Career Advice from 3 College Seniors Who’ve Landed Jobs with Top Real Estate Firms

Apr 14, 2013 | Career

I have a lot of calls with college students looking to break into the real estate business and young professionals looking to grow their careers. The advice I give is typically grounded in personal experience. However, since joining Atlas Real Estate Partners two years ago, I haven’t had any direct exposure to the job market.

My knowledge of the current hiring environment is mainly hearsay. So I reached out to three college seniors who’ve successfully navigated the hiring market and landed jobs with top tier real estate firm and asked them to share their advice.

Here’s what they had to say:

Michael Chen is a senior at UPENN who’s landed a job with a top real estate fund in New York

A quick background on myself, I went through summer internship recruiting my junior year and ultimately interned with a real estate group at a lifeco. It was a phenomenal experience in which I worked in portfolio and asset management as well as acquisitions. At the beginning of senior year, I recruited with opportunistic funds and will be starting this summer.

My first piece of advice is to know your story and how it connects to real estate. The goal of the interviewer is to determine who you are and whether you are truly interested in real estate. Expect the “why real estate” question. The typical answer is that it is tangible, i.e. you can kick the tires on a building. This is unlikely to set you apart. Spend some time figuring out why you like real estate and find a way to articulate that interest preferably using real estate terminology. Remember that a story that is coherent and flows logically will 1) help interviewers learn who you are, 2) show that your interests are refined, and 3) establish that you can communicate effectively.

Second, review your real estate class notes or pick up a book on real estate valuation. Real estate is a relatively simple asset class. While there are many ways to make it complicated, interviews are usually kept simple. Know the metrics: cap rates, NOI, IRR, LTV, DSCR, etc. You should be able to tick off the lines on a typical cash flow statement. In terms of valuation, you will likely be given simple cases where you will need to start with NOI and end with BTCF. Make sure you are comfortable and fast with simple arithmetic. For fulltime, excel modeling cases will be given so know how to build a simple LBO model from scratch and then actually time yourself when you practice a few times (tests usually run for 1-1.5 hours).

Third, when you attend final round interviews, you may be doing up to 10 interviews with 20 different people in a day. If you have any time between interviews, stand up, stretch, take a bathroom break, do something that will reset and calm your mind. Interviewing is a stressful process and you can end up going through the motions or tripping on your own words. If you’re telling your story in monotone with little enthusiasm, you can imagine what the interviewer is thinking.

Fourth, interview for everything and be selective only after you have an offer in hand. This is pretty self-explanatory; you do not want to be left without a summer internship or fulltime job. If you are interested solely in real estate private equity, know that there are many paths to it. If you cannot get where you want right now, make sure whatever position you take will lend itself to your ultimate goal in terms of skillset and experience.

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have a few offers in hand, make your decision for the right reasons. For summer internships, the experience outweighs both brand and compensation. If you want to be a deal person, do not settle for an asset management position just because it is a brand name firm. The experience will be different and fulltime interviewers are cognizant of this. For fulltime offers, come up with your own metrics and pick the offers apart. Some of the metrics I focused on were track record, capital, culture fit, training, group structure, brand, compensation, and location.

Jackson Brissette is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Real Estate, Finance, and International Business

The good news is that I have seen a significant volume increase in hiring this year. With that being said it is still extremely competitive and simply applying online will not get you the job 99% of the time. Private equity shops, top brokerage firms, and Real Estate Investment Banking groups run very lean operations. You need to do something else besides simply applying on your University’s career page.

My advice is to reach out to your contacts before you hit the “apply” button. For example, I have a mentor in Chicago who has been a great source of knowledge and connections. I usually reach out to him before I apply, especially if the firm is in Chicago. Do your best to get in front of an Associate, schedule an “informal” phone call, or correspond via email with someone from the firm before you apply. This will put you at a distinct advantage to your peers if and when you actually get the interview. Use your professors, friends in the industry, family, mentors, previous employers, etc.

Take any opportunity to speak with someone in the industry; you never know when the contact will be useful. My other advice is to show your passion at all times. Figure out why you love real estate and then demonstrate that passion. Start a blog, go on a tour of a real estate development, take a modeling course, participate in a case competition, and most importantly read about deals going on in the industry.

Sam Ross is a senior at Tufts who’s secured a job with a top real estate investment firm in Chicago

Searching for a job was a full-time job. My approach was to develop a strategy, target companies to contact, and network with anyone I knew in real estate or finance. The process was a grind and I had to constantly refine my strategy. After months of networking, opportunities began to emerge until I landed a job. My advice to any senior is to network relentlessly. Each conversation is an opportunity to sell yourself and why you want to be in the real estate. I found the more I networked, the luckier I was.

There’s some great advice here. While the over-arching message is to network your ass off, there’s certain skills and knowledge you must have, and most importantly a passion for the business you must have, to successfully land a job in real estate. Keep learning, networking, and being curious – you’re bound to find a job you love.

Here’s another post that I think you’ll find useful – how to land a job in real estate while still in college