A Student of the Real Estate Game


What I Look for When Hiring a Real Estate Acquisitions Analyst

Jul 18, 2016 | Career

As the real estate business has become more institutionalized, the competition for roles at top-tier firms has intensified. Individuals graduating from prestigious business schools, ex-investment bankers, and real estate professionals are vying for a small number of coveted roles.

A good friend of mine, who works for a real estate investment management firm, was tasked with hiring an acquisitions analyst. He offered to share his perspective from the hiring side of the table, walking through how he narrowed down the applicant pool, what he looked for in a candidate, and how you can differentiate yourself from the crowd.

A few years ago, I decided to share my experiences during the interview process as I navigated my way to a career in real estate private equity. As I noted in my previous write ups, What to Expect and How to Prepare for an Interview in Real Estate Private Equity Part I and Part II, the interview process included multiple rounds and an Excel/Argus test and it really gave me a glimpse of what it takes to land a role in REPE. After nearly four years at a top-tier real estate private equity firm, I recently accepted a senior role at a major global real estate investment management firm. With the new role, I was tasked with building out a team and hiring an analyst. I posted the role online and needless to say, the level of interest and response was astounding; I received and reviewed over 350 resumes and selecting the right candidate from a highly qualified pool of applicants was a difficult task. With that in mind, given my previous contributions to the blog which highlighted the interview process from an applicant’s point of view, now that I’m sitting on the other side of the table, I wanted to share some insight as to what I look for in a potential candidate.

When I started my search for an acquisitions analyst, I was looking for a candidate with a few years of relevant real estate experience, preferably from a notable firm with an active pipeline, strong Argus/Excel skills and most importantly, a great attitude and the right fit.  Because the team is lean, I was looking for a candidate who can come in and hit the ground running, with minimal supervision or introductory training. A lot of applicants have strong Argus/Excel skills, along with great experience, but if you don’t have the right attitude, then you’re not the right candidate for the job. After reviewing the resumes submitted, the applicants fell in the following buckets:

  • Seasoned real estate professional looking for a new start: Ideally, for an analyst position, I’m looking for someone with 2-3 years of experience, who got their feet wet and looking to make a move to a new firm. While the resumes I received showed a very impressive track record and great transactional experience, the applicants were overqualified for the role. This group of applicants is making a much higher salary and the role is too junior for them. A seasoned applicant may be running deals in their current role, but to step into an analyst role and run Argus/Excel models may not be the right fit for someone who is better served making a lateral and/or vertical move. He/She may not be content being the low person on the totem pole when they’ve already accomplished so much in their career. If the resume shows that the last role was Vice President, Director or Partner, chances are the applicant is too senior for this position.
  • Recent MBA grad looking to make a career transition to real estate: I received and reviewed a number of impressive resumes from applicants who graduated from top tier MBA programs, and with prior professional experience at some of the top firms in their respective industries. Candidates that were selected for interviews from this group had relevant internship experience and a proven track record of success, both academically and professionally. These candidates have also demonstrated involvement with various real estate organizations, showing their commitment to real estate. From this group, I selected candidates with prior real estate experience and/or relevant internship experience over those without any real estate experience. On the technical aspect, advanced knowledge of Excel and Argus was required. While I understand it may be difficult to really develop significant Argus experience while in school, familiarity with Argus DCF and Enterprise through prior work experience or internship experience was a deciding factor in selecting potential candidates.
  • Real estate professional looking to make the transition to REPE: The majority of resumes I received were from those currently in the real estate industry and looking to make the jump to an acquisitions role. From residential real estate brokers, property managers, asset managers, appraisers, and other roles within the industry, these applicants typically checked off most of the requirements but were missing either key relevant transactional experience or lacking the technical skills needed to make a seamless transition. Candidates that were selected from this group tend to have an asset management, portfolio management or Big 4 type real estate focused backgrounds. The asset manager’s ability to create value at the property level, and the ability to execute the business strategy brings great value to a firm. With this valuable experience, an asset manager can help identify opportunities to add value during the underwriting process. Portfolio management, especially those with due diligence and valuation experience was given consideration due to their exposure to the transaction process, but also their ability to create and maintain valuation models. This often required the use of Argus and Excels models to determine IRR and other investment metrics. Lastly, applicants from Big 4 (or similar firms) with due diligence experience were considered due to the exposure to major real estate firms. Mostly those who focused on underwriting transactions and creating models for financial due diligence were selected.
  • Real estate investment professional looking to move to a new firm: Most of the applicants selected for interviews were from this group. Potential candidates were called based on transaction experience at an active firm (REPE, REITs, Pension Funds, and Investment Sales) as well as strong exposure to Argus and Excel. While this group had the most qualified applicants, I also found this group more likely to overstate their qualifications. I encountered a few individuals who stated noteworthy transaction experience, but when pressed about certain details of their role and the acquisition, the answers given did not tie with what was on paper. My advice is to be honest with what you’ve done and don’t overstate your involvement.
  • No prior real estate experience: I received a good number of resumes from applicants without any prior experience looking to make a jump into real estate. Most of the resumes indicated a desire to learn more about real estate or it’s been a move they’ve been considering for quite some time. I received resumes from engineers, lawyers, accountants, non-RE investment bankers and while most were accomplished in their current career, I was looking for someone who doesn’t need to be trained and have a good understanding of real estate fundamentals. My advice to this group is while they may not be ready to jump right into REPE at this time, look for a position in investment sales, valuations, or a third party firm that focuses on transactions and due diligence to get the experience needed to be more attractive to investment firms in the future.

Of all the resumes I received, 20 were selected for partner review,  of which 10 were selected for phone interviews, and 6 were brought in for an in person interview. There are a lot of talented professionals out there and competition is strong to land a seat at an REPE firm. I ended up selecting an analyst who had the level of experience we’re looking for and was looking to advance his career. His resume featured internships at recognized real estate firms, and he’s currently working for a top tier REPE firm. He displayed a great attitude and was able to speak with great detail about the level of his involvement in the transactions he’s worked on. Lastly he passed the Argus portion of the test and created an impressive pro forma from scratch in a short amount of time. You’d be surprised about how many people claim to know Argus and Excel, and their test results prove otherwise. For those looking to break into REPE, some key advice:

  • Keep sharpening your technical skills, in both Argus and Excel. (I recommend taking a course through Breaking into Wall Street or Real Estate Financial Modeling. The small upfront investment can pay dividends over a career.)
  • Gain meaningful experience at a real estate firm to get exposure
  • Stay updated with the latest global and domestic news
  • Read about the latest RE market trends, through financial publications and broker quarterly reports.
  • Network – It’s been stressed often, especially on this blog, but go out and meet with individuals who are currently doing what you’re aspiring to do. I’ve met with countless individuals, and my belief is if an individual is willing to make the effort, then I will make the time to meet with them
  • Stay hungry and be humble

I want to thank my good buddy for sharing his insights on the hiring process. This invaluable advice for job seekers can be the difference between landing a role and getting lost in the shuffle. If you’re just breaking into the real estate business or looking to advance in your career, there are several other posts worth referencing.