they’re looking for people who have had real, in-the-trenches exposure to the industry, in addition to any coursework or certifications that person has.

Real Estate-Related Internships Are Key

For people just graduating from college or a Master’s degree program, internship experience is huge. And if you’re watching this in your college years, my advice is to do everything you can to make sure you have some sort of on-the-job experience on your resume before applying to full-time jobs.

Full-time, summer internships are ideal, but if you don’t have another summer in school or a full-time internship isn’t an option for you, any on-the-job experience is a plus. Even part-time internships where you’re working 10-20 hours per week or unpaid shadowing opportunities with companies your school is connected with can both be great ways to demonstrate to an employer that you’ve actually been able to apply what you’ve learned into a real-life real estate context.

Tie In Previous Employment To a Commercial Real Estate Application

If you’ve been out of college for a while and you’re looking to move to a different part of the industry or make a career switch altogether, the biggest thing you can do to demonstrate your ability to succeed in the job you’re targeting is to highlight your on-the-job experiences that most directly relate to the position you’re applying for.

This means that if you’re an accountant working for a real estate firm trying to move into an acquisitions or asset management role, make sure to talk through how you supported the acquisitions process, or how you worked directly with the asset management team to track property performance over time.

If you’ve worked in lending as an underwriter and want to move to the principal side of the real estate industry, this means talking through how you analyzed new deals, and how you worked with borrowers to get transactions done.

The key here is to present yourself as being familiar with the industry and the on-the-job tasks you’d be performing in an analyst role. This takes the pressure off the employer and lets them know that you understand how the industry functions, and also how your academic coursework or adjacent industry experience fits into that context.

Commercial Real Estate Firms Hire People Who Have Mastered Excel and Real Estate Financial Modeling

Aside from looking for candidates with experience, commercial real estate employers are looking for analysts and associates that have a solid foundation in the fundamentals, specifically Microsoft Excel, real estate finance, and ideally, the ability to work within, customize, and build real estate financial models using that knowledge.

In almost all real estate analyst positions, Excel is going to be a huge part of the day-to-day responsibilities of the role. And with that, companies are looking for someone who can work efficiently in the company’s proprietary Excel models, and someone who doesn’t need hand-holding on the basics of the software, or the functions, formulas, and shortcuts, that make Excel easy to use.

This is always one of the first comments a hiring manager will make (regardless of whether the company is a brokerage, private equity firm, or lender), essentially that they’re looking for someone who understands the fundamentals so they can focus their training on the company-specific skill sets to get that person up to speed.

Prepare For a Real Estate Financial Modeling Excel Exam

To make sure that employees are coming in with the skills necessary to do the job and the basics covered, more and more firms are administering Excel assessments as part of the interview process, to actually test that a potential hire can do what they say they can do.

These assessments are usually some form of a case study where a candidate is given a deal scenario with a set of assumptions, with the objective to build a model and calculate certain risk and return metrics on the deal.

The exact structure of these exams varies from company to company, but at the end of the day, these tests are primarily meant to be ways for a hiring manager to understand your abilities in Excel, and to test your understanding of basic real estate finance terms like the cap rate, IRR, equity multiple, and cash-on-cash return.

Additionally, these exams will also allow your potential employer to get a feel for your ability to analyze data, and then use that data to come up with reasonable conclusions to help the company make better decisions on their deals.

To stand out here, my biggest piece of advice is to practice your Excel financial modeling skill set as much as possible, ideally in a real estate context.

The Break Into CRE Academy coursework was literally built for this, and will walk you through building the technical skill sets employers are looking for and how to prepare for interview exams.

But even if you don’t decide to use Break Into CRE training materials, the more you can master Excel, the foundations of real estate finance, and ideally real estate financial modeling specifically, the better off you’re going to be.

Commercial Real Estate Firms Hire Good People Who Are Easy To Get Along With

Outside of your professional experience and technical skill sets, commercial real estate employers are looking for a well-rounded, easy to get along with candidate, that they can trust to represent their company.

Regardless of how technical a position might seem, employers aren’t looking to hire robots (yet), and they are looking for someone who will be easy to work with, enjoyable to be around, and someone that they can confidently put in front of clients and partners.

In almost all brokerage and private equity analyst and associate positions, these roles are going to require communication with people outside of your immediate company.

Whether that’s helping a buyer conduct due diligence as an analyst at a brokerage firm, explaining underwriting assumptions to potential investors as an analyst at a private equity firm, or even just when out at industry events connecting with other CRE professionals, everyone is becoming hyper-aware that the employees you hire reflect your company and brand.

This means that the more you can come across as someone who is responsible, trustworthy, and even driven towards a goal outside of just work or academics, the more you’re likely to stand out in today’s environment.

Just to be clear here, this doesn’t mean to go ahead and take up 25% of your resume with extracurricular activities, and you definitely want to be selective about the things that you share. However, a bullet point or two on the organizations you’re involved with, the volunteer opportunities you’ve taken on, or even collegiate athletic experience you’ve had can all be really helpful here.

Employers want to know that you can commit to something, and that you’re willing to dedicate time to a goal even when it’s inconvenient, or might not result in an immediate paycheck.

Commercial Real Estate Firms Hire People That Can Add Value

At the end of the day, it really comes down to proving that you would be an addition to the team.

And the more you can show that you have the experience necessary to get up to speed quickly, you have the basics of Excel and real estate financial modeling down, and that you can represent the company’s brand in a way they would want to be represented (and make the office a better, more interesting place to work every day), the more competitive you’re going to be for the roles you’re targeting.

And if you’re about to tackle the job search process and need to tighten up your technical skill sets to prepare for interview exams, or you’re in need of some more individually-tailored career advice to present yourself as a more attractive candidate on paper, make sure to check out Break Into CRE Academy.

A membership to the Academy will give you instant access to all Break Into CRE courses, including detailed walkthroughs of solutions to sample interview Excel exams, practice case studies and exam questions, training on how to tighten up your resume and LinkedIn profile, as well as one-on-one email based career coaching to help guide you throughout the job search process.

I hope this helps – good luck with the job search!

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